Photographer Mohamed Bourouissa asked a friend – known only as JC – detained in a French prison to share the banality of his confinement via cell phones pictures and over 300 SMS messages.

Bourouissa’s exhibition ‘Temps Mort’ (‘Time Out’ or ‘Dead Time’) which closed at the Galerie Kamel Mennour today featured nine images and an 18 minute film montage of the correspondence.

Earlier this year, Algerian-born Bourouissa gained significant attention in the US with his show Périphéries at Yossi Milo Gallery which depicted the lives of youth in the depressed banlieue neighbourhoods on the outskirts of Paris. (Reviews here and here.) ‘Temps Mort’ confirms Bourouissa’s commitment to the underprivileged in French society.

JC and Bourouissa worked together over a period of 6 months. Initially Bourouissa had to instruct JC closely describing the shots he was looking for. Bourouissa broke down the boundary between the imprisoned JC and himself as a free man by filming repeated actions outside the walls on his own camera phone – at one point in the film the JC’s steps on a jail corridor blur into Bourouissa’s steps through snow in the free world. (I concede this blog post cannot come close to describing the mood of the finished video.)

For exhibition, nine pixelated images were blown-up; the degraded resolution mocking the Parisian preoccupations with Impressionism and Pointilism. As Bourouissa’s press release explains, images were hung adjacent to prison newspapers “reconstructing a comprehensive representation of the prison world, and mentally filling in the blanks of the images, the spaces between the bed pan, radio, barred window, lamp, etc.” The viewer sees the abnormality of confined life.

We should bear in mind that in 2008, Bourouissa and JC were working against a national debate in France about the appalling state of their prison system. Again from the Temps Mort press release, “How not to express our outrage at the French prisons? Their infamous exercise cages, their areas of lawlessness, their unhealthy showers and four rolls of toilet paper monthly.”

Gleaning available information from poorly translated sources (1A, 1B, 2A, 2B, 3A, 3B, 4A, 4B), I am still not sure how the images were secured. Reviews suggest that cell phones are banned within French prisons – which I would expect to be the case – so the feat seems even more remarkable. (I have detailed a short-lived case of cell phone photography behind UK bars.)

Whatever, first impressions may offer, Temps Mort is not a lazy presentation of “vernacudigi” photos. In many of his projects Bourouissa wants to “make the illegal legal”. Just as with Peripheries he gives over much of the creative process to his subjects. Many images for Peripheries were staged simulations of actual events experienced previously by the photographer and subjects. After a period, Bourouissa gave JC very little direction and their output synchronised. Alone the photographs would fall short, but Bourouissa always intended to pair them with the film.

Of course we should not miss the obvious here. Low-res imagery is associated with the spontaneous capture of event, with protest, with skirmish, with citizen documentation and more often than not with the testimony of the individual against the (violent) uncertainties of the State in which they exist.

Low-res is about the privilege of witness beyond any inherent privilege of existence. Romantically, low-res photography is thought of as a tool for use against dominate conglomerate forces; practically low-res photography is the evidence of the effects of those forces.

Bourouissa presents the incarcerated masses as the disenfranchised and the dispossessed.


A student at le Fresnoy, Mohamed Bourouissa graduated from the National School of Decorative Arts and also holds a DEA (M.A.) in Plastic Arts from the Sorbonne (2004). He recently benefited from a solo exhibition at the Finnish Museum of Photography in Helsinki and has participated in numerous group exhibitions, most notably at the New Museum in New York. In 2010, the artist will show his work at the Berlin Biennial and at Manifesta. Born in Blida, Algeria, in 1978. Lives and works in Paris. Represented by gallery Les Filles du Calvaire, Paris / Brussels. (Source)

via Vingt