Q & A: Zones Commerciales et Pavillonnaires /// Adrien Sgandurra Stories

Working with an Intrepid 4x5 and Kodak Ektar 100 film, Adrien Sgandurra documents the area surrounding his childhood village, near Avignon in the Provence region of Southern France. On returning each year, he observes the rapid pace in which the village and its surrounding areas are changing. For many Southern France is an idyllic, overtly romanticised part of the world, somewhere to visit to seemingly escape the fast pace of modern life and commercialisation. But our constant demand for this modernity and convenience is driving more and more places to expand and change, and Avignon is no different.

Just 20 minutes away lies Avingnon Nord, one of the largest shopping areas in Europe, and this urban development is spreading rapidly throughout the surrounding areas. 'Zones Commerciales et Pavillonnaires ' is an honest documentary view of the changing landscape and urbanisation of Avignon. While the impact these developments can have on communities is clear, Adrien admits that he, like many of us, has contributed in some way through our desire for modernisation and convenience.

 

As someone who grew up near this location, do you feel a sense of loss at the rate in which these modern complexes are taking over the landscape?

When I was a child I used to play in a field behind my parents’ home, hunting snails after the rain. Some terraced houses have since been built here and now ponds form in my parents' garden when it rains as concrete prevents the soil from draining properly.

These constructions respond to a rapid need for housing, but do not take into account the environment or the future residents. Often a single house is replaced by four smaller houses on the same lot. With a proximity that seems strange in the countryside. 

A feeling of loss, I would say, or rather of waste. For it is normal that a region with a strong demographic growth builds up, but unfortunately this has been done in an anarchic way and with a focus on the short term economic gains. Along with the development of large shopping centres, this results in a fragility of the local fabric of small shops, as well as community relations.

What inspired you to document this area specifically?

It is the markets, farmers and local artisans that have given its aura and fame to Provence. It is a way of living and relaxing over holidays where everyone would like to stay in the shade of a plane tree listening to the Cicadas. 

The exodus to large supermarkets for simplicity and convenience damages the local network of social and economic relations that have made this region what it is.

I grew up here, in a small village where in the summer we would go swimming in the river. Later, when I travelled to the United States, Canada or Japan, I realised that Avignon, despite its relative size, is very well known, just like the region of Provence, and all that it conveys as an image.

And it is in returning each year to the South, that I see the land disappearing, cinder blocks or concrete bricks increasingly replacing the heavy stones once used in Provence. It is my attachment to this region in which I grew up that fostered my desire to talk about this problem. The unbridled construction of housing estates and shopping malls is a much more widespread problem.

How do others that live nearby or in the surroundings view this fast growing modernisation? Did they protest against it or welcome it?

This modernisation is rapid but also insidious. One field gone, then another. My vision or discourse may be romantic, because a strong demographic pressure requires the creation of accommodations and housing. I think that many people have been happy to be able to live in this beautiful region, or to be able to sell their immense farming land at the price of building land. However, these new buildings and their inhabitants must be integrated into the local environment or we run the risk of losing what made this region so beautiful and so pleasant to live in.

Recently with the Coronavirus crisis, the sense of community has been solicited and proven to be important, especially in France where movement was restrained to 1 km around your home. Perhaps this will change mentalities and bring people who still doubt it to the realisation that it is much more pleasant to have a lively city centre rather than a huge car park.

Are you nervous for the future of Avignon and the surrounding area? What do you think will happen over the next 10 years?

I'm not really nervous or worried, I think there is a real awareness of the balance to be found between the local and the global. Especially in light of recent events. As far as construction is concerned, I think that unfortunately we are far from the end, and that we will have to look for Provence-like places further away, in more remote areas, places that have been spared by all of this. It is certain though that these constructions will continue to be zones of tension or conflict for their dwellers, because of their density and the speed of planning, construction and growth.

What is striking in this series is how these scenes could be anywhere in the world, they give no real sense of location or culture. Would you say this is true?

I think it could be possible to recognise the region, through its warmth in the light. But it is true that these commercial areas could be anywhere in the world, these are standardised, aseptic brands and buildings.

Also I think that this situation of irregular and anarchic construction can be found in many places. A lot of kindergartens, vacant lots, forest edges in which huts were built turn into concrete pockets, each with its straight and regular hedgerow.

I will say that it is true though that everywhere in the world we have to find a balance between the local and the global. Of course, we should not ignore or underestimate how these new spaces are able to provide a certain comfort, but this must not be done to the detriment of our immediate environment and our identity.

What do you hope people viewing your series/book will take from it?

Getting out of the idyllic image of ‘Southern France’ is the first level of awareness, which may then help them realise what the stakes are and what we might be losing. 

There is also a lot of talk about the green city, some city dwellers have become aware of the need for local food, green spaces, and the diversity and the joy that this brings. However we should not forget the suburban areas and the countryside. Although this all takes time, reasons and planning.

Do you plan to continue documenting this place or is the series finished now?

Yes, I do plan to continue it. This is a project I started as a student at ÉCAL - The Cantonal Art School in Lausanne, Switzerland - and that I would like to continue. I would like to continue shooting documentary images but also, as a parallel project, to make still-life, still with a large format field camera but I would like to shoot it in 8x10.

The idea is to have a more poetic and imaginative approach, using raw building materials for example, herbs and plants from these vanishing fields, to create a dialogue between a local landscape and more universal, iconic images. 

You can see more of Adrien's work on his website and Instagram.

The End.