By Rachel Ang
By Rachel Ang
Over four years of visits and encounters, Laurent Kronental has carefully, and with not a little affection, captured the concrete jungle of the massive neglected housing projects built between the 1950s and 70s in Paris. These estates were erected all over France in response to an urgent need for housing, and have been a diverse mix of rural refugees, foreign migrants, the working class and repatriated workers from former colonies. However, the modernist ideal failed, and in the 1980s these sites became wells of deep social crisis; today, the media continues to depict them as decay and hopelessness. Kronental captures the faces and souls of the senior citizens who live there today with sensitivity and compassion. In doing this he questions prejudiced preconceptions we may have about the ‘ghetto’ or the elderly.
These perplexing labyrinths are often dismissed as ripe for the wrecking ball, but Kronental photographs them with an architect’s eye – the endless curve of balconies at Les Espaces d’Abraxas, the massive circular building profile at Le Pavé Neuf, Noisy-le-Grand, like a concrete setting sun. The sensual splay of the concrete arches at Cité Spinoza, Ivry-sur-Seine reminds us of a church, and the colossal square arch at Les Espaces d’Abraxas speaks of modernist triumph and valour. An inevitable pity, then, that they did not fulfill the rosy expectations of the city, and today’s town planners have decided to destroy them
The residents of these towers have grown old with the grands ensembles, and if their expressions of calm resilience are anything to judge by, they may outlive their homes. Kronental’s camera captures every wrinkle and crease with as the same crisp focus as the buildings – crags and valleys chart the passage of time and difficult lives lived in the shadows.
For Kronental, the most interesting element of the series is in the engagement with the residents. When he first commenced this project, he had no contacts in the neighborhoods or in the aged community, and he would begin by approaching people in the street if he found their appearance intriguing. As he describes it: It was a real challenge for me to explain them the purpose of my project and the message I wanted to convey by it, to try to create a connection and to successfully achieve an atmosphere of confidence. That was a hard and important work that demanded a lot of time and incredible amount of energy from my side.