Laurent Chéhère

Changing Cosmopolitan Conceptions

Thomas Jukes

Laurent Chéhère is a French-born artist and photographer who lives and works in his home city of Paris. His work has seen him become incredibly popular amongst advertisers with a large roster of top brands and clients having used his inventive and atmospheric photography and photo-editing. Including Ubisoft, Eurostar, Givenchy, AXA, Canal+ to name but a few. Chéhère thrives in the busy cosmopolitan hearts of cities, his personal work is full of his explorations of countries across the world. These images give an insight into the vision of the artist, he focuses’ on the urban sprawl, the mechanical and industrial elements of his environments. Using composition and angle he captures the inner nature of these metropolitan spaces, complex backgrounds of modern living where metal twists and turns about concrete monoliths like the city veins across the landscape. Neon lights illuminating a fog-filled avenue where the human silhouettes appear like spectres in an alien landscape. Sparse outcrops of nature erupt from the palette of greys. 

These personal work photos help give us the viewer a better understanding of his most famous work, that of the ‘Flying Houses’ series. This collection of work sees Chéhère working with photomontage. Each creation is a collection of images taken from across the more disadvantaged districts in Paris, the artist then cuts and combines varying elements to devise these compilation houses. Many districts in Paris are seen as poor and run down, however, it was these districts that inspired Laurent Chéhère. Areas such as Belleville and Ménilmontant around where the artist lives. Every day seeing the multitude of lives, comedies, dramas, and sadness’ of these buildings and their inhabitants play out roused Chéhère to highlight these pockets of Paris life. When life is so mashed together and hectic it is difficult to truly see the inner workings and the minute details of everyday life. Chéhère uses his surrealist vision to literally raise up these buildings, to float them above and away from the mass of the city. Only here can we begin to see the complexity of life within these areas. 

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Each piece in the ‘Flying Houses’ series has its own atmosphere and distinct climate. Some are simple houses, akin to the house a child might draw. Some are a ramshackle mix of architecture with intriguing interiors expanding out for all to see. There is a beautiful poetry to this work, one can imaging that the artist has sat in front of each building for hours, assessing, absorbing, and reminiscing. Taking each house/building and diving into its every detail to attain the measure of its history and its distinct character. The image comes to mind of being a model builder, constructing your own city. You build each house and each one is different from the last, you lift each house away from its fellows to construct it in space. This is the feeling of Laurent Chéhère’s work, bringing these disadvantaged areas to the viewer in this surrealist space allows us to focus on the separate buildings, something impossible to do in the real world. Taken out of their context the viewer is then challenged to discover the life within the stone, human, and historical. 

It really brings to light the confusing nature of cities, how when viewed as a whole a district can seem: poor, derelict, and disorganized. But when isolated we are challenged by the individuals, the families, the business’ who are just trying to live. Laurent Chéhère through this work attempts to convey this, in the street, there is anonymity in numbers when separated hopes, dreams, and lives become more apparent. The photomontage creates images like puzzles, with the artist using a large scale to ensure the observer has so much to look at that it forces you to slow down and regard each piece in its entirety. Through this technique, we pick out details, faded signage, graffiti, old advertisements, and the snippets of interior seen through windows. All these elements combine to give the viewer a story of the lives that the building has lived, as well as the lives of its inhabitants. 

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‘Flying Houses’ is all about interpretation, and the altering of preconceived notions. Paris has always been a city romanticized, the city of lights, the city of love. But it has also been a city of deep social division and wealth inequality. On first impression Chéhère’s work can be seen as beautiful or magical, houses floating in calming pastel skies. With deeper viewing the complex nature of the work becomes apparent, we begin to see lives within. Life full of struggle and strife but also love, laughter, poetry, and dreams. It calls out against prejudices, that all life is equal no matter your material location.

Laurent Chéhére gives us some keys, yet these flying houses remain open to the interpretation of those who will take the time to look at them.

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Photographize granted permission to feature photos by Laurent Chehere


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