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Photography

#architecture#France#memory#Thibaut Derien

Thibaut Derien Immortalizes the Aging Facades of France’s Shuttered Shops in Poignant Photographs

March 28, 2024

Kate Mothes

An art nouveau style shop or cafe facade in France called Au Terminus with an arched wooden door and sign carved into the plaster.

All images © Thibaut Derien, shared with permission

Shuttered blinds, peeling paint, and aging doors don’t usually indicate an invitation, but for French photographer Thibaut Derien, the fading facades of long-closed shops are well worth a stop. In his ongoing series J’habite une ville fantôm, which translates to “I live in a ghost city,” he captures myriad eras and architectural details in storefronts ranging from cafes to photo studios to fishmongers, drawn to what he describes as a desire to “immortalize” them before they disappear for good.

Derien, who is also a musician, has traveled all over France, visiting countless small towns and villages along the way. He often avoids major highways, preferring country roads and local streets where development is slower. “I continue this series because I’m still touched each time I discover an old shop,” he tells Colossal, “always standing despite abandonment as a resistance to the modern world. I always think about people who spent their life behind those walls.”

A closed shop represents more than simply a bygone era or an empty facade for the artist, who is interested in capturing the individuality of each location in light of the homogeneity of today’s commercial developments. Derien looks closer: “First, it’s just a facade; you can think it’s sad, but if you look a little bit more you see old paintings, old mosaics, some ‘know-how’… Many commercial centers—all the same—have replaced the small shops, each one different.”

An abandoned shop in France with blue and white shutters, and the sign on the awning reads Au Temps Jadis

Derien considers how technology like cars and online ordering have shifted the way people buy. Rather than stopping into one specialty shop after another, now big box stores require a drive out of the city center and much less personal interaction. “It’s the social link which disappears,” he says. “I remember going to all these shops, one after one with my mother. She was talking with every trader and with other customers, and before going back home, we made a stop at the cafe. Now we take our car to go to the supermarket, and the only person we can talk is the cashier—when it’s not a machine.”

The artist’s poignant photographs capture a sense of shifting values, evoking nostalgia for the relationships formed through small businesses, a fulcrum of community. “I heard on the radio a reportage about a butcher who was telling to a journalist that he closed his shop because he had no more clients, and he became a butcher in a supermarket,” Derien says. “The journalist said to him, ‘So, it’s the same thing for you. There is no difference.’ He answered, ‘There is a difference: now I don’t eat what I sell.’”

Derien previously released a book of more than four dozen photographs from J’habite une ville fantôm, and he is currently planning a second for release next year, including a few of the photos shared here. His work will also be on view at Gallery New York in Mannheim, Germany, from May 2 to June 30. Find more on the artist’s website and Instagram.

An abandoned cafe in France with closed blinds and curtains drawn on the door. The sign reads simply. 'Cafe.'

A side-by-side image of two abandoned storefronts in France. On the left, a gray building with a red door belongs to Cafe de la Paix, and on he right, a yellow and red building has a sign for Kodak

An abandoned hair stylist shopfront in France with the blinds drawn. The sign reads "Coiffures" in script font and another vinyl sign on the window reads "Féminin-Masculin"

A colorful, abandoned local storefront in France with a pink sign that reads Droguerie, a yellow door, and a logo for Levis

An abandoned storefront in France called Palais de la Mode with part of the plaster sign broken off.

An abandoned fish shop in France, or poissonnerie, with a sign in which the two S's are shaped like seahorses, and the mosaic wall features fish

A midcentury modern abandoned storefront in France with green mosaic tile and two signs that read Tricots, or knitting.

An abandoned newsstand, or journaux, in France with orange shutters and fading orange paint.

#architecture#France#memory#Thibaut Derien

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