Souvenir d’un Futur documents the life of senior citizens living in the “Grands Ensembles” (large housing projects) around Paris. For the most part erected between the 1950s and the 1980s to address the housing crisis, urban migration and the inflow of foreign migrants while meeting modern comfort needs, these large estates are today often stigmatized by the media and marginalized by public opinion.
In sharp contrast with these cliché views, and fascinated by these projects’ ambitious and dated modernistic features, French photographer, Laurent Kronental was moved by the living conditions of these urban veterans who have aged there, and who, he feels, are the memory of the locus.
Kronental felt a need to examine their living conditions and shed light over a sometimes-neglected generation. Exposing these unsung and underestimated suburban areas is a means to reveal the poetry of aging environments slowly vanishing, and with them, the memory of modernist utopia.
His photographs are tinted with melancholic, yet brave disenchantment. The majestic mass of the futuristic vessels seems to drift across an ocean of concrete. But the presence of old people, which might seem unexpected in such settings, paradoxically hints at a possible hope, as if past illusions were not all dead yet. Using a 4×5” analog camera, the artist highlights the architectural geometry without stamping out the details.
Souvenir d’un Futur is the result of four years of visits and exchanges. In this series, Laurent Kronental wanted to create the atmosphere of a parallel world mixing past and future while consciously conveying the impression of towns that would be emptied of their residents. In this magnificent and ghostly world, the structures of our cities would be titanic, gobble the human, the product of our fears and hopes for an organization of the city.
Marked by the passing of time, these massive, gray buildings, like their elder residents, bear the 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 that we thought had disappeared. The peaceful faces and the bareness of the spaces convey a mix of resignation and expectation, skepticism and confidence, unsatisfaction and plenitude – a world of contrasts, deep layers of life, spontaneity. These “monuments”, as living memories of their time, hold a fragile force: that of a younger generation that did not see itself age.
All images by Laurent Kronental
Richelle Sibolboro is Managing Editor of OpenCity Projects