Rachel Akoun is a street photographer unapologetically in love with her own city. At only 25, she’s developed her style by zeroing in on well-known Marseille landmarks and epic landscapes, revealing a talent for framing, textures and light. Here she takes writer Anaïs Brémond—and you—on a tour around six of her favorite spots through her lens.
Photographer Rachel Akoun got her start in the medium following tips from two Japanese brothers running Photo République. “One day I found my grandfather’s Yashica Mat-124. I brought it to them, they showed me how to use it, and another workshop nearby rebuilt it from scratch.” Self-taught and spontaneous rather than theory-focused, she turns her lens to the beautiful coastal city she calls home; both a picture-perfect summer destination, and the mundane backdrop to locals’ everyday life.
Her solitary wanderings have strictly brought her to the 6th, 7th and 8th districts—the more well-off, postcard friendly parts of Marseille along the Mediterranean coast, all the way down to Les Goudes and the Calanques national park. Rachel is well aware that her images tell only a part of the city’s story—and that there is beauty elsewhere. “I would love to photograph central and north Marseille, but I haven’t had the opportunity yet,” she explains. “I would find it more difficult to shoot there by myself, with just my scooter and my camera.”
This separation is not unusual—many locals have simply never been to or avoid large swathes of the city which are either inaccessible or misunderstood. Twice the size of inner-city Paris, Marseille only has four metro and tram lines, when Paris boasts over 20. Rachel’s focus on the elements that bring all Marseillais together—dramatic skies, sparkly sea, games of petanque and football fandom—bridges these disconnects without touching upon them.
With Rachel's favourite photographs we discover the city through her lens; a photogenic and romantic view on a gorgeous city, at once rose-tinted and refreshing.
La Bonne Mère / Vauban
You can’t miss Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde church, aka La Bonne Mère. Built in the late 19th Century in place of a fort, the protector of the city and sailors watches over town—so high up you can see it from everywhere. “She’s reflected in everything, always in the corner of your eye”, says Rachel. The view up the hill is breathtaking, but be ready for a steep walk. Real locals prefer to drive up: “I’ve never walked up the stairs in my whole life,” laughs Rachel.
The inside of the basilica is a golden feast, as is the Madonna and child on its roof, but it’s a local sitting on a bench that caught Rachel’s eye. The statue of Jesus and Veronica by the sculptor Auguste Carli, and a corner of the football pitch down the hill, just happened to be in the frame. “This was taken at 8 AM. I had woken up early to buy a football club membership and failed so I decided to go up the top,” she says. “I waited and the light became incredible. I really was focused on the woman on her phone and wanted to immortalize that moment.”
The cream-coloured spaceship-looking stadium is a sacred symbol of the city. So sacred in fact the word Paris won’t be displayed anywhere on it during the upcoming Olympic games (in light of the club’s bitter rivalry with PSG.) Rachel comes to the Rond Point du Prado often, as she has a season ticket and never misses a game. “My parents came from Tunisia in the late 70s and are not really into football. I got the bug through my friends,” she says. “I love it, especially in the winter when we meet up to drink the apéro—it just brings a special energy to Marseille.”
The photograph 1
The die-hard fans of Olympique de Marseille feature often in Rachel’s work. This perfectly composed shot highlights the level of coordination between football fans. “I am passionate about the supporters. The Winners' fan club organised this for International Women’s Day, and as a female supporter that’s a very important message.” This image feels even more special as there’s a no phone rule in the stadium. “Supporters tell you to put your phone down, you’re here to be in the moment,” she explains. “This was shot on an analog camera, so I didn’t have any problem.”
“This was taken just outside the Velodrome, for the OM-PSG Game in October 2021. The atmosphere outside was beautiful, a lot of flares, a lot of singing—that’s the tradition. I don’t even remember if we won the game or not. I find this picture a bit aggressive, but it’s more humorous than serious. It represents the rivalry between Paris and Marseille; there’s a lot of provocation. The guy didn’t see me take the picture. I just loved the contrasting colors between the Marseille blue jersey and the flares; when the orange smoke came I knew I had to shoot it.”
Endoume is home to the Bains Militaires, a private members club for military and their families. When you look into it, a lot of the prime locations along the coast are closed off and owned by soldiers. This doesn’t stop hundreds of young people from climbing and jumping from rocks, making the coast theirs.
