Mohamed Bourouissa’s carefully staged view of French suburbs

The photographer’s intricately choreographed project made in the suburbs of Paris and Toulouse in the late 2000s is being published for the first time

When Mohamed Bourouissa’s photo series Périphérique first appeared in the late 2000s, it gave a choreographed view of life in the suburbs of France, or at least what that life looked like according to media and political representations.

Born in Algeria and raised in the Parisian outskirts, the Deutsche Börse prize-winning photographer spent three years in the banlieues of Paris and Toulouse creating Périphérique, which is also the name of the ring road dividing the centre of Paris from the suburbs. The striking body of work interrogated the representation of those who live on the margins, or periphery, of the city, by playing into some of the stereotypes that exist around those in the suburbs.

All images © Mohamed Bourouissa, 2021. Courtesy Loose Joints

“He recomposed press snapshots (in a cinematic context we would speak of a ‘remake’). He recounted what existed, but what he photographed was a construction,” says Taous R. Dahmani in one of the book’s two essays.

Though it is being published for the first time in print, the series was originally made between 2005 and 2008, and is often described within the context of the French riots at the beginning of this period, which followed the death of two boys, Zyed Benna and Bouna Traoré, in a power station while avoiding the police.

The incident was the tipping point of rising tensions between police forces and the housing estates in the suburbs, mainly made up of immigrant communities, and gave way to three weeks of unrest.

The publication comes with over 60 pages of additional, unseen images illuminating Bourouissa’s preparation process. Many of the photographs are intricately choreographed and composed, like painted tableaux. That was partly the intention of the series: to appropriate the codes of historic paintings, according to the photographer.

Eugène Delacroix is cited as one such inspiration, in particular his seminal work Liberty Leading the People, which commemorated the second French Revolution. Bourouissa’s counter is an image from 2005 showing people gathered together at night, the French tricolour flag suspended from a roof.

In her essay, Dahmani questions the difference in language around the uprisings then and now. “These [recent] confrontations are never described by the press as revolution … but as mutinies, thus criminalising its actors and turning citizens into ungovernable and disruptive apolitical hooligans.”

“In Périphérique, I wanted to … integrate the recent history of banlieues – with their famous problems of integration – into the Western history of art,” Bourouissa said in an interview with Numéro last year. “The question was how to bring the experiences of my friends, on a symbolic level, into the history that I learned at school and when I was studying art.”

Périphérique by Mohamed Bourouissa is published by Loose Joints;