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Not A Fetish, A Crusade

Since October of 2007, Richard has been photographing orphaned or abandoned shoes on the streets of San Francisco, then Los Angeles, and now, Paris.

The collection began on a chilly night when he and our friend Willis Barnstone were walking along Valencia Street toward the 16th and Mission BART station, and Willis noted how many shoes were abandoned on the street in just a few short blocks.

Richard took it as a mission to chronicle the orphans with his little point-and-shoot, and has continued with the iPhone camera, and now, the Nikon.



In the course of posting them on Flickr, he's noted that a lot of people LIKE pictures of shoes, and there's even a special forum for lost baby shoes. O-kay.

But aside from being an urban art project that comments on abandonment and isolation (enough justification, as far as Paris Play is concerned), is there a deeper meaning?




Today, over at the Trocadero, the grand public park that looks out across the Seine at the Eiffel Tower, the organization Handicap International invited the public, as it has done since 1995 in more than forty European cities (and now aross the globe), to bring a pair of shoes to donate, and as a protest. Every shoe in the pyramid represents a limb or life lost to cluster bombs and landmines.



During the day, various NGOs provided background information about cluster bombs and landmines, and advocated for their abolition. They are banned by international treaties (Ottowa 1997, Oslo 2008), but as Handicap International notes, "landmines and cluster munitions were used in Libya this spring. Furthermore, Thailand acknowledged having made use of cluster munitions during confrontations with Cambodia last February."

The United States has yet to sign either treaty, according to the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate International Campaign to Ban Land Mines.  

Richard's art project will continue, but it's now impossible for us to see an abandoned shoe without also thinking of the limbs and lives lost to land mines and cluster bombs.



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Reader Comments (22)

I should be thinking about land mines - what a touching demonstration that pile of shoes is. But the single shoes all over Paris are so fascinating! How do all those shoes end up in the street, where were all those feet running to or from? The ghostlike steps before and after Richard's photographs are so full of stories.

Saturday, September 24, 2011 at 20:01 | Unregistered CommenterDiane Sherry

Dear Kaaren and Richard,

I just want to say how much I enjoy and appreciate your always fascinating work here on "Paris Play". Every entry is brilliant, thought-provoking, often amusing, and even inspiring. Thank you very much for sharing it with us, and long may it continue, with both of your keen observances, and Kaaren... you just keep it coming! Wonderful stuff!


Saturday, September 24, 2011 at 20:07 | Unregistered CommenterMalika Moore

hmm. fine series. the landmine photo in such pretty bright color tones is spooky-weird-haunting!

re shoes, we share the obsession, fellow photog.... see second photo down on my "letter from Paris" from last march...

re feet: keep em dancing, xx, margo

Saturday, September 24, 2011 at 23:47 | Unregistered Commentermargo

What if Richard and others were compelled to photograph shoes for a larger purpose than they realized, like the characters in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" started sculpting Devil's Tower without knowing why? Short story material.....


Sunday, September 25, 2011 at 5:32 | Unregistered CommenterVanessa

Vanessa, I should have realized when I started sculpting New Balance cross-trainers out of my mashed potatoes.


Sunday, September 25, 2011 at 11:00 | Unregistered CommenterRichard Dreyfuss


You address other traumas in your writing, teenage suicide, for one. Your comments are so those of a story teller: "where are all those feet running to or from?" Richard's photos are full of stories, and so is your mind!

Thank you and love,

Kaaren (& Richard)

Sunday, September 25, 2011 at 16:09 | Unregistered CommenterKaaren & Richard

Dear Malika,

It is beyond wonderful that we have re-connected after so long. And it's doubly wonderful that we can enjoy each other's art, though we live on separate continents. I have loved seeing the transformation of your painting content and style, from surrealist to sacred art. But knowing you, that antic surrealist still frolics beneath the elegant restraint of your recent work.

We treasure your comments. This one alone could keep us going for years.

Thank you. I hope to see you and Daniel here in Paris before too long.


Kaaren (& Richard)

Sunday, September 25, 2011 at 16:19 | Unregistered CommenterKaaren

Hi Margo,

I had the same reaction to the land mine photo: the curve of red notes from top to bottom, with a purple Converse to the left--the beauty to be found even in images of tragedy.

Yes, you and I and Richard and Imelda Marcos all have shoe obsessions of one sort or another.

And we don't think it's possible to live in Paris without dancing, even in our sleep.


Kaaren & Richard

Sunday, September 25, 2011 at 16:29 | Unregistered CommenterKaaren

Beautiful work. Thank you for such powerful art. I see little lost shoes on the sidewalk and in the park but it's interesting to think now that it is not just a dropped or forgotten shoe, it's a reminder to take better care of / protect each other, to be grateful, and to be gentle. It's amazing to me how much emotion and compassion can come from seeing lost shoes. What is it about these objects? Thank you for opening my mind. xoj

Sunday, September 25, 2011 at 23:00 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer Genest


This is such a lovely response to the topic. You are already a person who takes good care of others, and is grateful and gentle. Would that we all were such caring people!

