And all this shall pass. Every wall drop and every tower tumble. And over our cities grass shall grow, no answer to nature or to time. Through future ruins we walk, this promised landfill our legacy, on a planet where the weight of construction exceeds that of trees and plants. Our cities are the new forests. Except most trees here are not designed past 60 years.
The pilgrim, Grégoire Pujade-Lauraine, has tracked the outskirts of these concrete forests, his camera drawn to the hard and unlovely faces of our stiff cities. Double Orbit is his book of hours, a cumulative unfolding of unassuming sites and inadvertent icons, at which we might imagine the devoted silently giving thanks for the continued presence of the numinous. These, the faces scrubbed from CGI visions of urban resurrection.
Wandering in search of the marvelous, Pujade-Lauraine can be found at the feet of a lineage that stretches back to the urbane flâneurs of the 19th century. An archetype born of Baudelaire’s The Painter of Modern Life and extending through Benjamin’s Arcades Project, topped up by the Paris Situationists with large doses of the political, the absurd and the performative. Much of which has informed the wordsmithery of the writer Iain Sinclair, for whom the city is a manuscript in need of an editor and a terrain that must be walked in order to be interpreted. If there is a visual psychogeography, Double Orbit is it.
…of all the arts, photography is best placed to record the living past: those out-of-time surfaces, awaiting their certain fate and the attention of the elegy machine.
Thus, like an Atget of the overlooked, Pujade-Lauraine documents the soon to be suddenly gone. Adding to the sense that of all the arts, photography is best placed to record the living past: those out-of-time surfaces, awaiting their certain fate and the attention of the elegy machine.
If photography is a demonstration of the power of framing to make us look and look again, then Double Orbit is an excellent illustration of the art. A refinement of Pujade-Lauraine’s previous book, A Perpetual Season, this volume’s constant focus is the play of city surface, with humans – in fact all living things, save for a couple of birds – entirely absent.
Charting our faraway nearbys, this wordless guide to the faded nooks and odd flourishes of nameless anti-monuments sees Pujade-Lauraine light out for Egglestonian territories of relic and shadow. These studies of time alive in the surfaces we raise and read are also friezes from an open-air museum, whose quiet harbours remain heavily encrypted.
Here is the city and the imagination: one endless and without beginning, forever pending in the long dusk, the other a collection of time pieces in a skyless labyrinth. Hear the quiet polyphony of our peripheries, running softly til we end our song.