Posted on May 29th, 2009 by .

What do Chernobyl and Versailles have in common? Photographer Robert Polidori gave these empty and abandoned spaces the chance to express themselves. Check out my review of his thought-provoking retrospective at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal.
I’ve always been fascinated by disasters. When I was a kid, I used to create my own imaginary city, making up streets, buildings and people (it also had an underground network). The saddest, yet most memorable moment of that time was when I felt too old to play the game, and decided to destroy this city by deploying all sorts of crazy natural disasters on my creation.
Tornados and hurricanes – and also places that have been deserted, like haunted villages and ghost towns – are beautiful in a way. And while there’s a part of me that’s always been scared by these things, another part of me looks at them, stares at them, even with fear and anxiety. Now I’ve found someone who shares my wacky views on the subject. Robert Polidori was born in Montréal, moved to New York when he was ten, and now works as a photographer. Along the way he’s garnered international recognition from exhibitions and contributions to magazines such as The New Yorker and Vanity Fair. He’s travelled a lot, but instead of a life-changing experience in Puerto Vallarta, Polidori found heaven in Pripyat (located 2 kilometres away from trendy Chernobyl, in Ukraine), Beirut, New Orleans and La Habana, taking surreal photographs of abandoned places, as well as things that were slowly fading away in time.

You could call the exhibition Remembrance of Things Past: the title applies perfectly to Polidori’s work, who shoots rooms and buildings, and keep them frozen for eternity in a state of gloomy disintegration. Interestingly enough, his series shot at the Château de Versailles makes you question the meaning of the place itself – when you think about it, Versailles is still an old deserted building. And that’s when you realize the whole thing is actually a little passé, beautiful, yet very funny in its unbelievable fashion. From the opulent, grotesque French palace to the savagely desolated Eastern European bedroom, both Versailles and Pripyat have one thing in common: their emptiness is incredibly moving.

The retrospective of his work at the Musée d’art contemporain is on until September 7 and presents 59 large colour prints of his photos, which capture the essence of a place and its memories. It’s not simply about natural disasters; it’s about the human tragedies lying underneath them. One of this year’s most important photo exhibitions makes you feel lucky, of course, for being safer than those in need. But you also start looking at the place you live, at your neighbourhood, and finally at your city, with a completely different point of view. If these walls could speak, what would they say?

For more info about Robert Polidori at Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, click here.

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