Jakarta. French photographer Chris Morin-Eitner likes taking pictures of world landmarks. But instead of turning them into picture-perfect postcards, he photoshops them into lush, futuristic jungles.
Morin-Eitner has been working on his "Once Upon a Time Tomorrow" series since 2010, photographing landmarks – including Jakarta's iconic National Monument (Monas) and Hotel Indonesia fountain with its Soviet-style Selamat Datang Monument, trees and animals, then uses digital imaging to create his idiosyncratic montages.
Most of Morin-Eitner's animal photos were taken from city zoos or during trips to Africa. For the Monas piece, he puts in photos of trees from Bogor's Botanical Garden.
Indonesia's senior photojournalist Arbain Rambey, who moderated a discussion on Morin-Eitner’s work on Wednesday (11/04), said the Frenchman, like his Indonesian counterpart Agan Harahap, fuses photography and graphic art to create new meanings.
This is fine art photography judged on aesthetic values, not journalistic or representational photography – judged by its faithfulness to the truth.
"My work is about vanity. We are humans who are able to make beautiful and very big buildings but we also come from nature. We shouldn’t cut ourselves, our roots, from nature. We have to live in harmony with it, in cities, and everywhere else," Morin-Eitner told reporters at the opening of his exhibition at Bentara Budaya Jakarta in Palmerah, West Jakarta, on Tuesday.
The Frenchman has a background in architecture, and that's why he's obsessed with buildings and landmarks – statues, government offices, places of worship – that are built to last longer than our own homes.
The altered photos are set in the future, though Morin-Eitner doesn’t specify when, saying only it's at "the dawn of the twenty-first century."
The photographer also said that iconic landmarks are also a symbol of the very human ambition to control the natural environment, "imposing an ultra-coded, highly controlled mineral world, designed and urbanized, often beautiful and quite pretentious."
He chose Monas and the Welcome Statue for his Jakarta pieces because he thought they were similar in function to the Eiffel Tower and the Champs-Élysées in Paris, his hometown.
Angkor Wat's Influence
Once Upon a Time Tomorrow is heavily influenced by Cambodia’s Angkor Wat shrine, which Morin-Eitner visited countless times.
The sprawling temple complex was abandoned sometime in the 15th century and only rediscovered by French archaeologist Henri Mouhot in 1860.
When Mouhot chanced upon it, the whole temple complex was a lush jungle.
Morin-Eitner's adventures in Angkor Wat made him wonder how other man-made superstructures would fare against the power of nature.
The Frenchman said one of the things that he wants to say in his art is that humans need to reconnect with nature.
But since human beings are conspicuous by their absence in his photos, it can seem as if Morin-Eitner is saying the environment can only thrive again once we're no longer in it.
"Maybe [in these pictures] we are extinct like the dinosaurs. Maybe we're living on another planet. Maybe we're spirits living inside buildings with internet and 3D printers, so we don’t need to go out anymore and the streets have become jungles again. Maybe if you believe in reincarnation, we're these flying parrots, or flowers, or trees. Anything is possible," he said.
The photos also feature "misplaced" plants and animals, such as banana trees growing in non-tropical countries like France, which is Morin-Eitner’s way of saying that maybe, someday European countries will be hot enough to grow tropical plants.
You can also see graffiti and brand logos on the landmarks wrapped in ivy and overhanging roots.
"Graffiti and luxury brand logos are signs of our times. They'll be our heritage," the photographer said.
Morin-Eitner has already worked his photoshop magic on world landmarks in Hong Kong, Singapore, Shanghai, Dubai, Sydney Paris, Köln, New York, Los Angeles and now Jakarta.
Wherever he goes, he always makes new pictures using local landmarks. His next stop will be Kuala Lumpur, where he will work on the Petronas Twin Towers.
The Once Upon a Time Tomorrow exhibition at Bentara Budaya Jakarta has a total of 31 pieces by Morin-Eitner on display until this Tuesday.
His other works can also be seen on his official website.