documenting a winter, spring, and summer with france's forgotten youth

Ardennes' natural beauty is only matched by the sheer scale of its decline. Young photographer Pablo Baquedano spent three seasons shooting the population of the region, as they grapple with post-industrial decline, a dwindling population and the...

by Micha Barban Dangerfield
24 February 2016, 6:40pm

Young photographer Pablo Baquedano spent three seasons roaming the Ardennes, a forrest region that spreads throughout France, Luxembourg, and Belgium. Over winter, spring, and summer, the 28-year-old Baquedano witnessed first hand a region in crisis, suffering from a post-industrial economic collapse and a declining population. In the Ardennes there almost as many grandparents as there are children now. That's how many people have left, faced otherwise with a bleak future in a region stuck in terminal decline. 

Pablo spent his time in the Ardennes capturing the daily life of those living in a region, capturing the truth and beauty of the lives of those France forgot. The photos, in stark black and white, immortalize the romantic banality of small town life, but the images are neither maudlin nor judgemental, they're picturesque and picaresque. 

You photography has a very journalistic approach. What makes you want to work in this way?
From the start, the photographers I have always liked the most had this approach to their work. I'm good when I'm close to people. If I'm not, I'm bored. To me, photography is about exchange. Generally my projects are born out of discussion, a piece of information, or an encounter. When I'm shooting, I'm in touch with the people I photograph, I like to take the time to chat with them over coffee or a glass of wine. 

What is the common thread between your different projects?
People. It needs to be about life. What I like is when my images feel timeless. The ephemeral nature of events doesn't really attract me that much.

For your latest project, you have traveled the Ardennes. Why did you choose this region of France?
I wanted to find a region of France that felt forgotten. I was talking to my brother-in-law, who had worked there as a professor, and the idea began to take shape. For me it was a real discovery and the idea of talking about a whole region in this way was something new for me, it was exciting. 

The region has been devastated by the economic crisis. How did you perceive it?
My goal was to let the images talk for themselves, but of course, the crisis is everywhere there. Chatting with John Paul Mayette, who works in a co-operative activity defending the Ardennes metalworks, made me aware of the damages caused by the crisis. People there are engaged in a constant fight to preserve their expertise, their lives and their communities, but in the end, the crisis is always stronger than them. Yet I think I have managed to show that life in the Ardennes continues, thanks to men like John Paul.

How did people react?
From the start, I chose to stay with local families and the people there were incredibly hospitable. They all wanted me to discover the real Ardennes. I soon met many people from different backgrounds, working in different fields. When I began the project in the winter, I had some rather violent reactions to my work. People thought the images were too sad, too pessimistic. Gradually though, the locals realized that my goal was not to discredit their region but to paint an honest portrait of it. Of course, my work will not attract tourists, but the purpose of the reportage is to show truth and reality. After spending three seasons there the locals began to regonize me, and engage more. That is to me the best part of the job.

Your project is divided into chapters following the changing seasons. Why did you decide to structure it like this?
It was important to show the period of the time I'd spent there, but in the end, the seasons were more a framework for the images than a creative asset in itself. What interests me is that the changing seasons give landscapes and inhabitants a new face over time.

Some of the most touching pictures in the series depict the youth of Ardennes. What's it like to be young there?
For the youth of the Ardennes, it is difficult to imagine a future in this place. Some even say that the Ardennes feels like a prison to them. Yet, there are a lot of people trying to find solutions to the problems the region suffers from, but the concern is that the easiest solution is to leave. I find it crazy that my country is letting a whole region empty out like this. 


Text Micha Barban-Dangerfield 
Photography Pablo Baquedano

pablo baquedano