Francois Prost returns, photographing Venice and its worldwide doppelgängers

As a follow-up to his successful series Paris Syndrome, Francois is yet again photographing architectural replica cities, creating almost identical compositions.

30 April 2020


As we discussed in a 2018 article, around 12 Japanese tourists to Paris per year are affected by depression or even a breakdown triggered by the disconnect between their expectations and the reality of the culturally rich, world-famous city of Paris. Although not a medically confirmed condition, it’s got a name: Paris Syndrome. It’s a topic photographer Francois Prost explored in his series of the same name, which documented through almost identically composed diptychs Paris and a replica city in China called Tianducheng, also known as the Sky City.

While taking the photos for that immensely successful series, Francois discovered there was a replica of Venice in another suburb of Hangzhou and, with such rich ground for yet another work just down the road, couldn’t resist going to check it out. He worked in the same way as with Paris Syndrome, taking photos in China and then later replicating the compositions with the actual locations in Venice. This time around, however, Francois had the chance to visit Las Vegas. “I decided to take pictures of the Little Venice in Las Vegas to include it in the project, so this time, Venice is compared to a Chinese replica but also to the Las Vegas replica,” he explains. The result is a series aptly titled Venice Syndrome.

What fascinates Francois about this kind of copycat architecture is that three distinct places, with their own cultural identities and difference, can look so similar – it’s a true sign of the globalised times we live in. It’s also, he continues, “reassuring to see that whatever the architecture is, the places are shaped by the people that live in it.”

A major draw for Francois is attempting to spot where replicas have gone wrong, the small quirks or oddities that give it away, and so adding a third city to the mix in Venice Syndrome only furthered this. The Chinese Venice is an inhabited area, where people go about their daily lives, totally integrated within the architecture and unaware of its novelty. In Las Vegas, however, it’s “more like an amusement zone made of casinos, hotels, and shopping malls,” Francois describes. No matter what the intention of this form of replica architecture is, that's what “gives the place its own personality” he says.

GalleryFrancois Prost: Venice Syndrome

In any sense, what Francois is interested in, is not how similar these places are but how very different. He’s intrigued by the inevitable mistakes and the tarnish that humankind cannot avoid. He’s also intrigued, therefore, in simply what it means to be human, that you have an impact on that which is around you, whether you mean to or not.

It’s for this reason that he chose to include portraits of the cities’ inhabitants alongside the more formal architectural shots. Without saying that “one is better than the other,” what this does is directly compare the three cultures in an almost pixel perfect context. “I also like to play with the concept of authenticity,” Francois says, “it’s sometimes hard to say which place from the original or the replica looks more authentic than the others, as some spots in Venice or Paris have become caricatures of themselves and offer the same globalised and standard culture as what you find in Las Vegas.” When he manages to trick someone, and make them think a replica is the real thing, it “amuses” him.

It’s here that the crux of Francois’ practice become clear: it is not simply a technical exercise, just about perfectly recreating a composition in different locations, it is about challenging our perception and our willingness to accept what is truth. “I like to challenge cliché and the preconceived idea we have on things, and working with a typological or inventorial approach helps me be as objective as possible,” the photographer explains.

Seeing Venice Syndrome as a follow-up chapter to Paris Syndrome, it’s a project which Francois has now been working on for several years. During that time, he’s garnered a lot of attention for the work and this will be culminating in a book released next autumn by Hoxton Mini Press: “Stay tuned.”

GalleryFrancois Prost: Venice Syndrome

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Ruby Boddington

Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor.

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