You're right about objects--they contain so much emotion.

Thank you for your wise response.

Much love,

Kaaren & Richard

Monday, September 26, 2011 at 0:41 | Unregistered CommenterKaaren & Richard

Several years ago while wandering around North Beach in San Francisco, I came across a shrine in the alley next to City Lights Bookstore. Two well-worn high top yellow Converse tennis shoes spattered with paint made up the base of the shrine, dedicated to a local character and artist. There was such a story in those shoes and such sweetness in the tribute to a friend of the neighborhood.

In the early 1970's I was sailing to the South Pacific on the Kialoa with some sailor friends. H. was annoyed with the pristine condition of the yacht's interior and asked the owner/skipper if he could funkify it. The owner said, "Sure", and H. proceeded to make a collage on the stateroom wall of shoes from a dump in Mexico: curled, burned and fascinating. Can you imagine visitors from other yachts checking that out?

The pile of donated shoes in the Trocadero Ban Land Mine Tower is so powerful. How can something meant to remind the world of cruelty and atrocity, be so full of life and color? I guess it fits- that is exactly what has been taken away from the victims losing limbs.

Thank you for shoeplay.


Monday, September 26, 2011 at 2:12 | Unregistered CommenterJane Kitchell

Fetish or crusade. I now more deeply feel the fascination with shoes, whether solitary or paired off. The "isolated and abandoned" are most intriguiging. How does that happen?

Last night I was clear about the outfit I wanted to wear for a stand-up gig. The accessories came together quickly, but the shoes were a different story. For the one outfit I started with strappy red leather, then on to black knee-high boots, classic black sling backs, and finally pulled it together with black pumps with an interesting symmetrically shaped heel.

If shoes could talk.

Monday, September 26, 2011 at 3:17 | Unregistered CommenterMarguerite Baca

Dear K & R,

sometimes it's time for dancing, sometimes, the colors cannot be bright...elsewhere, well, one has other thoughts.

obsession also led me to this renowned photograph one could remember too well:


with care,

Monday, September 26, 2011 at 10:40 | Unregistered Commentermargo


We love your stories. I can perfectly picture what H. created on the wall of the Kialoa, because he did that sort of thing in Colby house, when we both lived there.

If you ever find that San Francisco photo, send it to us. Paint splattered yellow Converse sneakers near City Lights? That's a vivid portrait in the fewest details possible.

You're making the exact right point about this Land Mine Tower: a part of life stolen from so many people. It also reminds us in a strange way of your poets' tower sculpture.

Thank you for the shoeplay play on words in parisplay, Jane. I think of you every time we pass rue St. Jacques or the Sorbonne (other times, too).

Mucho love,

Kaaren (& Richard)

Monday, September 26, 2011 at 20:31 | Unregistered CommenterKaaren

Dear Marguerite,

Couldn't you write a story about every abandoned shoe you pass? And a horror story about the shoes that symbolize land mine victims. It hurts to think about it.

What a great array of shoes you have to choose from before going on stage. Stand-up gigs in which the costume makes the audience happy even before you begin to perform! One day, we'll see and hear you.

Much love,

Kaaren & Richard

Monday, September 26, 2011 at 20:39 | Unregistered CommenterKaaren & Richard

Yes, Margo, of course there is darkness and light. That's what this post is about.


Kaaren & Richard

Monday, September 26, 2011 at 20:50 | Unregistered CommenterKaaren & Richard

I share everyone's fascination and admiration. (Spoken as one who leans toward the fetishistic re: shoes....) A whole new and profound perspective - t hank you for this!

Monday, September 26, 2011 at 23:54 | Unregistered CommenterTara

Being a practical sort, what's curious about those orphaned shoes is that they're in such great shape!

I didn't know where you were going with this story. Always feels good to be surprised -- and relieved, because I'm in such good hands in the telling.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011 at 20:02 | Unregistered CommenterAnna


You are so welcome! We have long enjoyed your piquant array of shoes. Fetishes can provide delight, can't they.


Kaaren and Richard

Wednesday, September 28, 2011 at 17:09 | Unregistered CommenterKaaren & Richard

Dear Anna,

We imagine the shoes in good shape were probably lost rather than abandoned. Maybe flew out of a bicycle basket or some such thing.

And surprising YOU? That is a worthy aim!

Thank you, and love,

Kaaren & Richard

Wednesday, September 28, 2011 at 17:35 | Unregistered CommenterKaaren & Richard

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