The collaboration between French photographers Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre has had a successful first decade, with a number of shows around Europe and New York two books published by the art-book publisher Steidl. Not bad for two young guys whose subject is the physical reality of ruins in the post-industrial (and late-capitalist) world that we live in – not exactly what everyone wants to be thinking about, but it seems that if there are stunning images documenting the desertion and crumbling of specific areas of our world many people will be interested…in the pictures at least. And the pictures these two gentlemen take are nothing short of gorgeous and their subject matter inspired. The two projects MM. Marchand and Meffre have completed thus far – which became Steidl books – are Ruins of Detroit (which has already received a fair share of celebration on the Web) and one called Gunkanjima (Battleship Island) which documents a small Japanese Island settled by the Mitsubishi Corporation in the late 19th century as a coal mining operation coal, grew to the point of having the highest population anywhere on the planet (according to Marchand/Meffre’s copy), but became a ghost town in 1975 after petroleum became the primary source of Japan’s fuel, causing the closing of the mine. The last project the pair is working on is the ongoing Theaters, which finds them training their cameras on America’s once-glorious theater-palaces that have now fallen into disrepair or been converted into any number of things.
Their artist statement reads as follows: “Ruins are the visible symbols and landmarks of our societies and their changes, small pieces of history in suspension. The state of ruin is essentially a temporary situation that happens at some point, the volatile result of change of era and the fall of empires”. I am most impressed by the ideological “fallen empires” that MM. Marchand and Meffre are able to evoke with these images (and with their theory alone); the idea of the city that once exited in the American imagination is the ghost that haunts all of the images of Detroit, the irrelevance of places for shared experiences in the theater shots, and the power of a boss and job market over the lives of real people lives in the Gunkanjima images (see the above images still-hanging calendar from 1969 to see what I mean). In each of their projects MM. Marchand and Meffre make it a point to allow the inherent power of the ruins to speak of the recent past, to the current day, and leads us to ask if there is any way that we who are alive now can help keep further ruinization to a minimum. Whether you look at the photographs of Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre and just see impressive wabi-sabi or, like me, your heart hurts for all the people who once lived in and loved these places (there are, of course, countless more like it), one thing is certain – in the world of ruins photography these two are setting the bar incredibly high. [And if you get impatient waiting for new work from these guys, don’t forget about Niki Feijen and the other urbex photographers out there.]