An architectural photographer, artist. He grew up in France and has been living in Poland since 1999. He studied Political Science and Sociology in Paris and London. He was awarded the Golden Lion at the 2008 Venice Architecture Biennale for his joint exhibition (with Kobas Laksa) “Hotel Polonia. The Afterlife of Buildings” in the Polish Pavilion.
His two albums “Modern Forms. A Subjective Atlas of 20th Century Architecture” and “Modern Spaces. A Subjective Atlas of 20th Century Interiors” were released by the Pastel Publishing House. Photos displayed at the exhibition at the FORT Institue of Photography come from these two publications. There are many photos depicting Warsaw buildings and interiors: stations of the Warsaw Cross-City Line, complex of buildings housing the Sejm and Senate of Poland, the Warsaw School of Economics, the Fryderyk Chopin University of Music, the Warsaw Branch of the Association of Polish Architects (OW SARP) in Foksal Street or Hotel Europejski before its renovation.
How did it happen that you decided to settle in Poland?
– The answer is simple: my mother is Polish that is why I have always had contact with Poland. I wrote my thesis in the field of Political Science on the transformation of the countries of the Eastern bloc from the centrally steered economy to democracy and free market.
I came here for longer to work for a television station. Then I met my future wife, turned to photography, and decided to stay.
You live in Żoliborz. And this is where we are meeting today at Secret Life. What do you like most in Warsaw?
– That people here are open and kind.
And what annoys you?
– Visual mess and air pollution.
At first, you were interested in both portraits and architecture. Why have you finally decided to focus on architecture?
– First I was taking these photos for myself. I was travelling and documenting for fun, for example, the Lithuanian bus stops because I liked their shapes. Back then I had no idea what I would do with these photos. However, their growing popularity on Tumblr made me finally organise the archives.
You focus on modernist architecture. It is a very vast term. What do you mean by “modernist”?
– What interests me most is the post-war period until the fall of communism. Modernist architecture is an attempt to break up with elite architecture and become more open to people. Nowadays we know that such belief in progress encapsulated in architecture was to a large extent an illusion.
However, when it comes to architecture types I am less interested in big residential buildings as they are formally repetitive. I prefer public buildings: libraries, museums, cultural centres, concert halls, which back then were pure and limited only to their function, deprived of all this commercial context. Such uncompromising attitude allures me.
And what type of modernist interiors do you fancy most?
– I prefer minimalism which is characterised by simplicity and purity of form. But I am also intrigued by more baroque interiors contrasting with this purity. Have a look at the Orlov Museum of Paleontology in Moscow, which photos can be seen at the exhibition. From the outside, this building is very minimalistic, although it resembles a castle but without any ornaments. However inside there are four giant rooms packed with objects and decorations in various intriguing shapes and forms.
You don’t treat photography solely as a form of documentation of perishing modernist architecture. It is also an element of your conceptual projects, activities within the context of the particular objects. I remember very well your works presented in the honorary tribune, or at the CIECH building just before its closing. You decided to present them in your album. I treat it as some sort of play with the Varsovians who know that these interiors originally didn’t look like this. That it is your own integration.
– Everything is written at the end of the album, all these contexts are explained. Is it misleading? It is rather an element of some sort of play with the reader. In my publication, I could also show inspirations which I used to these projects – from the moment of entering a recreational-commercial complex in Tbilisi to the completed project on Defilad Square in Warsaw.
How did you cope with such a large archive of several thousand photos which you have collected for over 20 years now?
– It wasn’t easy. Various architects, different periods, countries, functions. Even photo formats were different. I was pondering how to deal with it. Form was the most logical link. I like this play with unpredicted connections, creating new contexts. When flipping through pages of the album you get involved in this game, you just wonder what kind of set you will find next.
Interview by Agnieszka Kowalska
Photos: Nicolas Grospierre and Filip Klimaszewski (portraits and photos from the exhibition)
Exhibition at the FORT Institue of Photography (Racławicka St 99) can be seen till 7th April, Wed-Fri 2 PM-6 PM, Sat-Sun 12 PM-6 PM, tickets: 7 PLN.
Curatorial walkthrough with the artist and curator Adam Mazur takes place on 23rd March, at 1 PM.