by Zeva Bellel
In the wee morning hours of 1 February 2008, a four-alarm fire ravaged 1000º C: Deyrolle documents the aftermath with hauntingly beautiful images of the shop.
â€œThe scene had a Pompeii feeling to it, almost like an archeological dig,â€ recalls Bochet of the charred and ransacked insides of the nearly two-hundred-year-old boutique. Deyrolleâ€™s owner Louis Albert de Broglie gave Bochet, a close friend, carte blanche to capture it all on film. His only challenge was making sure his twisted and disfigured subjects lasted through their photo session.
Working quickly, Bochet set up a makeshift studio on-site. In the harried two weeks following the fire, he shot close to 300 photographs—from eviscerated goats and roasted butterflies to liquefied canisters and sooty minerals.
After nearly two years renovating the space and rebuilding the collection, Deyrolle recently reopened his new and improved digs with a pared-down yet still remarkable collection, as well as a temporary exhibition of Bochetâ€™s stunning still-lives through 1 December 2009.
CH recently had the opportunity to discuss the fire with photographer Laurent Bochet about that night and the resulting images.
How did you get access to Deyrolle after the fire?
I knew the owner, Louis Albert de Broglie, so when I found out about the fire I contacted him. I was very curious about what had happened to the space and I wanted to see it for myself. When I got there I was completely shocked, it was so beautiful, but yet so sad. For an institution like Deyrolle, it was a dramatic event, not only for its historic importance, but also because how devastatingly beautiful the fire scene was.
When and where were the photos taken?
I was lucky to be able to take the photos at Deyrolle between the small window of time after the fire and before work began on the space. I only had two weeks to do it. The fire was on February 1st, so that meant I had until the 15th or 16th to complete the series. The animals were so fragile that the urgency was in capturing them before they completely disintegrated.
How did the firemen react to the scene?
The fire had been raging for several hours when the firemen showed up so the place was thick with black smoke. Here they are in a Parisian apartment (because the shop is technically a large apartment), and theyâ€™re in the dark surrounding by wild animals. They were confused and lost. One fireman told me how freaked out they were when they ran into a wild tiger! Suffice to say it was a very surreal and scary experience.
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What was the most difficult part of the project?
I knew how long it would take me to photograph the animals, but the hardest part was organizing the portraits of the witnesses, the firemen, owners and collectors who somehow participated in the aftermath of the fire. Most of the animals were â€œsavedâ€ by the fireman who arrived on the scene. So I asked the firemen to come back and pose for me. They said yes right away because this type of thing doesnâ€™t happen to them everyday.
Why did you choose â€œ1000º Câ€ as the title of the book?
The high concentration of animals and the large size of each room meant that the fire burned for many hours, creating a temperature as high as 1000 degrees. Thatâ€™s why there were so many beautiful things to photographâ€”they were melted and deformed without being completely destroyed.
How did the photographs influence the book design?
While the individual photographs stand on their own, I imagined them as a collective document of a specific event. Iâ€™m very sensitive to time; most of my projects are linked to a specific time and place. In my mind it was the fire that created these photos, which is why the date on the photographs is that of the fire. The book is divided into different series on animals, objects, butterflies, and portraits, like chapters in an archeological index. I wanted them to be as descriptive as possible. I tried to apply Deyrolleâ€™s methodology and vision to the layout of the book.
Were there certain subjects that touched you more than other?
They all affected me equally. While photographing the animals I never stopped thinking about the fact that they once were alive. For me, it was criminal to put them in the trash without paying tribute to them somehow by taking their photo.