MARCHAND & MEFFRE ON PHOTOGRAPHING THE RUINS OF DETROIT

Monday, 13 February 2012


Unusually for photographers, Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre shoot images as a team, documenting the crumbling ruins of urban architecture in Detroit and elsewhere. The pair talk about their shared obsession with abandoned buildings and how their collaborative creative process works in practice…

We both grew up in the Paris area.

We had each been interested in photographing ruins since 2001. After we met in 2002, we started working together, making a systematic record of the changing urban landscape around Paris and then further afield in France, Belgium, England, Spain and Italy.

Before 2002 we used to work separately on the same places but it rapidly turned out to be counterproductive, as the pictures we made looked almost the same. When we began using a large format camera, at the beginning of our Detroit project, we found it was easier to work together. Generally, we share ideas in order to find and select the best point of view; we set up the equipment and then take the picture, using one camera. We think it's the fairest and most efficient way to take pictures. There are no real difficulties in the process; it all comes very naturally. Also, working as a duo helps us to carry out long projects.

Ruins fascinate us. They are evocative of our human nature and its paradoxes – our spectacular ability to create and self-destruct. To get access to some places requires authorisation; others have simply been left wide open. Of course, when you're visiting ruins you have to watch your step, but we don't feel like it's much more dangerous than crossing a busy street. And in Detroit, despite the bad reputation the city has, we’ve never had any trouble.

We work with a 4x5 large format camera and use a low contrast negative to give density to the pictures. We work mainly with a wide-angle lens – the converging lines produce a feeling of immersion – and we use perspective control, which is needed when dealing with buildings and volume, especially with architecture of a monumental scale. For some pictures, when we are shooting in a very dark place, we light the scene using a flashlight plugged into a motorcycle battery. Exposure time may last up to one hour in these situations.

Almost every visit [to a decaying building] offers something unique. Standing on the rooftop of a 40-storey abandoned tower with no elevators, looking down at the cityscape, and at the other buildings we previously visited, was a breathtaking experience; standing in apartments, schools and libraries, still full of books and furniture as though someone had just vanished from the room, gave us a really uncomfortable, apocalyptic feeling. All these moments are unforgettable for us.

Interview by Rachel Segal Hamilton.

This article originally appeared in IdeasMag.

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