The photographer presents images of urban decay at the Esther Woerdehoff Gallery in Paris. He takes us on a stroll through abandoned landscapes where nature is reclaiming its rights while crumbling mansions wither like fragile flowers. Thomas Jorion talks to us about his photography.
Where have you taken these images?
They were all taken in Italy, except one which was taken in Switzerland, just a few miles from the Italian border, so still under the influence of Italian architecture. This is part of a project on Italy, its palaces and villas…: mansions that were deserted and forsaken by their owners, which makes it possible to wander around. In fact, I would call what I do photographic wandering. I go to these places on my own budget, like an explorer. It’s always difficult to locate the owners and ask for their permission, explain my approach. It’s easier just to go on one’s own.
So the idea behind these photographs is to show the passage of time?
That’s quite right. I find there is a new kind of beauty that shines through these abandoned mansions. These buildings were constructed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by wealthy families, and as such are places already marked by an aesthetic endeavor. We are quite close to the Italian Renaissance, and while it’s easy to imagine that these buildings lose their splendor with abandonment and neglect, I find there is a new type of aesthetics that is at work. There is much room for creativity: the aesthetics of ruins, the play of colors… Sometimes, the collapse of a room opens up a new perspective, lets in a fresh shaft of light, and I find it interesting to revisit these locations in view of new configurations.
It’s interesting that you bring up wall collapse that lets in light in new ways, because looking at your photographs it’s clear you are sensitive to architecture and framing…
Yes, of course. It may be cliché, but framing is extremely important in photography. However, photographs are a combination of a number of elements: framing, but also light, architectural elements, color… All of this must come together in just the right way, and that’s when you press the shutter release.
This is what lends your photographs interesting character: the fact that there are multiple layers, backgrounds… Like nested meanings.
Indeed, there are multiple interpretations. I try to compose my images such that one can rove around, wander, and discover new details. I love it when there are small things that kick around on the left or the right. A little door in the background that one doesn’t notice straight away, and where one’s gaze will gravitate later on. I enjoy playing with this multiplicity. I’m also aware of the fact that viewers may be telling their own story.
What do you like best about this aesthetic of ruins?
I’m not sure. I think I got into it out of a sense of adventure when I was younger. When I was a teenager, I used to like roaming around with a group of friends, and discover places like that, just outside the city, dormant buildings. And then, when I discovered photography at the age of 18–20, I instinctively focused on this subject. It’s true that over the past decade or so, photography of ruins has become fashionable, but back then it wasn’t as widespread. At the time, I was the only one working on what has now become a veritable movement in photography. That’s not such a bad thing, either, since it forces me to seek more complex compositions, to go beyond surface impressions.
Why have you chosen the medium of photography to convey this aesthetics?
It’s true that this could have well been a motion picture, but I like photography. I use a very specific camera, namely a view camera. It’s an interesting type of camera because it’s well adapted to architecture, and you make photographs using color negatives. Negatives are very important to me: I like the overall effect and the texture. Plus, I’m using 4:3 aspect ratio, which is well suited to my needs. However, the equipment is quite heavy. In the evening, when I’m done roaming, I’m quite tired!
Interview by Jean-Baptiste Gauvin
Thomas Jorion, Veduta
February 7 to April 6, 2019
The Esther Woerdehoff Gallery, 36 Rue Falguière, 75015 Paris