At the America festival, the hippie and punk United States of Alain Dister

It is an understatement to say that his photographs are in their place, gathered around the town hall of Vincennes – rue Eugène-Renaud and cours Marigny, until September 30 –, on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the America Festival, devoted to the literatures and cultures of North America, which takes place from September 22 to 25. Because the United States was the quest of a life for Alain Dister (1941-2008)child of the Beat generation who was to be caught up in the counter-culture.

The intimate bond was woven in the summer of 1966 when the Frenchy, who then participated in the creation of the magazine rock & folkarrives in New York with a DSLR and three lenses as his main luggage, "persuaded, he writes, that somewhere on the road, we will have left this old skin called education, family, bank account, job, death on credit”.

The book that accompanies the exhibition, In America. Fifty years of photography (Albin Michel, 320 pages, 39 euros, in bookstores on September 28), compiled from his archives, indicates that this destiny was written in August 1944, when a liberating GI took a 3-year-old child in his arms. At Le Vésinet, near Paris, the young Dister adheres unreservedly to the American dream, distributed with reinforcements of chewing gum, blond cigarettes and nylon stockings: “France was grey. Elsewhere the sun was shining. Elsewhere, we dreamed in Technicolor. The soundtrack, the beat, came from California, was going to spread around the world. »

He took his first photos of musicians in Los Angeles – Sonny & Cher, The Mothers of Invention – but it was in the communities of San Francisco that Dister found his home. “Musk on girls' skin, sweet grass, patchouli, incense in warmly decorated rooms, made for love. » He thinks he finds paradise in the Victorian houses of Haight-Ashbury drowned in the fog and lives the hippie adventure from the inside, the protests against the Vietnam War like the light shows of the Fillmore.


Imbued with American music, Dister is as much imbued with images, whether it be the empathetic vernacular of Walker Evans or the iconoclastic documentary of Robert Frank. But the disillusion is not long in coming: “It lasted the space of a spring and a summer. American reality had not budged an inch. She had first looked at it with a vaguely worried look, then, reassured by the smiles and the flowers, she was waiting for an opportunity to make short work of all this pretty people. »

One of his photos symbolizes the end of recklessness: a couple kissing in the San Francisco sun, in June 1968, each holding a copy of a newspaper announcing the assassination of Robert Kennedy. The era is one of paranoia and chaos, and New York concentrates its spirit, before its "cleansing" by Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Dister roams the Bowery and rocks club CBGB for the Ramones and Cramps. " OK. I m 35 years old. It's not an age for a punk. But that won't stop me from continuing to claim the right to do the andouille when I feel like it"he quips.

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