Souvenir d’un Futur documents the life of senior citizens living in the “Grands Ensembles” (large housing projects) around Paris. These looming edifices were, for the most part, erected between the 1950s and the 1980s to address the city’s housing crisis. As many of them were built in response to urban migration and the inflow of foreign migrants, these estates quickly became lightning rods of public opinion. Even today, they continue to be stigmatized by the media and marginalized in public opinion. In sharp contrast with these cliché views, Laurent Kronental has conducted his work. Initially fascinated by these projects’ ambitious (and now dated) modernistic features, Kronental was drawn to investigate more deeply. Once there, he was moved by the living conditions of the residents themselves—urban veterans who have lived, loved, and aged there, and who, he feels, are the memory of the locus.
Text and images © Laurent Kronental
He felt a need to examine their living conditions and shed light on a sometimes-neglected generation. Exposing these unsung and underestimated areas gave Kronental a means to reveal the poetry of aging environments which are slowly vanishing, and with them, the memory of a 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″x5″ 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 these magnificent and ghostly worlds, the structures of our cities would be titanic—gobbling the human, effacing our fears and hopes for a harmonious 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 a 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.