“There is a myth that the suburbs in the outskirts of Paris are full of violence and disruption,” says Camilo Leon-Quijano, who is completing a PhD on the relationship between photography and the experience of living in low-income banlieue. “For me, it is just another place where you live and grow. Media and even academic discourse always tries to put these places down.”
Originally from Bogota, Colombia, Leon-Quijano has worked in his own country’s suburbs, the favelas, and has been studying in Paris for the last five years. “I wanted to see how people live, and try to leave behind all these negative stereotypes,” he explains.
He spent the last academic year photographing the female rugby team from the Chantereine High School of Sarcelles, who became one of the best newcomer teams in the country in 2016. Historically, the suburbs of Paris are relegated and stigmatised, says Leon-Quijano, and Sacrelles is one of the most impoverished areas.
The team’s coach, Florian Clement, started the project in the hope it would help limit school drop-out rates, and one of the team’s rules is that in order to play, the girls must keep up their grades and attendance. For Koromba, a once-troubled student who Leon-Quijano became close to, the initiative has been a game-changer. At one stage she was close to being expelled from school, but now she has been accepted at the USAP, a specialised rugby training centre in Perpignan.
At the end of the school year, Leon-Quijano exhibited large 4x3m prints of his photographs on the school grounds. It was the first time the walls had been used for large displays of art. “For three or four months, the girls were the protagonists of the high school,” says Leon-Quijano. “It was really moving.”