Road Trip

Victor d’Allant: I Saw Paris, Paris U.S.A.

Everyone has heard of Paris, Texas, the little town northeast of Dallas made famous by Wim Wenders’ movie. But many people are unaware that a dozen other places in America are named after the City of Lights. French anthropologist and photographer Victor d’Allant, who was born in the French capital, moved to San Francisco 25 years ago and graduated from Berkeley. He visited seven of them for his Paris, USA project, which will be exhibited at the Leica Gallery in Los Angeles in 2021.
Paris, Idaho. © Victor d’Allant

The result of the 2016 presidential elections shocked Victor d’Allant. “I could have sent 10,000 tweets against Trump,” he says. “But as a photographer and an anthropologist, I preferred to go and meet with his supporters and try to understand.” He decided to personally visit the little towns and rural communities that massively voted for the Republican candidate. Armed with little more than his Leica Q camera, he focused on seven towns called Paris that are “big enough to have a post office.”

Paris, Missouri. © Victor d’Allant

In Paris, Texas (population: 24,800), the Paris Music Company stopped selling records years ago. In Paris, Idaho (population: 500), the Mormon temple is now too big for the little town, which is gradually seeing its inhabitants move elsewhere. In Paris, Illinois (population: 8,300), the closure of the broom factory has left a gaping hole in the local economy. “In 1888, Paris, Missouri had a population of 2,500, two banks, four hotels, nine grocery stores, three shoe stores, and two jewelry stores,” explains Victor d’Allant. “Most of these businesses have closed in the last 50 years, and the town now only has 1,200 inhabitants.”

Everywhere, the story is the same. However, a certain pride in being associated with “the other Paris” can be felt in these declining towns. These communities were founded at the turn of the 18th century and their names reflect a time when America was fascinated by the Storming of the Bastille and the Marquis de Lafayette, the French hero of American independence. Some even cultivate ties with France, such as Paris, Kentucky (population: 9,700). The “thoroughbred capital of the world” is twinned with Lamotte-Beuvron in the Loir-et-Cher département, which is home to Europe’s biggest equestrian center.

Paris, Illinois. © Victor d'Allant
Paris, Kentucky. © Victor d'Allant

An Eiffel Tower standing 70 feet high welcomes visitors to Paris, Tennessee. The tower in Paris, Texas (“the second largest Paris in the world”), is topped with a red cowboy hat! In Paris, Arkansas, the square around the 23-foot Eiffel Tower features a grate covered with padlocks in a nod to the Pont des Arts in the French capital. After the 2015 terrorist attacks against Charlie Hebdo, several of these Eiffel Tower replicas were used as shrines. The “Parisians” – as locals refer to themselves – left flowers and candles in solidarity with their French counterparts.

In 1991, the town of Paris, Tennessee, organized the very first American Paris convention, and there was even talk of founding a national federation. The project was never completed, but these little towns continue to hold high the symbol of French-American friendship.

Article published in the September 2020 issue of France-Amérique. Subscribe to the magazine.