7 queer French Muslims reflect on their identity and upbringing

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11/01/2022

Documentary and portrait photographer Camille Farrah Lenain dissects issues of representation, collective memory and identity through long-term projects grounded in portraiture. Connecting the dots that make up her subjects’ stories, she refocuses attention on communities whose experiences are traditionally overlooked or misunderstood. In her ongoing body of work, Made of Smokeless Fire, the French-Algerian photographer turns her gaze onto France’s LGBTQ community within Muslim culture, spotlighting the reality of their coming out stories. “The series takes its title from the djinn: invisible creatures that, in Islamic mythology, are neither good nor evil,” Camille tells i-D, speaking over the phone from her studio in New Orleans, where she now lives. “Believed to accompany you in difficult moments of your life and ‘made of smokeless fire’, they are at times associated with diseases and mental issues.” Within the Muslim community, “queer people are often told to be possessed by a djinn,” explains the photographer who, in her project, reclaims that image into something her subjects can feel proud of. A collection of portraits and testimonials by a diverse community with Islamic backgrounds, “Made of Smokeless Fire is a resource for those carrying these multilayered identities, and for their families to learn how to support them,” Camille says. The idea for this project came to her three years ago while she was listening to the radio. “They were broadcasting an interview with Ludovic-Mohamed Zahed — the Marseille-based gay imam that founded the first LGBT-friendly mosque in Europe,” she recalls. “After hearing his story, I couldn’t stop thinking of my uncle Farid, who passed away in 2013.”

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