Arthur Crestani • Bad City Dreams
Please introduce yourself: what’s your name, where are you from, what do you do?
My name is Arthur Crestani. I’m a 26-year-old photographer from Paris, where I grew up. At the moment I juggle between various activities in photography, from working as an assistant to editing fashion show photos and even teaching. My main interest, however, is in carrying out new projects, which require both time and funding, so finding the balance between these activities is a challenge.
What is your relationship with photography? How did you get into it & and what keeps you interested/ motivated?
I started photographing when I was about 19. Through college, I had the opportunity to go to Delhi to study in an exchange programme with one of the best-known Indian universities. Life in Delhi, an overwhelming, fast-changing metropolis, was unlike anything I had experienced before. The urge to take the camera came out of the necessity to document my environment as I spent a fair bit of time by myself in the city. I used to cycle around Delhi a lot, both during day and night, which gave me strong rushes of sensations and emotions. After completing a degree in urbanism, I joined a photography school in Paris, from which I graduated in 2017.
Urban spaces have been my preferred subjects for a long time. India has continued to inspire me to this day, as I have returned a number of times. I am still very interested in architecture and urbanism, but also want to look at other themes like culture and attachment.
Tell me about your project „Bad City Dreams“, what was the driving force behind creating it? What was your intention, and how did you come up with the Idea?
I have for long wanted to produce a series about the aspirational dimension of city-making in contemporary India, and the many visual layers it enticed. India projects itself as a changing and modernizing country. That change has deep ramifications in society, from the political to the individual. Cities are the locus of such change, places of capitalist accumulation, desire, and power. The city of Gurgaon, one of the satellite cities around Delhi, is the epitome of this new urban regime. In less than 30 years, the city has grown from dust to become a 2-million city replete with malls and corporate headquarters. Despite obvious successes, the city is very socially segregated and has no public spaces. It also is unsustainable on many counts.
Indian real-estate ads have fascinated me ever since I first looked for a flat in Delhi. Both their language and visuals appeal to the aspirations of the urban middle-class. Despite the city being so polluted, congested and chaotic, the ads present an exuberant vision of the urban future: exclusivity, luxury, and serenity make for a very brash mix. Add to that French and Italian names and you get a true dream of a city, closer to a postcard of Tuscany than a true representation of India’s urban spaces.
Using these ads as backgrounds for portraits was a reference to the tradition of Indian portraiture, in which dreamy and romantic backgrounds served to produce beautiful portraits. I found a very strong analogy between this idea of one’s image being embellished by a background, and the use of unrealistic artists’ impressions to sell real-estate projects. It was also a way to confront the reality of these urban spaces with the lush depictions of the projects.
What are you currently working on, and – if there is – what is your next project/ journey?
I am currently working on a project on the Sikh community in a Paris suburb. The project is about exploring and playing with the visual cues that tie the community together and provide both a sense of belonging and solidarity, as well as document the changes occurring in this transnational group. I am also planning to go back to India in a few months to work on utopias, both through innovative urban spaces and cultural representations and reproductions.