In late September 2005, the photographer Robert Polidori travelled to New Orleans to record the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina. Arriving at night he found few remaining inhabitants amongst the devastated ruins of the city. The next day he began photographing and entering the abandoned houses, many of which were still water-logged or carried the 8 ft tide-mark of the floods. Slowly he began to learn the system of graffiti signs and codes applied to the exterior of the buildings by the rescue forces. Each room he entered seemed to Polidori to be like a womb and he thought of his photographs as the work of a psychological voyeur, mapping the lives of the absent people through their abandoned belongings. The discovery of an abandoned body in one house reinforced his struggle with the problem of making beautiful images from human disaster. As with all his work, Polidori has succeeded in producing much more than a series of documentary images.
Parcours Muséologique Revisité is Robert Polidori’s attempt to visually portray aspects of historical revisionism as seen through various stages of the restoration of the Palace of Versailles. What does it really mean to restore a room? Is it about the precise duplication of something which is now showing the wear and tear of its age, to renew it and make it again as it once was? Or does it involve entirely redefining the room’s epidermis to a completely different state, a state that it may once have had in an earlier epoch? The curatorial decisions that control this process reflect a political will and esthetic tastes which have altered over the period of the restoration.
Photographed over a period of 25 years, the transient and temporary situations which the labors of these restorations afford, present temporal paradoxes that engage layers of history and power.
Robert Polidori is not only one of the world’s preeminent architecture photographers, but he is also a master of urban portraiture. Polidori has made haunting studies of bombed-out buildings in Beirut, decaying New York tenements, the Palais de Versailles rooms in dusty disarray, Bras’lia’s paean to spare ’50s modernism, and, most recently, the abandoned, contaminated cities of Chernobyl and Pripyat. Taken together, they add to his ongoing project: the interpretation of the interrupted urban landscape.
This new book combines the eye of a celebrated photographer with the distinctive voice of an artist and adventurer. Each breathtaking image is accompanied by a compelling first-person account, based on interviews conducted by Martin C. Pedersen, executive editor of Metropolis magazine. Polidori tells behind-the-scenes stories about the making of his photographs and discusses his approach to shooting a variety of locations and structures, taking us to such places as Shanghai, Rio de Janeiro, Bucharest, Las Vegas, Dubai, and Chandigarh. This volume provides a look at a number of cities and sites around the world as seen through the eyes of a sharp social observer – and a brilliant photographer.
In the eleven days following the Chernobyl catastrophe on April 26, 1986, more than 116,000 people were permanently evacuated from the area surrounding the nuclear power plant. Declared unfit for human habitation, the zones of exclusion includes the towns of Pripyat and Chernobyl. In May 2001, Robert Polidori photographed what was left behind in this dead zone. His richly detailed images lead us from the burned-out control room of Reactor 4, where technicians staged the experiment that caused the disaster, to the unfinished apartment complexes, ransacked schools, and abandoned nurseries that remain as evidence of those who once called Pripyat home.
Nearby, trucks and tanks used in the cleanup efforts rest in an auto graveyard, some covered in lead shrouds and others robbed of parts. Houseboats and barges rust in the contaminated waters of the Pripyat River. Foliage grows over the sidewalks and hides the modest homes of the small town Chernobyl. Polidori captures the faded colors and desolate atmosphere of Pripyat and Chernobyl in his large-scale photographs. His images are haunting documents that present the reader with a rare view of not just a disastrous event, but of a place and the people who lived there.
Robert Polidori, often considered an architectural photographer, is in fact a photographer of habitats. On the surface his subjects are buildings, but at the core his lens is focused on the remnants and traces of lives he finds scattered in hallways, left in back rooms and worn on facades.
Havana is a particularly rich setting for Polidori’s inquiries. The curves and columns that line the streets refer to past eras and speak of the political, social and economic forces that have driven the city to its present condition. Through his rigorous and sensitive examination – facilitated by a sense of color and composition that makes his photographs feel like vivid memories – Polidori delicately peels away the patina of daily living and reveals the juxtapositions that create a city’s identity.
In this city the peddler lives where the countess once resided; children dance and tumble where merchants conducted their business. Each photograph is a discovery and a fragment of the city’s biography.
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