Nordine Makhloufi’s new photo book, Quand La Ville Dort, documents a misfit group of artists as they traverse the city’s club scene
“When the city sleeps, it’s a cry from the heart for the queens, the sisters, and the muse. It’s a story of indelible loves and friendships to the core,” begins the poem in Nordine Makhloufi’s debut photobook, Quand La Ville Dort. Penned by Hugo Kreit, Makhloufi’s partner and collaborator, these words set the scene for the photographer’s visual narrative, which offers an atmospheric insight into the lives of his queer community in Paris.
Makhloufi, now 31, began documenting his circle of friends and creatives in 2019, the year he quit his job as a sales assistant at Galeries Lafayette and committed to photography full-time. Inspired by the work of Nan Goldin, whose searing visual journal of New York’s queer subcultural scene in the 1970s and 80s was a watershed in confessional photography, Makhloufi set out to create a photo diary of his own.
A misfit group of artists from all walks of life, he followed his friends day and night with his Olympus film camera, photographing them in the intimate communion of bathrooms, dancing in restaurants repurposed for underground parties, and dozing lakeside in the afterglow. “I wanted to show the strength of our queer community here in Paris,” he tells Dazed. “We are a small community and we are fragile – we’ve suffered losses and illness. But I wanted to highlight our beauty and show the best of us.”
Makhloufi discovered the scene after moving to inner city Paris at the age of 20. The child of first-generation immigrants from Algeria, he speaks of a “difficult childhood” in the suburbs. “I grew up in a poor family. Before Paris, I never really thought about my sexuality because I had so many more problems and priorities. It was like I was surviving, rather than living,” he says. “When I came here, I met all these people and found freedom and acceptance for the first time.”
“COVID came and it kind of broke our scene somehow. We don’t see each other every week like we did before” – Nordine Makhloufi
Aware of the talent within the group, Makhloufi initially intended to create a visual “testimony” to their youth; portraits to be looked back on in years to come. “It wasn’t my idea to create a photo book so soon. They’re all emerging artists, so I’d planned to show the images in future, when they’re at the top of their careers,” he explains. “But then COVID came and it kind of broke our scene somehow. We don’t see each other every week like we did before. So now it feels right to have made this book, so the world can remember these people and this time.”
The title, Quand La Ville Dort, refers to the 1986 song by French synthpop duo Niagara, which Makhloufi and his friends would play on loop before parties or while sprawled out in parks on summer afternoons. “For me, ‘When the city sleeps’ is not about the night; it’s about the system and what happens when society sleepwalks through their nine-to-five lives,” he says. “The people I shoot come alive. They express themselves through their bodies. They can’t lie about their sexuality or their identity. They are themselves; they are their truth.”
While the book will remain rooted in that specific circle in Paris in that specific year, with all its blissful ignorance of what was to come, Makhloufi hopes his images will resonate with any queer kid who has ever felt alone. As the closing lines of Kreit’s poem read: “When the city sleeps, it’s memory and hope. It’s without remorse, it’s all of us, it’s you.”
Quand La Ville Dort is available to buy now