Mohamed Bourouissa: “Photography is a way to leave a mark of my generation”

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Bourouissa is the winner of this year’s Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation prize. Here, we revisit an interview about his retrospective, which presented 15 years of documenting life on the margins

This article was originally published on on 28 February 2020.

Mohamed Bourouissa has been working among the marginalised and economically disenfranchised for 15 years, employing photography, video, sculpture and technology to push the boundaries of traditional documentary practices. His work is celebrated for its unconventional engagement with complex structural issues; repurposing polaroid photographs of people caught shoplifting, for example, or presenting conversations via text message with his friend in prison to scrutinise the structural meanings of what it means to be free.

The Algerian-born, Paris-based artist’s retrospective at last year’s Les Rencontres d’Arles, exhibited in the Monoprix supermarket, was one of the most talked-about shows of the festival. Now, it is nominated for the prestigious Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize, and recreated in a smaller scale exhibition at The Photographers’ Gallery, London, alongside work by fellow nominees Clare StrandMark Neville, and Anton Kusters.

Nous Sommes Halles (2002-2003). In collaboration with Anoushkashoot

In his space on the fourth floor of the gallery, Bourouissa presents segments from each of his five projects, which were shown in the original retrospective. One of his best-known bodies of work, Périphérique (2005-2008), engages with Parisian youths living in the city’s suburbs, known as banlieues, creating a sensitive depiction of an often demonised community. Similarly, his collaboration with friend and photographer Anoush Kashoot, Nous Sommes Halles (2003-2005), documents the style and culture of this demographic. “We didn’t see a representation of our own culture, so we decided to go to Châtelet, a place where all the young people from the suburbs go,” says Bourouissa.

The video work that forms the centerpiece to Bourouissa’s installation, Temps Mort (2009) displays a more intimate form of collaboration. Employing images and footage taken on mobile phones, it presents communication between Bourouissa and his friend, who was in prison at the time. “We’re trying to explain what it means to be on the outside, or on the inside — free or in jail,” Bourouissa explains. “It was important to me that the video was in the middle, because it’s a representation of the way I work.”

La Prise, 2008 From the series Périphérique © Mohamed Bourouissa, Kamel Mennour, Paris & London and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles.

One of the more unconventional series in the exhibition is Shoplifters, which presents Polaroid images that were found in a shop in New York. The shop owner explained to Bourouissa that when he catches someone stealing, he allows them to take the products free of charge, provided they pose for a photograph. For Bourouissa, these images were hugely representative of the mechanisms of power within photography.

The final work is an augmented reality piece, titled Army of the Unemployed. Through the use of a mobile app visitors will see 3D renderings of faceless humanoids, which represent this idea that when you are unemployed, “you start to become a ghost in society’s system”.

Over his 15 year career, Bourouissa has continuously probed socio-economic structures and the tension between marginalised communities and their historical representation. “There is a complexity where you can be within a society, but it is not so easy to integrate,” says Bourouissa, who has been witness to some of these challenges, faced by his friends and family. “Photography is a way for me to leave a mark of my generation.”

Mohamed Bourouissa is exhibiting his work as part of the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize 2020 exhibition at The Photographers’ Gallery, London, until 07 June 2020. 

Marigold Warner

Deputy Editor

Marigold Warner joined the British Journal Photography in April 2018, and currently holds the position of Deputy Editor. She studied English Literature and History of Art at the University of Leeds, followed by an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London. Her work has been published by titles including the Telegraph Magazine, Huck, Elephant, Gal-dem, The Face, Disegno, and the Architects Journal.