For her series “ADN,” Parisian photographer Alexia Fiasco took portraits of immigrant families in France, capturing them in the intimate settings of their own homes rather than solely in the context of work and struggle. Alexia tells writer Sarah Souli that she hopes to combat the presumption that when a child of immigration finds their own individual path or identity, that it’s thanks to the country they’ve found themselves in rather than the love, support and determination of their own parents.
In one of Parisian photographer Alexia Fiasco’s most arresting images from her project “ADN”(DNA in French), a group of impossibly stylish kids are gathered around a middle-aged Algerian man in a Nike sweatshirt. They’re positioned in an almost Baroque arrangement, chins lifted, eyebrows cocked, a gloved hand resting on the man’s chest. The photograph is obviously a family portrait, but of the six people around Mouss, the man in the middle, only three are his biological children. The rest, all first or second-generation immigrant kids who are queer or trans, have been adopted into the family on the basis of love and acceptance.
“This portrait transcends the law of blood, or DNA,” Fiasco explains. It’s one of a series of photos that she’s been working on since 2019, creating a “post-colonial archive” of family photos (both biological and created) that provide a nuanced and tender look at immigrant families in France. The project is both a political act and a personal one. “I never had family photos,” Fiasco tells me. “I was really upset by this as a kid; it felt like I didn’t exist. You know, a photo is also proof of something.”
Fiasco’s father came to France from Cape Verde as a teenager; he met her mother, who is half French, half Guadalupean, and they settled in the outskirts of Paris, in Seine-Saint-Denis. Born in 1990, Fiasco grew up in what would be known as France’s “most troubled suburb,” a lightning rod for the government’s unequal and marginalized treatment of poor, immigrant populations. Often referred to by its administrative number, the “93” was the site of the infamous 2005 protests against this inequality. Dubbed as riots by French and international media, the protests lasted three weeks and spread to other cities across the country.
The accompanying images from this time are the ones most often associated with Asian, Arab and African immigrants in France; even Romain Gavras’ 2022 film, “Athena,” plays on these tired tropes. And while there is increased representation today, it’s often done through a white, fetishized gaze. “People love these immigrant kids that are so aesthetized in the mainstream fashion world, and we’re talked about as though we just emerged like that—as though there wasn’t already a framework where we evolved into ourselves,” says Fiasco. “If we're here today it’s not just because France permitted us to be here, it’s because our families were super present—or not—but fought for what they have, for us to be where we are. Our parents’ generation weren’t shown in their intimacy. We just saw them suffering, or at work. Only in moments or instances of struggle.”
Growing up, Fiasco never saw herself represented in mainstream media. Hyper conscious of both her race and class, as a teenager, she lied on her papers and left her neighborhood to go to school on the other side of Paris, where she ended up being the only Black girl in her grade. She studied plastic arts, and from there, moved to cinema and photography. “I wasn’t conscious of it yet,” she explains, “but the power I wanted to give myself with photography was to represent people who looked like me.”
Most of the characters in “ADN”are friends of Fiasco, people with whom she has been having exploratory conversations for years: What it means to grow up second-generation in the colonizing country, how family expectations can differ from societal expectations, what it means to be accepted or rejected by their family because of their sexual orientation or outward appearance. There is an inherent tension here, which could easily be dismissed as homophobia or transphobia, but Fiasco has a more nuanced understanding of this dynamic—the parents she photographs have often left everything they knew to create a better life for their family in a new country. “It goes both ways, you have lots of parents who don’t accept their kids or are hard on them because they think it’s not normal or life is too difficult,” she explains. Rejection, however counter-intuitive it may seem to those who come from a different milieu, can be a form of protection, too.
In some of the families she’s already photographed, children had been kicked out of the home for revealing their “otherness” or sexual orientation; they were later welcomed back. Other parents were immediately accepting of their children. In either case, the main emotion that emerges from these photos is one of love. Part of that is the setting—Fiasco is careful to always photograph people in their homes, where they feel most comfortable, and in clothes that make them feel good about themselves. But it also points to a more deeply universal human truth: Most of the time, our parents are just trying their best. Of course they love us; how couldn’t they?
“It’s a very intrusive project,” Fiasco acknowledges. “I’m always asking this question of legitimacy, of intrusiveness, at what point am I ‘in my place’ or not.” Though Fiasco herself does not identify as queer, many of her friends do; it seemed natural to start this project with the people she’s most intimate with. However, “ADN”is not solely an exploration of queerness within immigrant families—over time, the project will explore the vast diversity of immigrant families that is underrepresented within mainstream media.
“The idea is to give some strength to the parents and to their kids,” Fiasco explains. In representing the diversity of family, Fiasco lends credibility to the concept of growth and acceptance. Some parents have told her that they felt completely isolated when their children came out, but that seeing other people in their situation through her photos has given them strength and comfort.
“When I retrace my journey, it seems such an obvious decision to do this project—if I had grown up with these photos, I’d have less auto rejection of myself, fewer problems,” says Fiasco. “The idea was to recreate a family album that had never existed, but if it had, I would have felt a lot less lost.”