Arnau Bach’s series Ban-Lieue captures a humanist side of suburban Parisian youth

Following his debut series Surbubia – a documentation of daily life in Paris following the protests in 2005 – his latest project is caring and equally as powerful.

21 October 2021

In 2005, France experienced “the most important” rioting in the suburbs of Paris, according to Arnau Bauch, a Barcelona-born and often Paris-based photographer. For three weeks, the riots raged after 27 October of that year when Zyed Benna and Bouna Traoré – two boys ages 15 and 16 – were electrocuted to death while hiding in a generator in the neighbourhood Clichy-Sous-Bois. “They were hiding from the police who pursued them without justification because they were playing in a construction yard,” says Arnau. “This prompted the neighbourhood residents to take to the streets in protest, but their demands for justice were brutally put down by the police.”

The youth living in the country’s major cities, therefore, set out in protest, setting cars and buildings alight as a response to the “endemic social exclusion,” adds Arnau. A couple of weeks later and the president at the time, Nicolas Sarkozy, declared a state of emergency. In 2006, a year after the riots, Arnau became inspired after watching Mathieu Kassovitz’s film La Haine – a black and white fictional tale of a youth who’s tortured by the police which then sparks riots in the streets of Paris. He travelled to the Seine-Saint-Denis suburb and, at the time, he didn’t speak French. But soon he met some young people and established long-lasting friendships – and a photographic series was born.

From this, Arnau created his debut project named Suburbia, a series that takes its name from the book C’est de la racaille? Eh bien, j’en suis: A propos de la révolte de l’automne 2005 by Alessi Dell Umbria. It’s a documentation of daily life of the people he met on his trips to Paris between the dates of 2006 and 2012 , and who “in a direct or indirect way participated in the most important revolts in Europe in the last decades,” says Arnau. “It is not by chance that this photographic series is in black and white, as a tribute to Kassovitz’s inspiring film. Suburbia shows unsympathetically the life of these young people and at the same time is intended to be a plea for the life of young people who have not much to lose but much to gain.”


Arnau Bach: Ban-Lieue (Copyright © Arnau Bach, 2021)

Over 15 years, Arnau’s friendships with the people he’d met in these suburbs continued to blossom; he photographed their growth, evolution and transformation with each and every visit. And now, these pictures have been collated into a new photographic series named Ban-Lieue. Captured over 2017 and 2020 in the city of Paris, the project looks at the “roots of the problems of a social exclusion that plagues today and the great metropolises of the West.” From candid shots of his friends to moody – although confrontationally vibrant – snaps of buildings and architecture, the series is a visceral depiction of life in the suburbs.

Ban-Lieue also plays on the word banlieue, the French word for suburb, and is thus split into two. “Ban”, which connotes all sorts from “prohibition, abandonment, banishment and authority,” is paired with “lieue”, “an old measurement system in which 1 ‘lieue’ was the distance a man couple walk in one hour,” says Arnau. Coupled together they take on a new meaning, that being a humanist study of a European city where Arnau would walk in several “lieues” across the streets, capturing the realities in front of him. He’d also revisit the suburbs he photographed beforehand “where millions of people live dispossessed of the dream of having the opportunities promised by their progenitors in the era of de-colonialism in the middle of the last century,” he adds. “This work approaches the urban landscape and its architecture to try to envelop human and social representations. A unique, dehumanised and brutalist architecture that accompanies the lives of new characters that I am meeting and those I had already photographed in Suburbia.”

The role of photography is a varied one, but often it’s thought of as a means of raising awareness about a specific subject matter – and in this case, it’s the reality that is “unknown to many.” Arnau aims to open the doors to not only the relationships he’s sustained over 15 years, but also his friends’ lives and their struggle in the Parisian suburbs. In one of his pictures, Arnau depicts a friend and his daughter. “When I took this picture, I saw him immersed in his thoughts while holding his daughter,” says Arnau. “I thought it was a very tender image.” A few weeks later, the police arrested the boy, who’s now currently in jail. This picture, and the entire series for that matter, is nuanced and careful in its depiction of the subjects and their experiences. Like a portal into a world that often gets ignored, Arnau and his work with Ban-Lieue is indeed a humanist depiction of the youth in the city.

GalleryArnau Bach: Ban-Lieue (Copyright © Arnau Bach, 2021)

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Arnau Bach: Ban-Lieue (Copyright © Arnau Bach, 2021)

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About the Author

Ayla Angelos

Ayla is a London-based freelance writer, editor and consultant specialising in art, photography, design and culture. After joining It’s Nice That in 2017 as editorial assistant, she was interim online editor in 2022/2023 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. She has written for i-D, Dazed, AnOther, WePresent, Port, Elephant and more, and she is also the managing editor of design magazine Anima. 

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