Thirty-year old Paris based photographer Romain Veillon has always been passionate about travelling and abandoned places discovery since his childhood. With his series “Ask the dust”, you can explore with him these amazing places where every photograph is an invite to travel in the past.
What got you interested in abandoned buildings?
When I was a kid, I use to wander around the abandoned truck factory of my grandmother. It was full of relics of drivers and workers’ life. I loved spending whole afternoons trying to discover what used to be the life of these of people and how the place was like back in time. Imagining these stories is what I really like about these incredible places. Also, being a witness of the power of nature that always takes back what’s “hers”. There is also a unique post-apocalyptic style with decay. Trying to capture what is beautiful in what remains is important to me and showing how the disappearance of men can create eerie atmospheres that make us think about why they have been abandoned in the first place.
How do you scout these amazing locations?
That’s the main question I get asked. I spend a lot of time on the internet searching for abandoned places. A lot of hours on Google! Sometimes, you just have to read a lot of architectural and historical documents to study about the past of an area to find some clues that will help you to find a specific place. People can also be a big help, they often contact me to say they have an abandon building close to their home. Or sometimes you are in your car, you keep your eyes open, and you are very lucky in finding an unknown marvel on the side of the road!
One of our favorite series is probably the one about Kolmanskop. Tell us about this “ghost town” in the middle of Namibia…
Kolmanskop was a mining town in the middle of the Namib Desert in Namibia. Driven by the huge amount of diamonds, people basically created this town out of nothing and made it a prosperous city. In 1954, diamonds started to decrease and the population moved south where a new vein had been found. It became a ghost town, and now it is completely filled with sand. I was there for a week shooting, the atmosphere is somehow unreal and magical, like time has stopped there years ago. And being there alone reinforced this feeling. Slowly, the sand is reclaiming Kolmanskop, reminding us that in the end, nature always finds a way to overcome human constructions.
“It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.”
During your travels, have you ever found yourself in dangerous situations?
Not yet, fingers crossed ! I am very discrete, so I never met any angry owners or strangers in the places I visited. But there were some situations where the location I explored was nearly collapsing and where I feared I could fall through the floor. I try not to tempt fate, so when it’s too risky, I prefer walking away than having a bad accident. You can never be sure of the state of these buildings but it’s often rotten, so be very careful.
What is that you love the most about this job?
Travelling for sure! Since I was a child, I had the chance to travel a lot and see and experienced amazing things. I feel blessed for that. That’s also one of the reason why I love photographing abandoned places; it makes me travel everywhere. Aside from photographing, I always take the time for the “regular” tourism to learn about the culture and the people of the area. I read a lot about the history to have a better understanding of the customs; and it helps me when I photograph a castle for example, to have knowledge about what used to happen there. In addition, you meet a lot of different people to share your passion with.
Is there a place in particular that stayed with you and you still think about now?
Kolmanskop is of course. But as I already spoken of it, one very special place comes to my mind: a prison in the north of France. I had the opportunity to visit it when it was practically untouched. And the feeling you have when you are in a cell where people used to be prisoners, sometimes for decades, is frightening. You tend to feel like a prisoner yourself and see all the misery that still remain between these walls. You can nearly hear the ghosts whispering. I was glad to leave this prison as soon as I could.
When did you start photographing?
I am an autodidact, I never took an academic course in photography. Each trip was a way to discover photography and try new things. I started during my travels to keep memories like many people do, I was more on a reportage mode. Then, with time and my growing interest for abandoned places, I began to give more and more importance to the esthetic approach. Now, I try to show what I see and give back a life to these buildings thanks to the light, so that people witness decay is only a metamorphosis, anther stage of the life of each place.
Are you planning a new trip soon? Where are you off to?
I have, of course, some new trips coming soon; I will go back to Poland, Italy, Portugal and Germany next. I hope to discover Romania as well. And next summer South America should be my main objective but I am still preparing the trip and making the research. So I can’t say yet what I want to explore there. Surprises coming soon!
How many places have you visited and documented so far?
I don’t really count them, A lot for sure! It is not a race for me, I prefer to spend a lot of time in a location rather than speeding and visiting a lot of them. Like I said, I am focusing on photography, so I can spend a lot of time waiting for the perfect light. For now, I can say I visited a lot of countries: France, Belgium, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Portugal, Poland, Luxembourg, Italy, Namibia, Argentina; and I plan of seeing a lot more!
Have you ever thought about publishing a book? ..let us know…we’ll buy the first copy!
Thank you very much! I would really love to publish a book in the future about my work. I am talking about it right now, I’ll keep you posted !