“Villes nouvelles” is the name used in France to describe the purpose-built cities that shot up out of the ground from the 1960s onwards to take the pressure off conurbation areas. A number of these satellite cities were built around the outskirts of Paris in particular – a city once predicted to have population growth of up to 16 million inhabitants by the year 2000. On previously almost uninhabited and mainly agricultural land, commuter settlements were erected cheaply and quickly – with no history or heart to them, but with hundreds of identical little houses and made-up place names like Marne-la-Vallée, Cergy-Pontoise or St. Quentin en Yvelines. German photographer Jürgen Nefzger’s “Hexagons” series shows us just how intrusive these developments are on the landscape. You might well wonder who on earth would want to live like that, but the work offered by the French metropolis, some generous government funding and the comforting knowledge of being able to live among like-minded people has lured hundreds of thousands into such settlements.
The fact that these suburban landscapes are not just a French phenomenon is evident from other photographic series, such as Bill Owens’ photographic essay “Suburbia”, published in 1973. Like Owens, Jürgen Nefzger also spent a long time viewing the familiar surroundings of his adopted homeland of France through the eyes of an outsider. While Owens concentrated primarily on the inhabitants of Livermore in California, Nefzger focuses more on the cultural landscape defined by the people. As well as photographing the surrounding areas of Paris, he also worked much further afield in the whole of France, which is also called “L’Hexagone” by the French due to the shape of the country.
Nefzger’s shots of urban and spatial planning with very little aesthetic quality sharpen our view for otherwise insignificant details. Yet he preserves the delicate balance between statement and image creation. Carefully crafted compositions and very conscious use of light and color – where there is any in the images at all – make viewing his photographs a sensual experience, despite the seriousness of his subject matter. The photographs are not intended to be brutal or to lay bare, says Nefzger, but rather to draw the eye to things we no longer see or want to see. Jürgen Nefzger gives us a rather unflattering portrait of a society whose fixation on progress goes hand in hand with the increasingly rapid disappearance of the natural basis of life. It also gives us an inkling of what this could look like in the future.
born in Fürth, Germany
moved to France
finishes his studies at the French National School of Photography in Arles
Professor in photography at the fine art school of Clermont- Ferrand
lives and works in Nizza and Clermont-Ferrand, France.