This beautiful rot | Simon Vienne

We speak to French photographer Simon Vienne about finding beauty in an urban wasteland, as part of his currently ongoing exhibition, Urbex, now on show at The Splendid in Valletta. 

Simon Valle
Simon Valle

Could you tell us a bit about your career as a photographer so far, and what led you to Malta?

I was a photographer in advertising, working for three years for a big studio in Lille in the north of France, before I studied art and photogrpahy in the University of Art in Tourcoing in the north of France too. I came to Malta for one year to strengthen my urban and modern photographic portfolio, and my meticulous style marked by precise framings by developing a subject which I worked on in France: Urbex. The Mediterranean atmosphere was also very attractive to me, as well as the possibility of improving my English during my stay.

What was your first impetus to focus on urban spaces for your photography? What excites you about them, artistically speaking?

In fact, I made the street my means of expression by starting to photograph my skateboarder friends. Thanks to this experience, I really enjoyed the street and the urban spaces. I was curious, so I began to enter inside of abandoned buildings and I liked it because it allowed me to escape and discover an other world.

And this is very exciting because it’s illegal. I do that because I want to show to the public that you can find beauty in ugliness, and in deserted spaces, and I like the fact that it helps raise awareness about our cultural, sociological and artistic relation to the built environment, which often ends up being abandoned by our society.

Furthermore, I think that I have to take pictures of this places because they are often destined for demolition or renovation while they are full of human stories and history. So why not capture it a last time by immortalizing the architecture ­– and also the poetry and strangeness – associated with it?

How do you hope your photography will raise awareness about either the use or misuse of these spaces, particularly in a densely populated and increasingly urbanised place like Malta?

I hope that my photography help people understand that old abandoned  buildings are still beautiful, and that they don’t need to be demolished further.

For example, the sight of nature taking the upper hand on the human creation, the street art works, multiple layers of textures, the light entering through a broken window, a dusty floor with antique furniture are the elements that contribute to the beauty and the singularity of these places.

If people can understand that and are sensitive to it, they can enjoy their daily environment, as opposed to being uneasy about it. I would like for these places to be allowed to deteriorate at their own pace; for people to stop tinkering with them so as to allow nature to take over.

These places have to die as a part of nature, so that other places can replace them and continue to perpetuate the cycle. But due to various concerns – either to do with a drive towards urbanization or simply due to security – this cycle isn’t always allowed to continue.

What’s next for you?

I return to France in August, I would like to do an exhibition over there and a book about my photographic work in Malta. I am also hoping to be selected for a call for applications in Luxembourg, the winner of which will have an exhibition set up in their name in a prestigious gallery, while also securing a scholarship.

Urbex will remain on display at The Splendid, Strait Street, Valletta until May 30. Opening hours are 10:00 to 18:30 (Thursday to Sunday). The exhibition is organised by The Jean De La Valette Foundation for Art and Culture