Pin It
Camille Farrah Lenain’s Made Of Smokeless Fire
Camille Farrah Lenain’s Made Of Smokeless Fire celebrates LGBTQI+ individuals of Muslim descent who are living in FrancePhotography Camille Farrah Lenain

Camille Farrah Lenain’s portraits of LGBTQ+ people of Muslim culture

In ‘Made Of Smokeless Fire’, her ongoing project, the French-Algerian photographer explores what it is like to come out as queer within France’s Islamic community

Despite having the largest proportion of Muslims in the Western world — estimated at 8.8 percent of the whole population according to recent data — “Islamophobia is omnipresent in France”, photographer Camille Farrah Lenain tells Dazed. “At the intersection of discrimination from sexual orientation, gender identity and racism, LGBTQI+ people of Muslim culture are fighting against these inequalities while redefining their own religious heritage.”

Lending her lens to France’s Muslim queer community, in her ongoing project, Made Of Smokeless Fire, the photographer delves into the experiences of its members “to bring to the surface the multiple, contrasting layers of their identities,” she says.

Gathering portraits and interviews with LGBTQI+ individuals with Muslim heritage living all across France, Lenain paints a picture of Islamic culture that is far more nuanced than its traditional understanding. In doing so, she pays homage to her uncle Farid who, diagnosed with AIDS and diabetes at a young age, died in 2013.

“Though everyone knew, the fact that my uncle was gay was something my family would never really address in depth or mention around my grandparents,” explains the French-Algerian photographer, who grew up in Paris along with the Muslim side of her family. For Lenain, Made Of Smokeless Fire is a way of tapping into the untold chapters of her uncle’s life, filling the gaps left by his passing.

Sparked by the activism of Ludovic-Mohamed Zahed, the gay imam behind Europe’s first mosque designed to accommodate LGBT and feminist Muslim communities, the photographer began to work on this project in 2019. Having come in contact with Zahed’s inclusive network during one of his Marseille-based initiatives, Lenain started to photograph people who — like her uncle — carried these plural identities, lensing them as they retraced their coming out journey. Through her first sitters, she met more, eventually taking her gaze anywhere from Marseille to Lyon and back to Paris.

“When you see a portrait of someone followed by their words, there is no way for you to contradict them: their story is there, right in front of you” – Camille Farrah Lenain

Just like the “djinn”, the impalpable spirits that, in Islamic mythology, are thought to take on different shapes — appearing to people as snakes, scorpions, humans, and more — Lenain portrays the protagonists of her series as if they were made of smokeless fire. “Though djinn are neither inherently good nor bad, when [someone] comes out as gay within the Muslim community, they can be told that they are possessed by one of them,” she says. “By referencing their changing nature in the title of the project, I strived to recast a traditionally negative image into something that embodies the multifaceted upbringing of those appearing in it. Similarly to what happened with the word ‘queer.’”

Reflecting on the significance of Made Of Smokeless Fire for the wider public, the photographer says she hopes people will find themselves, or anyone else they may want to see, in it. “Unable to capture every person’s individual story, I am hoping to voice as many of them as possible for viewers to resonate with them,” Lenain says of the goal of the series. “When you see a portrait of someone followed by their words, there is no way for you to contradict them: their story is there, right in front of you. It is written down; it is a moment in time. It is what this person said, and you can’t ignore it. Instead, you are called to listen carefully to it and understand it.”

Take a look through the gallery below to see Lenain’s portraits and read the words of the LGBTQ+ individuals of Muslim descent featured in Made of Smokeless Fire.

Join Dazed Club and be part of our world! You get exclusive access to events, parties, festivals and our editors, as well as a free subscription to Dazed for a year. Join for £5/month today