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The photographer who captured the French hip-hop scene

Already as a teenager, Fabrice Fournier, known as Fifou, took close-knit pictures of the French music scene. He’s lived several lives in the time since, and today the camera lens is aimed at him due to the exhibition Tunnel.

Fifou exhibition

Fabrice Fournier first began taking pictures wittingly. It was his way of communicating with people, moving between different cliques, from locals, “2005 I met photographer Christophe Gstalder. We travelled, mostly in Africa, and took pictures together,” he recalls; to the celebrities he may have been too overwhelmed to approach otherwise: “My first rap-related photo was of Kool Shen, one of the members of the French group NTM,” he continues. And the rest is history as they say.

With the camera around his neck, he became known as Fifou, particularly fond of working with black and white film, especially the 6x6 format. The search for grain but above all texture is his main motivation, always with a bold and confident smile obscuring his inner shyness, “and a specific love for drinking Hennessy while listening to Sade,” Fifou adds, smiling.

At the time he started shooting covers, something new was taking root in the French hip-hop scene: DJs were combing old records for new rhythms, others were rapping over break beats, dancers were twisting their body parts in sweeping new ways. So Fifou began capturing everything he saw with his camera lens. His 600 and counting, album covers from that time, provide some of the most intimate glimpses we have of what would become known as one of the most 'essential photographers of French rap'.

Fifou exhibition

Fifou captured rap as a modest, homespun phenomenon, referring to many of his covers as ‘punchline covers’, which are covers that “are not something that you plan, it just comes to you,” he explained. “It captures the heart of the rapper,” then continued, and listed ­– Imany, the cover album of the French rapper Dinos – as one of those ‘punchline covers’. The cover shows Dinos surrounded by some of his childhood pals in the neighbourhood where he grew up, the 4000 Nord de La Courneuve, in Seine-Saint-Denis. Each member of the group has a word taped to his lips.

“The shooting of this cover particularly marked me. In retrospect we managed to get this timeless image, the contrasting black and white reinforcing this feeling,” he recalls. The hip-hop scene was and is a thrilling way of life for Fifou, a philosophy of creative destruction. Along his journey he stumbled into other domains such as fashion, art, etc, a multidisciplinary that made him, as he so nicely put it “step out of the comfort zone,” pointing out that the exhibition Tunnel is multidisciplinary in itself with “the style, technique; the analogue and the digital form applied.”

Fifou exhibition

It is in the 3rd arrondissement of Paris that the temporary exhibition Tunnel is making its mark. Taking up the world of drill, a major music movement in France and the UK, there will be several new works and installations, showcasing a collaboration long waited for. Alongside his British ailier, the photographer Ciesay, Fifou crosses the English Channel, without even leaving the atelier. Tunnel, as he explains it, “is a collaboration that links England and France, and the two different photographers’ point of view of a particular universe. It’s a fusion, with two different approaches, calling for an interesting mixture.”

The exhibition is built around urban personalities and is an event that is a tribute to the mix of cultures and as Fifou put it “an honour to urban culture, where the two worlds that we originate from – me from the world of street culture and Ciesay from the world of fashion – comes together.”

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