by Klaus Fruchtnis

© Thomas Jorion, Villa, Kep, Cambodge from the series 'Vestiges d'empire'

Tell us about your approach to photography. How it all started? What are your memories of your first shots?

Thomas Jorion (TJ): It all started when I crossed my interests about photography and visiting lost places. I was offered a SLR camera in 1996-1997 when I was 20-21 years old. I didn’t overthink too much my approach to photography. I cannot remember my first photo, but my second or third roll of film was dedicated to an abandoned castle I knew nearby my place. Thanks to that camera, I reconnected with the inner pleasures, and the thrill of the moment of being in a specific environment and smell the recluse space. I found myself documenting those kinds of spaces, and realized that before I was simply a passive voyeur. I was seduced by this new interest, and started playing with lights and other technical parameters, as well as new constraints that came up to spice up my new game later on.

How did your research evolve with respect to those early days and what do you think about photography in the era of digital and social networking? 

TJ: I have evolved a lot between the first steps in photography and now as a professional photographer. First, I studied law and while I was working, I was taking pictures as a hobby. I felt more and more out place with a suit and a tie, in a non-creative place, so photography slowly became my pressure valve. My weekends were dedicated to my camera, and taking pictures of spaces was definitely what I had to do in order to scape. I tried other styles of photography, but my main pleasure remained in freezing locations full with memory. Then, I finally quit my job to become a professional photographer at the end of 2009. I feel that the digital era is a great tool for young photographers to share their work. Artists have become actors of their own communication. The inconvenience is that we are saturated with images so we must increase our efforts to make a difference.

© Thomas Jorion, Tribunal de première instance, Chandernagor, India, 1760, from the series 'Vestiges d'empire'

© Thomas Jorion, Trial court, early 18th century, Chandannagar, India, from the series 'Vestiges d'empire'

© Thomas Jorion, Boulevard Mohamed V, Algiers, Algeria, from the series 'Vestiges d'empire'

About your work now. How would you describe your personal research in general?

TJ: My work focuses on the passage of time and its consequences. I play with the lights and colors that I find in situ. I think that the use of a large format camera and film conveys the feeling of tranquility, and give warmth to the images that seem to be inhabited. My photos are not an instant of time but an instant in time. 'Vestiges d’empire' is a collection of landscapes, portraits of places, architectural views, but also testimonials, vanities of the history of the French colonial empire.

About 'Vestiges d'empire': I would like to know more about how you choose your locations. What research you do before travelling to these places?

TJ: I am passionate about the architectural traces of French colonization. I have chosen areas where French built cities, dwellings, factories, forts, and railways. The difficult part was to know the state of these structures today. The subject of the colony is a rather sensitive subject, so the majority of the information on the Internet is more of a historical or political nature. Approaching the topic from the angle of architectural photography neutralizes it in order to address it from a new perspective. So I searched through books to identify French influences, then I crossed this information with satellite views. When I have identified enough interesting structures for a country, I was ready to plan my itinerary and to book my flights. While on site, I also talked to the inhabitants to discover about the buildings I didn’t know (the individual houses in particular). My selection criteria was that the buildings should be built on a territory, and on a date during France was politically and militarily influential. This project took me about three years (2013-2016).

© Thomas Jorion, Villa, Kep, Cambodge from the series 'Vestiges d'empire'

'Silencio', I am curious about this project where your portrayed different abandoned palazzos and villas in Italy. How did you discover these places? How long did it take you to create this project?

TJ: 'Palais Oubliés' (Forgotten Palaces) is a "chapter" of 'Silencio'. For this series, the Internet facilitated the discovery of these places. By searching carefully we can find dozens of villas. Then, you have to go there and find out a way to enter, with different degrees of success. I worked for three years on this series. But for me, it is not over. I think it probably needs to be a finished body of work and not merely a chapter.

© Thomas Jorion, Velum, Palace, Italy from the series 'Palais oubliés (Silencio)', 2012

What was the feeling of being in these past magnificent buildings, now abandoned?

TJ: The feeling for each place is never the same. Sometimes I remain indifferent, but it is rare. I am often touched by what I visit and photograph. Whatever my feelings are, I try to take over my emotions and to blend into the place to apprehend it and to make the images I see the best. It happens to pass by a place and be touched by its atmosphere; and to make technical mistakes (which are palpable with a large format camera), or to spend too much time contemplating rather than photographing. As a general rule, I visit these places alone. I like it; the concentration and immersion are unique.

© Thomas Jorion, Percezione confusa, Villa, Italy, from the series 'Palais oubliés (Silencio)', 2011

In general, these locations require permissions to enter. Are they difficult to access?

TJ: It is actually more difficult to get an authorization than to enter these places that are often wide open. Indeed there are many obstacles to obtain an authorization. You should determine who is the owner and get in contact by phone, address, or email. Then wait for an answer and explain the process, etc. And often, nine times out of ten are negative answers. The reality is that often the building is closed to the public because it has been looted or threatens to collapse. As far as access is limited, there are different levels of difficulty but most of the time it is easy for anyone to know how to search the way to get in. Generally speaking, I set myself the limit of never forcing a door or a window.

© Thomas Jorion, Splendore, Italy, from the series 'Palais oubliés (Silencio)', 2011

Do you have any preferences in terms of cameras, techniques and format?

TJ: I use a large format camera and color film. Sometimes, I use a medium format but I always use film.

Three books of photography that you recommend?

TJ: 'Subway' by Bruce Davidson, 'Grays the mountain sends' by Bryan Schutmaat and 'A view' by Toshio Shibata.

Is there any show you’ve seen recently that you find inspiring?

TJ: 'Experiments on materials' saw at the Argentinian pavilion during the last Venice Biennale of Architecture.

experimentAR: the Argentine pavilion curated by architect Atilio Pentimali welcomes visitors to the Arsenale in Venice with an eye-catching self-supporting timber structure, a kind of Borges-like labyrinth that both guides you through the exhibition and acts as its surface. Image © Gianluca Giordano

Projects and plans for the future? And how do you see the future of photography in general evolve? 

TJ: I don’t have any specific project yet. I feel the need to recharge my batteries... But I think I want to travel and get closer to the human. I believe that photography will continue to take more and more place in our daily life and will increasingly take an important place as an artistic medium.


Thomas Jorion 
urbanautica France