Marvin Bonheur: The engaged eye

Marvin Bonheur :  L’oeil engagé - HYTRAPE

Self-taught, Marvin Bonheur stands out for his talent as a photographer, highlighting the natural beauty of his suburbs that are dear to him as well as the authenticity emanating from every moment of life. Through his lens, he captures the essence of the ordinary, captures raw emotion and expresses a certain cry from the heart through his art. During our interview, Marvin shared with us his passion for social engagement that permeates his work, providing us with a unique perspective on justice and the human condition.


Was there a significant moment in your career when you understood that you were going to make photography your career?

It's a good question. I think subconsciously I always considered photography as an option. It took me a while to accept that I had this chance to make this my career. Even after landing my first contracts, it took at least a year, if not two, for me to realize that it was a concrete possibility in my life.

You highlight “the face of the forgotten”, in other words racialized people, those who live in working-class neighborhoods… Is this a reflection of your experience growing up in 93, where you felt that you were neglected, underrated ?

Downright ! As I often say, I am not a photography enthusiast. What fuels my work is the desire to take revenge on the life I was able to lead as a young black person from a neighborhood. The notions of racism, exclusion and discrimination at school, as well as the difficulties I encountered when looking for training, a job... All these frustrations aroused in me, from a very young age, the desire to do something. A few years later, photography entered my life, and it was through this that I found a way to get involved.

We perceive a certain commitment in your work, particularly during the White March for Nahel. Did you have a clear political approach when you started photography?

I wouldn't say it was a clear political move. I think that as soon as we are part of a portion of the population that is discriminated against or excluded, unless we are in denial or ignore it, we are automatically in a political perspective, because We are in a daily struggle. Beyond being a photographer, I am a black person who had to prove and who, unfortunately, still has to prove. There are always inappropriate gestures, words, looks because of my appearance. I consider my work political because it addresses a reality that many people experience. My goal is not to proclaim it, but to approach a commitment, to reestablish a certain justice through photography and art in general.

Travel plays an essential role in your creative process. Why is it important for you to explore new horizons?

My parents did not pass on this culture of travel to me. It wasn't until I was 21 that I started exploring more exceptional destinations, especially more recently. The more I travel, the more I realize that it is through different destinations that I become aware of many aspects of our society in France, particularly in Paris. It allows me to make comparisons with other regions and policies, to observe how they work, to study these differences through photography and to identify our faults and our strengths.

You produced a series of photos in Mayotte entitled “The Imaginary Country”. How has this project enriched you on a human level and as a photographer?

It’s really the project that touched me the most. It was very violent to be faced with such social exclusion and such a lack of consideration towards a people, which I would never have imagined from the French government. I come from a West Indian family, I went to Martinique a lot, but I never realized to what extent we could be marginalized and that other islands could be more so compared to France. In Mayotte, it was much more frontal, much more assertive and it is an island with a lot of children. As someone who has a deep attachment to childhood, I was very touched to see the conditions in which they grow up there. We are supposed to be on human rights territory and I don't understand how we can leave them in this situation. I met a lot of people, took photos, but I also talked a lot with them. I made connections, so leaving was a particularly difficult moment.

You immortalize very different profiles, what makes them so fascinating to you and what pushes you to photograph them?

Thank you for seeing this difference between each person, because that's exactly what I'm trying to highlight. I grew up with a lot of diversity and I think I developed a belief that our differences should not dictate our place in society. No matter the destinations I visit and the people I meet, I always strive to show that every person has a story to tell. What they have in common is the link they have with my childhood and my history. I'm going to be more comfortable with socially excluded people, because that's what I've experienced, I'm also very proud to highlight the history of the black diaspora. But I have no barriers linked to the appearance or the culture of the people I meet.

You manage to capture a very authentic look. Why is it important for you to freeze the present moment without artifice?

It’s a process that I started in 2013, when I photographed my first series entitled “Alzheimer”. The basic idea was to reproduce photographs taken by my parents during my childhood, which can be found in family albums. I found that there was a certain awkwardness in these images and it is a spontaneity that we rediscovered with the advent of Instagram. By merging the two, with this touch of nostalgia for the past, I gave birth to this first project. The more I progressed in creating this series, the more I realized that I liked it, while adding a denunciatory look to it. I chose to use film and “point & shoot” to immortalize these memories. In my eyes, going to a neighborhood and capturing digitally with flashes, lights, styling, does not produce necessarily bad photos, but it's not representative of reality. It distorts this beauty of imperfection.

Aside from your goal of highlighting daily life in the suburbs, is there another message you want to convey?

Of course, what speaks to me is the suburbs because I'm a suburbanite, that's what drives me personally, but there are other subjects that touch me. In France, we talk about the suburbs, but elsewhere like in Detroit, they are abandoned houses and in Mayotte, more like slums... For me, it is not only a subject linked to the suburbs, it is everything that touches on injustice, particularly social injustice. If I can give an image back to those who no longer have one, or even to those who never had one, that's great. It's part of my DNA. As soon as my work can contribute to bringing justice in the face of injustice, let's go, I'm hot!

Do you think that your art has had an impact on changing mentalities?

This is still a question I ask myself! Today, I find that the hype around the suburbs is fading. They explored the industry for 4-5 years and I was part of it. During these 5 years, I wondered about our role: did we, actors of this culture, serve or serve the suburbs? I don't think I did her any harm, but I can't measure the impact I had. I take too much time to see if I have one or not. I do my work, people come to my exhibitions, people send me a lot of messages so there must be one, but at what level? For what duration? What will really make things happen is a general movement and I think that time will tell us.

What is your greatest accomplishment?

My greatest accomplishment is to have obtained this media recognition for my work, despite the obstacles, to finally be accepted as an artist and an individual. I struggled a lot in my neighborhood to finally be myself, to feel free, spending years dreaming of living in Paris to escape the barriers linked to the neighborhoods. Once I arrived in the capital, I had to face other difficulties, sometimes more difficult to overcome. But, I am very happy that I managed to be accepted into the art world. In 2012, no one noticed me at openings, but today, these same people want to write about me, invite me into their media and buy my photos. It’s a victory and a beautiful revenge on life.


What can we wish you for the future?

Health, both mental and physical. All I want is to continue this momentum, to continue practicing what I already do, to continue to support me, because it's not easy to be an artist and sometimes we want to 'Stop. I want to keep this motivation and continue on this path which will allow us to have justice for everyone!

n/a @jordankbs for the cover photo

To find Marvin Bonheur’s work, it’s right here:

On Instagram: monsieurbonheur

On his website:

Written by Camille Noel Djaleb ( cosycam )