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93 by Monsieur Bonheur

At first glance, the man who wears a yellow shirt with the number 93 stamped on his back might as well be wearing a football shirt – though this is anything but the case. Monsieur Bonheur in his photography series that includes 93, is the depiction of three years’ worth of retracing his childhood. The poorest area in mainland France, ‘department number 93’, otherwise known as Seine-Saint-Denis, is where the photographer grew up being demonised for being a working-class black citizen. 

 The streets of 93 and the banlieue, as shown by means of Bonheur’s photography, appear calm, empty, and serene. This series contrasts greatly to French news stories of urban violence, racism, inequality protests and riots that otherwise give areas such as Seine-Saint-Denis a bad reputation and increased police presence.

 Bonheur’s photography, including 93, feels personal and very representative of a mundane existence – the slight reduction in saturation and grain to the images easily takes the viewer into the retrospective past. The central male figure of 93 stands out in yellow against the drab, repetitive residential buildings he overlooks. Strangely, even though the yellow 93 shirt was put in place by Bonheur, it feels raw, as though he was capturing the moment as it occurred. Like the other images in the series, this photograph does not feel staged.



Words by Chloe Copley