During the Algerian war of independence, between 1954 and 1962, the population in France of those who were then officially called ‘French Muslims of Algeria’ rose from 220,000 to 350,000. Most of them were employed in industrial and construction activities. They made up an immigrant manual labour force that France needed for its fast-growing, post-war economy. Many lived in poverty, in shanty towns and makeshift hostels concentrated around France’s major cities. In 1955, the late and celebrated French photographer Pierre Boulat
embarked on a series of photo-reportages capturing the daily life of this alienated community who were increasingly regarded with suspicion as the bitter and bloody independence war endured. Mediapart presents here a portfolio of Boulat’s portraits and street scenes, the subject of an exhibition that opened this month in Paris.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Algeria’s accession to independence, after 132 years of French colonial rule. The bloody seven-year war for independence, which left hundreds of thousands dead and which was fought with barbarity on both sides, officially ended with a cease-fire in March 1962. Despite the passing of five decades since, relations between the two countries have remained strained, clouded by bitterness and taboo, which President François Hollande this month took a significant step towards lifting with his official recognition of the massacre by Paris police in October 1961 of hundreds of Algerians during a pro-independence demonstration in the capital.
Between 1954, when the war for independence began, and 1962, the population in France of what were then called ‘French Muslims of Algeria’ rose from 220,000 to 350,000, most of them manual workers, some with families, employed in industrial and construction activities. Many of them lived in or close to poverty, in shanty towns and hostel barracks concentrated around France’s major cities, ill-educated and un-integrated into a society that increasingly regarded them with suspicion amid the escalating violence of the independence war.
The result was a community that lived, both physically and culturally, in segregation from the wider population, an alienation sealed by mutual resentment and which has left a poisonous heritage to this day.
In 1955, the late and celebrated French photographer Pierre Boulat, a regular contributor to the magazines Life, Time, National Geographic and Paris-Match, embarked on a series of photo-reportages capturing the daily life of the Algerian immigrant population in France, a selection of which Mediapart presents here.
Some of the black and white prints are also currently on show, along with numerous other photos and documents, at a Paris exhibition that opened this month at the French National Centre of the History of Immigration. Entitled Vies d'Exil, 1954-1962, des Algériens en France pendant la guerre d'Algérie (‘The lives in exile, 1954-1962, of Algerians in France during the Algerian War’), the exhibition lasts until May 19th 2013.
This family lived in a shantytown in Nanterre, a suburb west of Paris. Algerian workers mostly arrived alone in France, which needed immigrant labour to help its growing post-war economy, before bringing other members of their families to safety from the war-torn North African country.
A group of gendarmes (a military corps) carry out a body-search of an Algerian man in a shantytown in Nanterre. Such searches were regular occurrences, while resentment and tensions increased with the outbreak of the independence war.
Algerian women and children play in a shantytown in Naterre. In 1955, the Paris suburb counted 17 shantywtowns, home to about 10,000 people.
In the Goutte d’Or
quarter of north Paris, on the corner of the rue de Chartres and the rue de la Charbonnière. The independence war had just begun, and here police officers survey a group of Algerian men. Many among the Algerian immigrant population supported the independence cause.
Algerian workers share a mattress in a slum in Boulogne-Billancourt, then a suburb of south-west Paris and home to one of carmaker Renault's largest manufacturing plants.
Algerian men relaxing and playing dominoes in the Café Maure, on the rue Maitre Albert in the Paris Latin Quarter.
A group of men present their working papers at a job interview. The vast majority of the Algerian immigrant population, which had already established a significant base in France before WWII and which by 1955 numbered 220,000, were unskilled manual workers who found employment mostly in the construction and manufacturing industries.
A group of Algerian men at a French-language class. Illiteracy in French was common among the immigrant population, and exacerbated the estrangement with French society.
A communal meal inside a workers' hostel in the Paris region.
A makeshift market where Algerians regularly gathered to barter personal items, at the Porte de Saint-Ouen, once a major industrial area on the northern tip of Paris. The site is today home to the famous Saint-Ouen flea market.
Street-sellers and a barrow of fruit inside a shantytown in the Paris region.
12: A bellydancer performs in front of metal workers in a bar in Courbevoie, a suburb west of Paris. Bank notes given to her in appreciation are placed in her costume top straps.
A hairdresser doing business in a Paris café.
14: Abdel Krim Bouzekkar (right), a security agent for a Paris factory, is one of those who climbed the ladder. He was able to buy the apartment where this photo was taken with a 20-year finance loan, allowing him to bring his wife and children to France.