This week’s featured project is a truly brilliant series by Parisian photographer Laurent Kronental. Laurent’s series Souvenir d’un Futur documents the lives of senior citizens who live in “Grands Ensembles” (large housing projects) around Paris.
Shot on 4×5 film, Laurent’s photographs are described as “tinted with melancholic, yet brave disenchantment. The majestic mass of the futuristic vessels seems to drift across an ocean of concrete.”
This captivating series took place over 4 years and shows the residents – and structures – marked by the passing of time. Laurent has given us a lot of great insight into both his thought process, and the logistics of this shoot. Let’s dive on in and check it out:
Laurent shares “I began to photograph the elderly who live in the large estates of Paris region 4 years ago. I think that initially I was really influenced by my experience in China where I lived 6 months in 2008. I did discover photography [there]. The big cities of this territory stunned me by their gigantic size, their tentacular immoderation, their paradoxes, their metamorphosises, their contrasts and the way the human being lives in this abundant and over populated town planning. I was literally absorbed by the atmosphere of the megalopolis and by its astounding mix of futurism and tradition. It certainly unconsciously stimulated the search for a juxtaposition of ages in my later projects.
In 2010, as I was walking in Courbevoie, I discovered a tiny little street where time seemed suspended for 50 years – countryside at the foot of office buildings of La Défense business district. The place was surreal. I befriended a couple of old people and started to photograph them. Their traditional garden offered a stark contrast with the surrounding skyline of towers, bringing together two different eras, two different living styles.
At the same time, I developed a great attraction towards the architecture of the “Grands Ensembles” (large housing projects). Two areas next to my home have been essential in my approach: “Les Damiers” at Courbevoie and “Les Tours Aillaud” (they are also called “Tours Nuages” or “Cité Pablo Picasso”) at Nanterre. The more I photographed them, the more I was amazed. The buildings seemed timeless, as if their reason for being oscillated between past and present. Then I discovered in 2011 other examples of monumental and spectacular architecture around Paris and in the capital. I got interested in their history, origins of their construction and their place in the actual society. I am fascinated by their oversized urbanism and their look both rough and poetic.
I have always been inspired by seniors and I had this deep feeling to put them at the front stage. I wished to communicate with them, know their life and try to deconstruct this sometimes depreciating image of the old age which arises from our society. I then said to myself that there was a subject to explore both on the passing of the generations as well as on the impact of time on the architecture and the lives which it tries to harmonize.”
In my personal favorite image from the series, Laurent paints a forlorn yet majestic picture. The architecture is complex and grand. Having Jacques stand at the edge of the viaduct gives us a lovely sense of scale. It is easy to see how in his younger years, Jacques could have stood in the same spot, appreciating the Montigny-le-Bretonneux’s grandeur.
“I desired to question myself about conditions of their existence, to pour some light on the generation that we forget sometimes. By posing a view at the suburban areas, often marginalized and underestimated, I wanted to express my feelings of the poetry in front of this universe, which seems to age slowly and take with it the memories of a modernist utopia,” Laurent says.
“I wanted to undertake a project which associates men and architecture. It was thus essential to gather these two worlds in one same photographic series. While tackling the large housing estates issue, I wondered whether urban structures were adapted to the needs of their inhabitants. By switching from portraits, which imply facial emotions, to landscapes, in which the person is lost in the vast neighborhood, I wanted to show the scale ratios and interactions between the person and his city.”
He continues, “Through this series, I aim at questioning the spectator about the forgetting of the old age. At a time when all the intentions are directed on youth, maintaining indifference and prejudice toward seniors, this vision creates a shock by recalling the existence of these people and by highlighting their problems.
In spite of their melancholic look, these elders, with the strength of their dignified and elegant posture, asserts their fight against the age and their implanting in their housing place. They are the only ones to fill up the space in this series from which youth has purposely been obliterated. By settling down in these futuristic buildings then, they have re-conquered a space, one that was not originally intended.”
Laurent’s perspective here shows the sprawling nature of these massive housing complexes. It takes us a moment to find Denise, who is stepping out of the door to the grassy rooftop.
Laurent shares his hope for the project, stating “I made this series with the will to keep the memory of a generation so that in the future our society and its architectures allow by their structures and their services departments to give back a social role to our elders, and thus, the legitimacy and the respect which are owed to them. I would like that people could discover, with so much surprise as I was able to have, the large estates landscapes. I would wish that they feel so much fascination and curiosity with regard to such constructions. I want that we wonder about the future of these districts, that we pay attention on their population put aside.”
“I chose to work with a large film camera 4×5 giving the possibilities of tilt-shifts which allow to glorify the architecture and its dimensions, to gain in height and in width while keeping straight ahead the lines of buildings; for the analog rendering of the large format which is fabulous both in its sweetness, its relief and its precision; for the process of photographic creation which urges us to be more requiring in the choice of images and framings and which brings a different relationship with the subject, with more observation,” he tells.
Many thanks to Laurent for sharing this beautiful project with us! It wonderfully shows the relationship between humans and architecture!
Head over to Laurent’s website laurentkronental.com to see all 26 photographs in the Souvenir d’un Futur project, as well as his other gorgeous work. You can also follow Laurent on Instagram @laurentkronental.