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How a single photo captures the loneliness of a post-war Paris housing project

Editor’s Note: After World War II, a number of “grands ensembles,” or housing projects, were constructed in the suburbs to meet an increased demand in housing needs by migrants. In this week’s edition of Parallax, Laurent Kronental describes the four years he spent photographing the elderly residents of the housing complexes, located in areas that have historically been economically and socially isolated from the rest of the Parisian metro area. This sense of isolation among residents is tangible in Kronental’s series “Souvenir d’un Futur” (“Memory of a Future”).

For four years, I have photographed the seniors living in the large estates of the Parisian suburbs with a 4×5 large format film camera. One area in particular profoundly fascinated me: the Espaces d’Abraxas, conceived by Ricardo Bofill, in Noisy-le-Grand, a suburb of Paris. I remember the first time I arrived at the foot of this concrete giant. I was captivated by its timeless architecture; this spectacular and mysterious estate, like an impregnable fortress, seemed to come from another time, at once dark and poetic, grand and rough. A future that did not come to pass has left its imprint on the landscape in the form of these towns, icons of French post-war modernism.

This district, built between 1978 and 1983, was one of the anchor points of my series. I came there many times before taking this photo. It shows an a 88-year-old man named Joseph who had lived in Noisy-le-Grand for many years. In the photo, he contemplates a monumental and strangely ghostly landscape where only some quiet signs of life appear. I imagined him as one of the last survivors in a post-apocalyptic universe, where the elderly live their lives in the titanic structures that have engulfed their humanity, their fears and their hopes.

In the foreground appears a massive building whose curvature recalls a theater. Joseph gazes into the distance, facing a world which ages slowly, taking with it the memory of a utopia. His presence raises the question, for us, about the place of these urban veterans in our society.

The word “parallax” describes the camera error that occurs when an image looks different through a viewfinder than how it is recorded by a sensor; when one camera gives two perspectives. Parallax is a blog where photographers offer the unexpected sides and stories of their work. Tell us yours or share on Instagram at #PBSParallax.

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