Flour power in French presidential campaign

A woman who later was given psychiatric help throws flour at Francois Hollande, who at the time was running as the socialist candidate for the French presidency. February 1, 2012.
AFP PHOTO/Fred Dufour

By Fred Dufour

Along with another AFP photographer, I followed Francois Hollande during his entire campaign for the French presidency, from November 2011 until his victory in May. 

I was half expecting that one day, someone might throw a custard pie at him or something like that. Such an attack is always a risk in a major election, when candidates spend months on end meeting the general public. But I never expected a flour attack, which visually, was even more spectacular than a pie in the face.

It was the afternoon of February 1. Hollande was taking in part in a discussion about housing problems, organised by a Paris foundation. From a photographer’s point of view, it wasn’t very exciting. I felt a little sleepy after covering the long and slightly flat talks. When Hollande walked up to a podium to sign an agreement, I thought to myself I’d skip what would be a very institutional moment with little promise of an interesting visual, and take a short break.

For some unknown reason -- and luckily for me -- I decided to stick around.

Photo: AFP/Fred Dufour
AFP PHOTO/Fred Dufour

I was positioned quite far off. Suddenly, just as I was looking through my lens, an enormous white thing filled the viewfinder. Instinctively, I pressed the shutter. It all happened so fast I had no time to think of my photo settings. I didn’t have great perspective and wasn’t working with the ideal lens. I was sure my pictures would be blurry, but when I looked at what I’d got -- they were good!

The cloud of flour, the attacker’s face and Hollande’s calm expression were all clearly visible.

Hollande kept his cool. He seemed calm and even shook the flour from the piece of paper he’d been holding -- I wondered if he would still sign the agreement!

I was focused on Hollande so did not see the woman who’d thrown the flour as she was tackled to the floor by Hollande’s security guards, though AFPTV reporter Guillaume Bonnet did capture this part of the action.

Eventually, Hollande left to change his clothes. I went to see the other photographers who, like I’d almost done myself, had gone outside to relax or smoke a cigarette. I told them what had happened. It’s fair to say they were furious! There were only about five or six of us who’d been present at the crucial moment.

The flour-thrower, a 45-year-old woman who said she was “badly housed” was taken to the police station then transferred for psychiatric evaluation. It was, I think, the only physical aggression against Hollande during his entire presidential campaign.

Hollande reacts after the flour attack. February 1, 2012.
AFP PHOTO/Fred Dufour