Built in 1921, Le Frigo was the Parisian Cold Store facility until the central market at Les Halles moved out to Rungis. It fell into disuse in 1971, until it was occupied by squatter artists in the 1980’s. This being Paris, their situation was gradually regularized under its different owners, until the City finally bought it in 2003 and gave it some recognition as a centre of contemporary art. That said, it is still not on a stable financial footing and – while not yet dangerous – is clearly in need of future investment to protect a slowly crumbling edifice.
I am personally not a fan of random graffiti, but appreciate its artistic potential when the work is concentrated in areas that would otherwise be abandoned or simply ugly. The whole area of the Frigo, outside and inside, is covered in various skill levels of graffiti and is constantly being renewed, as was the case during my visit yesterday.
Given its marginal social and financial status, his building falls under both of my “allowed” categories of abandoned and ugly. It is a multi-level, concrete warehouse, with a central lift shaft surrounded by a spiral staircase. Natural light in the stairwell is heavily reduced by graffiti on the windows, giving them a somewhat primitive effect of stained glass. Even when operating for its original purpose the stairwell would have been gloomy, I think.
Where is the light?
I initially experimented with flash, boosted quite strongly, as I was shooting in deep gloom arising from the cloudy conditions of the day outside. The results recorded the structure, but in a harsh, “flat” light. Then I noticed from the window on the lower left that the clouds had cleared and some natural sunshine was filtering through. I decided to risk switching to natural light capture and, for good or ill, made the following choices.
How to light the subject?
I had to use a very high ISO because of the low light and relatively narrow aperture because of the great depth of the area to be captured. These generated a slow shutter speed, which was risky, given that I had to work hand-held. I also took a risk that the poorer quality image arising from ISO 2,500 would matter less for a subject which was basically in crumbling disrepair and covered in tags. I would not have chosen this solution for a shiny, new and glossy structure in modern materials, for example.
I also banked on enabling improved clarity and acuity using software during post-processing of the Raw files. Be warned that I exploited this capability to render this image to be significantly more visible than was true on site. I regularly comment that the human eye has more dynamic range of light to dark than does the camera, but in this case the camera’s capacity to “see” better in the dark than the human eye could be exploited.
Camera: Nikon D800
Lens: 24-70mm f2.8G Zoom
Focal Length: 24 mm
Focus Mode: AF-S
Autofocus Area Mode: Single
Shutter Speed: 1/10s
Exposure Mode: Shutter Priority
Exposure Compensation: -1.0 EV
ISO Sensitivity: 2500
I hope you enjoy this image, even if, like me, your artistic preferences are more classical. What is your view of “urban” art? Do you find this place interesting, enjoyable or repulsive? Is there anything that is worth photographing like this near you?
Copyright Paul Grayson 2015