Nous sommes Halles, with Anoushkashoot 2003-2005
Nous sommes Halles [We Are Halles] (2002–3) is Mohamed Bourouissa’s first photographic series, bringing together portraits of strangers encountered in the street. The origins of the project go back to Jamel Chamazz’s photographs, specifically those gathered in his 2001 book, Back in the Days, documenting the emergence of the hip-hop culture in New York in the 1980s: portraits of youths posing proudly in streetwear in Brooklyn, Queens, or Harlem, armed only with their breakdance moves. Mohamed Bourouissa recognized himself in this work and decided to try his hand at photography. Equipped with a second-hand Pentax 24x36 camera, bought especially for the purpose, he spent several months in the neighborhood of Châtelet Les Halles, a meeting point in the heart of Paris for a lot of young people from the banlieues. Nous sommes Halles paints a portrait of a generation, that of the “caillera”1 subculture of the early 2000s, with which he grew up. The series gives an account of “caillera” codes, identity, and history at a moment when it begins to disappear. Its members subvert the bourgeois norms of the Lacoste sportswear brand to invent their own style, against the grain of the preppy billboards with the alligator logo. In their own way, the caillera seem to have embraced the motto of the brand’s creator, tennis player René Lacoste: “Without style, playing and winning are not enough.” In a similar vein, the children of hip-hop—then those of voguing—had appropriated the fashions of the time to reinvent themselves, wearing Kangol bucket hats, Gazelle sunglasses, Adidas shell toe shoes, and other attributes of a recomposed community which allowed its members, coming from low-income families, to break through the wall of invisibility hemming them in. To people confined to the social peripheries, being part of a community opens access to a form of solidarity, recognition, and creates a sense of belonging and collective pride. By shifting our perspective, Mohamed Bourouissa proposes another image of the banlieue, inviting us to rethink its identity.
1 “Caillera” is a Verlan (or French reverse slang) word for “racaille” (“scum”), used in 2005 by Nicolas Sarkozy, and it roughly corresponds to the American “gangsta” culture. — Trans.