5 May 2020 Birkas-Dent '22 Explores French Street Life

International relations major Freya Birkas-Dent ’22 is fascinated by European culture and, especially, street life. So when she was preparing to spend a semester in Rennes, France, she applied for a Student International Initiative Fund grant to explore the streets of her temporary home.

Soon, her project expanded to include journeys to Bordeaux and Lille, which allowed her to compare and contrast locations. “I wanted to find cities that were a similar size to Rennes, which is about 200,000 people,” says Birkas-Dent, a member of the Heron rowing team.

Throughout the semester, Birkas-Dent documented street life by choosing one specific location in each city and taking photographs there on a Saturday morning, a time she knew when the French frequently did their grocery shopping.

At each location, she took photos at 7:30, 8 and 8:30 a.m. to capture the changing light and activity as the sun rose and shops opened. “I was able to get drastically different photos,” she says. “The sun rose so late in France as the semester progressed, it was fun to capture the oncoming dawn and the effects it had on the streets below.”

In Rennes, she set up her camera at the Marché des Lices, the city’s farmers market, which is next door to Renne’s Roman Catholic cathedral. She decided to locate cathedrals in the other two towns so her photos had another common factor.

In Lilles she found the cathedral on a side street, but in Bordeaux, the cathedral was near two tram lines. “The Bordeaux photos are my favorites because there are a lot of people,” says Birkas-Dent.

She hopes to expand her study in the future. “I think it would be interesting to compare these photos to another country and see how those cultures and attitudes shift,” she says, noting that coordinating her solo transportation and lodging at hostels in France also gives her confidence for future international travel.

On campus, Birkas-Dent has also served as an O’Laughlin Admissions Ambassador, and a member of One-on-One Friendship Club and the Public Leadership Education Network.