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A portrait of one of the few young, female truckers in France

Jacqui Palumbo, CNN

A young couple embraces in front of the grill of a 750-horsepower Volvo truck, their cream and beige ensembles matching the commercial vehicle’s slick exterior. They pose for the camera, her face partially obscured by the playful roundness of her pantsuit’s tulle shoulder pouf.

While the photograph might evoke the image of young lovers on the road, they aren’t on it together. Amélie Riquelme, who is 23 years old and grew up in Arles, France, is the truck’s driver; she works in an industry that has long struggled to attract women and young people, with the shortage of drivers becoming a critical issue critical issue amid drastic global shortages. Less than 3% of truck drivers in Europe — and the world — are female, according to a 2022 survey by the International Road Transport Union (IRU), and few young people are filling the shortfalls widened by the Covid-19 pandemic. The European Union’s average driving age ranks the highest in the world, at 47.

Amélie works for her family’s transport company. At the time photographer Yohanne Lamoulère met her in 2019, she was driving from Arles to Castellón, Spain, and back at least twice a week, Lamoulère explained over email. The busy route is around 850 miles, or roughly 1365 kilometers total.

The company was founded by her grandfather and employs many of her family members in various capacities, as well as her former partner, Jérémy, pictured with her above.

They were newly engaged in the photograph, taken in August 2021, but have since ended their relationship.

A sense of drive

Lamoulère’s work often explores life on the outskirts of major French cities, and the aspirations of the people who live there. The photographer, whose uncle is also a trucker, met Amélie at a truck show in southeastern France where drivers decorate their vehicles for a competition. She was drawn to the younger girl’s sense of determination and drive. Amélie had left her cosmetology studies to pursue a career in trucking, following in her father and grandfather’s footsteps.

“Amélie is a very organized girl. When I met her, she was only 20 years old and already described her life in a very planned, constructed way,” Lamoulère said. “She is also wildly free-spirited and very amusing.”

Though Lamoulère photographed Amélie’s life at various points over a period of two years, this snap was particularly momentous: During her sister Lucie’s farmhouse wedding — with an all-white dress code and the family trucks included in the wedding procession — Jérémy and Lucie conspired to surprise Amélie: in lieu of the traditional bouquet toss, Lucie handed it directly to Amélie, and Jérémy proposed.

Lamoulère then shot her portrait of the newly-engaged couple in front of Amélie’s truck, the bouquet placed on the dashboard above their heads.

The image is part of the series, “Les Vies qu’on mène,” or “The Lives We Lead,” by the French photography collective Tendance Floue. The body of work, about daily life around France, has been made into both a book of the same name and an exhibition in Paris at Cité Internationale des Arts. It was also shown at the international photography fair Paris Photo in the fall.

Though the couple is no longer together, Lamoulère loves the portrait for its emotional resonance, as well as for its embodiment of Amélie’s independent spirit. She said it’s rare to see a young woman “aboard monsters like Amélie’s truck” and finds it “very beautiful” to see her forge her own path. For the trucking industry to survive, more people like Amélie will need to fill the drivers’ seats.

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