Souvenir d’un Futur photo essay by young photographer Laurent Kronental documents the life of senior citizens living in the Grands Ensembles, large housing projects, around Paris. Jacques (82), Josette (90), Alain (80) and other “urban veterans” are portrayed contemplating the surrounding concrete-scape.
The project is the result of four years of exploration and human interaction with the portrayed people and places. Souvenir d’un Futur is on show at the Bibliothèque national de France until the 7th of February 2016.
The brutalist districts were erected between the 1950s and the 1980s to address the housing crisis, urban migration and the inflow of foreign migrants but also to meet modern comfort needs.
Such large estates became an architectural exercise for a modernist utopia. But today they are often stigmatized by the media and marginalized by public opinion. Fascinated by the ambition of the dated modernistic features, Laurent Kronental was moved by the living conditions of those who have aged there, and who, he feels, are the memory of the locus.
“I 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” says Laurent Kronental.
The photographs feature a 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”.
Souvenir d’un Futur is the result of four years of visits and exchanges. In the series, Laurent Kronental aimed to create the atmosphere of a parallel world mixing past and future. Empty spaces, dramatic concrete-scapes and a “thunderous” silence seem to suspend the time.
“I wanted to convey 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” adds Kronental.
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”.
Self-taught photographer, Laurent Kronental discovers photography in China during a stay of several months in Beijing. He is captivated by the big metropolises there and by the variety of their architectures, their inhabitants, the way they tame the space and their personal stories.
PINTEREST BOARD: discover more brutalist architecture and dramatic concrete scenery.
All photos by Laurent Kronental.