French photographer Romain Veillon specializes in documenting abandoned places, from desert houses inundated by dunes in his series Sands of Time to the grand crumbling palaces of Home Sweet Home. Traveling the world to find and photograph places caught in a sort of purgatory between life and death, Veillon spends his time exploring his love for the transient and ephemeral — all the small reminders that we’re just passing through this life and will eventually return to the earth.
In The Imaginary Museum, Veillon captures the bittersweet nature of the fading hand-painted murals he finds on many of his explorations. There’s something particularly fascinating about this deteriorating art. Just like forgotten belongings of former residents can feel like ghostly reminders of lives once lived and make us wonder what happened to their owners, frescoes illustrate the fact that people once cared about these structures enough to dedicate time, resources, and skill to making them beautiful.
The abandonment of such grandiose, lovingly customized spaces often carries a connotation of changing fortunes. After all, old country estates in Europe are most commonly abandoned because their owners can’t afford the upkeep — particularly when they’re inherited by younger, less monied generations. Sadly, this often means the places are either left to crumble into ruin or demolished altogether.
Photographers like Veillon help preserve their memories, along with a certain sadness over what can feel like the end of an era. The murals, he says, are symbols of a golden age that has now passed, when art was more valuable than time or money.
“As far as I can remember, I have always been fascinated by abandoned places, so there’s no surprise that after a few childhood explorations, I decided to take a camera with me to bring back memories of my trips,” he says.
“I started giving more and more importance to the place I was shooting to get the satisfaction of perfectly capturing the spirit of the spot I was visiting. It has been nearly three years now that I travel around Europe to find and capture these amazing locations. From communists relics in Bulgaria or Hungary to the incredible villas and palaces in Italy passing by the tremendous factories and power plants in France or Belgium, I try to grasp the aesthetic beauty that emerges from the chaos of decay.”
“I love when nature takes over human constructions, which creates a unique and unreal atmosphere. It puts in perspective our presence on Earth and reminds us that we are only passers-by. For me, it’s like traveling in time. Every room is special and has its own history.”
So how does Veillon find all of these amazing places? According to him, it’s far from just a matter of luck. The bulk of the time he spends on each project is actually preparation and research, networking with other photographers and combing through books about abandoned places to create lists of promising locations. He also works hard to conceal identifying details about these places to protect them from would-be vandals and thieves.