Images: Christoph Sillem
German-born French photographer Christoph Sillem was perusing Google Maps one day, when he saw something disturbing: a giant violently perfect circle about thirty-five kilometers (eighteen miles) east of Paris. It was EuroDisney’s ring road, and if Disney had enough influence to construct such perfect geometry on the otherwise heterogeneous French countryside, thought Sillem, then it must exact an influence beyond it. As he explored the area, he found that this was, in fact, the case. “I found a kind of pre-Disneyland that is meant to get all arriving visitors in a happyclappymickeymood before entering the park, but that was not all.”
He had also found Val d’Europe, EuroDisney’s own suburb, built to house the park’s worker population. Entering its last phases of construction, Val d’Europe seemed to be empty and vaguely sinister, all of which provided excellent fodder for Sillem’s provocative series of photographs called “A World Around Disney”. These are images in which strange piles of debris are left in front of buildings that look several centuries old, and where charming streets are left utterly devoid of life. The feel is distinctly dystopian, suggesting some kind of silent apocalypse. Continue.
Val d’Europe was founded in 1987, as the agglomeration of six already existing rural villages. The new town was to include housing tracts, new golf courses, as well as an American-style shopping mall. The results of this development are now becoming apparent as the last few tracts come online. Val d’Europe is a simulacrum, a town designed and built based on the American mental image of France (the town plan was done by Cooper Robertson & Partners of New York). Or, as Sillem calls it, a “Truman Show-like über-replica of a French village from the last century, which seems to have sprung up overnight.”
These sorts of communities have a tendency to appear outside of Disney’s parks. Celebration, Florida, is a New Urbanist town a few miles south of Disney World (the town where the Truman show was filmed, Seaside, Florida, though also New Urbanist, is located on the Gulf Coast and is not affiliated with Disney). Meant to evoke the quaint towns of the antebellum South, Celebration is replete with colorfully painted siding, wraparound porches, and white picket fences.
But the type of representation of these sorts of communities that is seen in work like Sillem’s is a little disingenuous as well. No doubt they are stylized representations of a fabricated past, but these communities are popular and well-loved by the people who live in them. They represent safety, and a way of life already tested, and thus with reduced risk involved: a utopia to some, a dystopia to others.
[Images via Co.DESIGN and Le Journal de la Photographie]