Les Joutes, or Water Jousting, is the quintessential sport of the Languedoc region of the South of France. It is a game, but one with infinitely precise rules and traditions that must be rigorously honored. The oldest representations of water jousting have been found on bas-reliefs dating from the time of the Ancient Egyptians (2780–2380 BC). In France, the first recorded water jousts took place in 1270 at Augus-Mortes during the reign of King Louis IX.
Joutes is a form of jousting where the adversaries, carrying a lance and protected only by a shield, stand on a wooden platform on their boats. As the two competing boats draw level with each other, each jouster, protected only by their shield, uses their lance to try to push their opponent off of the platform and into the water. The winner is the one remaining on the wooden platform after the other has been cast into the sea. Jousting festivals are held each year in August throughout France, although the Languedoc is the undoubted center of the sport.
In 2021, the Joute tournaments in Sete and Balaruc were canceled because of COVID outbreaks and were shifted to Bouzigues, the small village where we were staying. For three afternoons, big crowds descended on the village. These photos were shot at the Joutes competition in the harbor of Bouzigues on August 14 and 15 of 2021. In the background, there is the hillside of Sete, as well as the modern city of Balaruc. The series starts with the images presented in black and white, because the Joutes do indeed have a long history, and then the series bursts into color because the Joutes are alive and kicking, in the rough and tumble fringes of the South of France.