Nice, France

By Eric Gaillard

One evening while returning home I came upon a scene that I had never imagined in a country as rich as France – people rummaging through supermarket trash bins looking for food.

In spite of the difficulties I would encounter, I decided to go ahead and meet these people head-on. That day I saw an elderly man waiting on a public bench. Quickly I understood that he was waiting for the trash container from a nearby neighborhood supermarket. I approached him, with my camera on my shoulder, and started a conversation, which stopped abruptly with a curt, “Leave me alone, don’t take my photo”.

I sat down beside him, changed the direction of our conversation, in the hopes of building trust. I knew that what I was asking him was difficult to accept. We spoke of other things when suddenly he opened up giving me his name, Eugene and his age, 87, and that he first rummaged for food during the war when he was twelve. “Times were difficult,” he told me, sighing. Eugene revealed that the money he saved from rummaging for food allowed him to pay for a flight to Thailand once a year to see his “girlfriend”.

Suddenly a supermarket employee arrived with the trash and in a moment, nothing else mattered. Eugene, in spite of his age, jumped up and quickly went towards the bins. There was competition with two other individuals who were also waiting for this moment. I followed with my camera and he turned and said, “Don’t show my face”. I respected his wishes to remain anonymous and started to photograph in spite of the others who started rummaging through the bin looking for food. Quickly everything was removed and then returned to the container. The treasure was not too bad: fruit, milk, a box of eggs which need to be sorted.

I continued to photograph Eugene as he arranged the food into bags. He said nothing. I followed several steps behind and asked if he was returning to his apartment. To my surprise he loaded the bags into his old car and told me that he was now off to another supermarket. I asked if I could follow him and he replied “Yes”.