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Suburban youths on their way to art history

Mohamed Bourouissa takes his camera to the banlieues where "Paris is far away"

Suburban youths on their way to art history
Suburban youths on their way to art history
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By Anu Uimonen
      "A stone is just a stone - and mute as long as it is lying on the ground. But as soon as someone takes it in their hand and throws it, the stone gets energy”, says Mohamed Bourouissa, a French photographer.
      ”In exactly the same way, my photographs become active only when someone sees them”, Bourouissa declares.
      Mohamed Bourouissa knows how stones fly and how photos can affect people. His photo series Périphérique (”Ring Road”) has been made in those suburbs of Paris around the ring road, where the riots of immigrant youths flared up a couple of years ago and gave the world a new word: banlieues.
Today, Bourouissa’s series of images will be on display at the Tense Territories exhibition in the Finnish Museum of Photography, running until May 24th 2009.
      The exhibition was also a part of the Helsinki Photography Festival 2009, which was opened on January 22nd. In addition to photos, the exhibition offered a two-day seminar.
      The event further launched the Photography Year 2009. For further information, see the link below.
”We are celebrating the 170th anniversary of the invention of photography. The French Academy donated the method of recording images to the whole world in 1839”, notes Elina Heikka, the Director of the Finnish Museum of Photography.
      Other reasons for celebrating in Finland are the 40th anniversary of the Museum of Photography and the 30th anniversary of the Photographic Gallery Hippolyte.
The Tense Territories exhibition is made up of four solo shows.
      Mohamed Bourouissa (b. 1978), Sini Pelkki (b. 1979), Sauli Sirviö (b. 1980), and American Carrie Schneider (b. 1979), each in their own exhibition, explore their relationship with their environment and with their next of kin.
      Mohamed Bourouissa was born in Algeria, from where he and his family moved to France when he was five years old. He used to live in similar suburbs to those depicted in his Périphérique series.
      The images are not direct documents of the lives of suburban youths, but carefully designed and staged.
      ”I know young people in these suburbs, and through my acquaintances I meet more”, Bourouissa reports.
      ”I begin my work by making some portraits of young people, which I then show to them. That is how the building of trust begins”, Bourouissa notes.
The photographer spends time with these youths, wanders around and takes pictures. Later he uses these sketches as the base for his final photos.
      ”At the next phase, I draw the scenes I wish to photograph. Then I go back to the original scene in the suburb and direct the young models according to my sketch”, he adds.
      Bourouissa also adopts ideas for his images from the history of art and from the media. Nevertheless, he is open to improvisation, as frequently his models suggest at the shooting situation even better ideas than the ones he has come up with.
      ”It is very important that these young people approve my images. After all, the fact is that I need them more than they need me”, Bourouissa points out.
Mohamed Bourouissa says that the riots did not lead to any major changes in the banlieues.
      ”The situation has remained the same as before. If no changes are made, more riots are sure to be sparked off”, he predicts.
      Even though Bourouissa does not regard himself as a political person, he admits that his choice of theme is most political.
The Algerian-born artist sees his work primarily as a form of fine arts. His way of working takes him through the history of art and through other pictures to reality.
      ”If integration is a social problem, I am doing my share by integrating young immigrants into the history of European art. In my pictures black people and Arabs alike join together as part of the official European cultural heritage”, Bourouissa declares.
Those young people who rioted on the outskirts of Paris, in the heart of Europe, were second- and even third-generation immigrants.
      And yet they are in the habit of saying:”Paris, c’est loin”. (”Paris is far away”.)
The Photography Festival was a part of the Photography Year 2009 programme.
      For further information, see the link below

Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 22.1.2009

More on this subject:
 FACTFILE: The photography festival is international

  Helsinki Photography Festival 2009
  Photography Year 2009 (in Finnish)
  Finnish Museum of Photography
  Helsinki City Art Museum
  Finnish Academy of Fine Arts

ANU UIMONEN / Helsingin Sanomat

  27.1.2009 - THIS WEEK
 Suburban youths on their way to art history

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