The work of French photographer Laurent Kronental displays commitment, thoughtfulness, and sheer skill. Souvenir d’un Futur is a series of photographs Laurent began in 2011 capturing the elderly residents of the Grand Ensembles, large housing projects on the outskirts of Paris.
Taking these photographs in the early morning, “to emphasise this feeling of a post apocalyptic world”, Laurent displays the overwhelming volume of these buildings with their structures illuminated from the rising sun. The most fascinating quality is Laurent’s ability to mix quite daunting photographs of architecture and distinctive portraits of its inhabitants into a cohesive whole. The series captures “the passing of time, these massive grey buildings, like their elderly residents, bearing signs of long lives. And yet, in these wrinkled faces and cracked walls, in the energy of the bodies and of the facades, emerges the pride and pulse we thought had disappeared.”
Laurent wanted others to discover the housing projects and see the beauty he saw. "I hope they feel fascination and curiosity with regard to these constructions.” To achieve this sense of awe, Laurent went directly to the residents whose “open-mindedness, curiosity, the ability to listen, the desire to share and to help,” allowed this project to take form.
Laurent says the residents “still have some taste for new adventures and the physical strength to follow me. They have few relationships or no family and were willing to help me. Some seniors were rather wild – often they had a surprising appearance with fascinating backgrounds and atypical behaviours. I liked that. They are generally strong characters marked by their lives, people who manage alone without assistance from outside.” The solitude of these residents is represented in their homes, left behind with poor transport links into the centre of Paris creating a new town cut off from the city.
The way Laurent speaks of the inhabitants he has spent time with is captivating, with his friendship and care for them clear both behind and in front of the lens. Laurent recalls taking one particular photograph in the autumn of last year: “In the Arcades du Lac I took a photo of a senior called Roland. I had planned another composition at first, having been there many times previously. The day of the shoot, hundreds of leaves covered steps in front of the lake and I immediately changed my plan. In a few minutes, I had to think another framing. I was going very fast because the sun was about to rise, yet with the large format camera, the process is slower so it was exciting and stressful at the same time. I didn’t want to miss this beautiful opportunity, especially as I had asked Roland to get up exceptionally early.”
There were people who didn’t wish to be photographed by Laurent despite how many times he visited them. “There was one senior that I tried to photograph for a long time and was never successful. An old sir with a sensational charisma. He always went to the same bar and drank the same thing everyday. I came to see him repeatedly over several years. He was very elegant in his paradoxically dirty and damaged dress. I was curious because I couldn’t understand his story. The bar closed and I have never seen him again.”
Souvenir d’un Futur is an ongoing project for Laurent, in the hope that the Grand Ensembles and the residents who live there will be recognised. “It is necessary to rethink the buildings and, instead of envisaging a demolition, reorganise the town planning of these districts, and renew an environment which has deteriorated over time for lack of investment and maintenance.”
The photographer is still in contact with his subjects, “I sometimes meet them and try to get their news when possible. It really pleases and heartens me. We manage to keep connected and we tell each other our respective stories. Seeing them in their everyday day life in their homes, while building a trustful relationship seems to me extraordinary.”
Extraordinary is the perfect way to describe what Laurent has documented. These photographs on first glance appear unreal, almost resembling a film set. Yet once you recognise and unfold the story each shot displays and the personalities Laurent has captured, an authentic and considerate photographic series is evident.
About the Author
Lucy joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in July 2016 after graduating from Chelsea College of Art. In October 2016 she became a staff writer on the editorial team and in January 2019 was made It’s Nice That’s deputy editor. Feel free to get in contact with Lucy about new and upcoming creative projects or editorial ideas for the site.