Photographers often use a camera and photographs as therapeutic tools to help them come to grips with their own identities. Bruno Boudjelal’s book, Disquiet Days / Jours intranquilles, is, in my opinion, one of the most perfect examples of this. 

As the unintended son of a unmarried French mother and an absent Algerian soldier, Boudjelal artfully intertwines photographs that he has made himself, with old photos from family albums, plus photos of pages from his own handwritten/painted/collaged diaries. Further explanatory text and complete diary entries propel the reader through this head-spinning tale of self-discovery, cross-cultural confusion and conflict — with lots of twists and turns throughout.

His story begins abruptly and dramatically:

18 May 1993

Everyone talks to me about Lemaouche, but I don’t dare tell them that nowadays he calls himself Jean-Claude; even when I was young I’d never heard my father’s true name. It was only one day when I needed a copy of my birth certificate that I chanced on his real first name: LEMAOUCHE.

It was the same day, when collecting this birth certificate, that I realised my father hadn’t been there and that he hadn’t acknowledged my birth. My father, who had got this young, lower middle class French woman pregnant, in the period of the Algerian war. This father who had disappeared and left my mother, who found herself single living at home with her parents, carrying the child of an anonymous man from the other side of the Mediterranean. 

Her own father, discovering she was pregnant, threw her out on to the street.

And then my birth, when my mother’s family did after all acknowledge me by giving me their French name, SOMBRET. I was known by this name for a year after that; my name was ‘Bruno Sombret’. But the fact that they’d acknowledged me didn’t stop them, the day after my birth, from abandoning me in a home for illegitimate children. I was the burden too heavy to be carried. I’d hardly been born and I’d already been abandoned twice; by my father and then by my mother and her family who couldn’t accept me as one of them…

In May 1993, I went to Algeria for the very first time, to make a photographic series on Algiers. It was the first time I walked upon my father’s homeland and I didn’t know anything about it… I just knew the birthplace of my father, quickly read in the official family record book, but it was enough to find them, a day of May 1993, in a little village of the Setif region, where a line of crying women welcomed me.

Boudjelal’s tale is articulate, compelling, and quite beautifully presented. l highly recommend this book.

— Jim Casper

Disquiet Days | Jours intranquilles
by Bruno Boudjelal
In French and English
Translations by Tom O Mara
Paperback: 232 pages
23 cm x 17 cm
Autograph ABP, 2009
ISBN: 978-1899282128
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