Ilyes Griyeb’s Captivating Portraits of Parisian Youth

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Ilyes Griyeb La Vérité Pour Adama photography
Photography by Ilyes Griyeb

French-Moroccan photographer Ilyes Griyeb is selling prints to raise money for the committee seeking justice for Adama Traoré, a black man who died in police custody four years ago

The Black Lives Matter protests that started in Minneapolis at the end of May, following the murder of George Floyd, have been picking up steam outside the United States, and perhaps nowhere as much as in Paris, where they have sparked renewed interest in the case of Adama Traoré, who died on his 24th birthday, on July 19, 2016, two hours after being arrested. Since then, conflicting medical reports and testimonies have muddled the truth about what happened on that day. For the past four years, La Vérité pour Adama, a committee helmed by Traoré’s sister Assa, has been seeking justice for him, and its activism has been at the forefront of raising awareness about police brutality and systemic racism in France.

Following Adama’s story since the beginning, French-Moroccan photographer Ilyes Griyeb recently got in touch with the committee, proposing to sell prints to raise money for this important cause. Eight different signed 30 x 40 centimetre prints will be sold at €120 each, all of them portraits of Parisian youth – people who have been fronting the protests recently. Here, Griyeb opens up about the project and his perspective on the Parisian Black Lives Matter movement.

“I’ve been attending the Adama Traoré protests for the past two years, but what has been going on in the past three weeks has been on a completely different level. Adama’s family has been fighting through constant harassment for years, but a momentum has been created now that I hope will well outlast June, and that’s what gave me the idea to contact the committee and propose this project. I took these pictures last year before a fashion show, but I’ve never shown them before. The boys and girls in them are models, but also average Parisian kids, and their real selves come through in the pictures, I think. I spent the entire day with them and we had some really cool conversations.

“These same kids are also vulnerable to assault at any street corner or in a Metro station. And these are also the kids that have been making up 90 per cent of the protests in the past few weeks. It’s beautiful to witness this young generation’s political awakening, the way they’re learning how to use their voice; the energy that has transpired in the three protests that have taken place in the past few weeks has been incredibly moving ...

“But I’ve also noticed that I was surrounded almost exclusively by black and non-white people, whose safety is directly threatened by racism and police brutality. I have seen some white people – photographers and journalists joining us – but no more than 10 per cent. Going back home after Saturday’s protest, I saw hundreds of white kids having drinks along the Canal Saint-Martin, while 20 metres away the crowds were being dispersed with tear gas. There is still definitely a lack of awareness in France. White people might be outraged, but they’re also just waiting for the problem to disappear.

“Lots of French people have been speaking up on social networks about the situation in the United States, while failing to acknowledge what was going on here not 48 hours after Floyd’s death, when a 14 year-old boy named Gabriel was severely injured by the police in the Parisian region. The thing is, the United States situation has echoes of Martin Luther King, of Malcolm X, and that is, in a way, beautiful. The fight in France is not chic enough for most French people. That’s also why I chose these polished, beautiful images for this project. I knew pretty content would be shared more widely than an ugly truth.”

Ilyes Griyeb’s portraits are on sale until June 21, 2020 at