In his previous series Souvenir d'un Futur, Laurent Kronental photographed older people living in high-rise social housing blocks in Paris, known as the Grands Ensembles. Now he invites us to gaze at the unique projects through the portholes and windows of the Tours Aillaud in his new series, Les Yeux des Tours.
Located in the Pablo Picasso district of Nanterre, the eighteen towers were built by architect Emile Aillaud between 1973 and 1981, and feature more than 1,600 apartments. Ever since their construction, they have been a source of inspiration and curiosity amongst the art community, begging the questions: why such shapes? How do people live there? Is there a future for them?
Laurent himself is fascinated by the architecture and its "underlying utopian paradigm". He ushers us in, crossing thresholds and peering through windows that open out onto vertiginous heights, sprawling horizons and vast skies. The eye indulges in the sensuous show of the city pulsating in the blazing sunset, towers jutting from a dusky backcloth or the urban skyline silhouetting in the crisp early morning breeze. Yet, the breathtaking sight is a mere afterthought for the people who live there and fill their days with cooking, sleeping, hosting, entertaining themselves. Satellite dishes, facades, clusters of trees, lights, roads share the stage with refrigerators, beds, TV sets and miscellaneous decorative artefacts.
"I had always been under the spell of this district and stunned by the cylindrical shape of housing environments and their retro-futuristic design," explains Laurent. "They looked as if suspended in time. I had the sensation to be transported into a science fiction world reminding me Jacques Tati's Playtime, Ridley Scott's Blade Runner or Terry Gilliam's Brazil.
"Another specificity then caught my attention: the windows. From the outside, they reminded me of troglodyte houses whose openings could have been carved out from the rock. These windows would be the anchor point of my new project. The view which they offered subjugated me.
"So many contrasts overlap – esthetic contrasts but above all temporal contrasts. These windows evoked travelling; they could represent the porthole of a plane, a space capsule, a dormer window of a ship, or even Jules Verne's eye aboard the Nautilus submarine in his novel 20,000 Leagues under the Sea."