The photograph (girl jumping)
This picture was taken near the Marégraphe, a sea observatory with a mechanical tide gauge, an important place to measure the rising sea levels due to global warming. This place is a favourite spot amongst the plongeurs. ‘I wanted to photograph the divers so I went down. The girl jumped and the picture was perfect. You feel like she’s walking or flying across a horizontal line. I love the fact she’s wearing glitter golden goose—not adapted at all! There have been a lot of accidents, so I am quite scared for them. They are searching for adrenaline.”
Also within Endoume, through a maze of windy streets off the Corniche (the main road along the sea) you’ll find a small fisherman’s port called Malmousque. This neighborhood is highly popular in the summer, where tourists and locals alike scramble for a spot on sharp rocks surrounding the turquoise water. “I’m never in Malmousque in the summer, except in the early morning; there are way too many people,” confessees Rachel.
“This was taken in the summer around 7pm. A woman had gone swimming and had left her towel, which caught my attention. I really wanted to bring out the contrast between the deep sea tones and the golden light on the rocks. It was just an instant, because 30 seconds later the towel fell down.”
The Roucas Blanc hill—meaning white rock in provençal—became famous in the 19th Century for its hot springs, which in turn attracted the local bourgeoisie who still live there. With millionaires’ villas, gated residencies, and more greenery than anywhere in the city, it has a privileged vantage point over the Med. As Rachel puts it, it’s “the Beverly hills of Marseille.” This island of calm is also highly protected and hostile, with walls covered with broken glass to detract trespassers. Local poet and activist Mariam Benbakkar often writes about the Roucas Blanc, and the many street names still honoring France’s imperial past, like the Talabot Castle. Her decolonial tours highlight the many private streets of Marseille, more than anywhere else in France.
“This was taken in the middle of the day from the fish restaurant Chez Aldo. The clouds and the light were mythical; I really enjoy bad weather. I waited for thirty minutes for the sun to hit La Bonne Mère. I know a few spots on the Roucas where you can chill, like the Belvédère. The houses there are crazy.”
This photograph was taken on Avenue de Montredon near Pointe Rouge. An authentic neighborhood with one of the biggest ports, it's socially diverse, with small bars and the Parc Pastré, a hidden gem at the edge of the Calanques. There’s a real small village feel Rachel adores. “I love the mentality there, I get into conversation with fishermen, everyone seems to know each other.”
The photograph 1
Older men are at the center of Rachel’s work. She admires elders who embody the provencal soul of Marseille—warm, laidback and sociable. Character traits she shares with them, despite her self-proclaimed shyness. “I speak more easily with older people,” she admits.
“I spotted this man putting up flags of the Olympique de Marseille on his balcony every single game night. One day the light was beautiful, so I stopped and asked if I could shoot him. his commitment moved me, he must have been 70. He represents the spirit of the city.”
“This was taken at the petanque court near Pointe Rouge, called the Terrain de Boule de la Vieille Chapelle. I admire the players' lifestyle; they’re under the sun all day, drinking pastis even at 2 PM in the summer heat. I never dared taking their pictures before but I got motivated that one time, and they were super nice and open. They saw me with my camera and came. I never make the first move, I don’t know how to do that. I wait for people to approach me. I guess I’m quite patient - I waited 2 hours for this one. I love photographing elders - the fact they’ve lived everything already. I speak more easily with them, they bring me a lot of wisdom.”
One of the best viewpoints to fathom how sprawling Marseille is is from Frioul islands, accessible by public boat. On the way there you can stop at the Chateau D’If, a medieval prison and the main location for Alexandre Dumas’ book “The Count of Monte Cristo.” With only 150 inhabitants, a few activities centers for local youth and a disused 18th Century plague hospital, it is largely wild and adored for its countless creeks.
It’s in front of Frioul that Rachel took this electrifying picture - captured on the 26th May, to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Marseille winning the Champions League.
That night, hundreds of OM fans posted themselves all along the coast to light up flares at the same time. Rachel hopped on her friend’s boat to document the event as far as possible. “I needed to take that picture,” she says. “Colette, one of the eldests OM supporters and a local legend, lit the first flare from the top of La Bonne Mère. It created a domino effect all the way down to L’Estaque and La Madrague. I didn’t have the same experience as people on land—my friend told me they had chills all over their body—but I could hear screams echoing in the night. Frioul was totally red; you can see the reflections on the waves. This for me embodies the soul of Marseille, the spirit of solidarity.”