// Images by Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre // Text by Iris Veysey //
The Hôtel-Dieu hospital in Lyon is the subject of a new series by photographers Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre. Collectively titled Dans l’intimité de l’Hôtel-Dieu (In the Privacy of the Hotel Dieu), the photographs picture the hospital on the brink of change. For approximately 800 years a hospital has functioned on this site, growing to become a vast complex of buildings. Deemed inadequate for the demands of 21st Century medicine, it has now ceased to function. Marchand and Meffre were commissioned to capture the buildings as they await redevelopment.
Marchand and Meffre garnered widespread critical acclaim in 2010, with a series on the American rustbelt’s most notorious city, Detroit. The scenes of The Ruins of Detroit were startling; images of abandoned classrooms, theatres and factories told a bleak story of economic devastation and decline. It was as though the inhabitants had simply disappeared one day, leaving behind personal possessions and all the ephemera of daily life. Through Marchand and Meffre’s eyes, Detroit’s ruins seemed relics of a lost civilisation.
These themes of absence and memory continue in their new work. The Hôtel-Dieu may not be a ruin, but it has a similar atmosphere of abandonment. From a symmetrical Enlightenment hall, to a dusty chapel, to sunlit colonnades and a crooked attic, the rooms of the Hôtel-Dieu are sleepy and still. It is hard to imagine them noisy and functioning. Capturing the hospital’s eclectic architectural styles, the photographs chronicle the site’s growth and history. As the photographers have stated: ‘Every century since the Hôtel-Dieu’s construction has left its trace, in some passageway, or in a dome, a strip of molding, a sculpture […] With our pictures, we tried to communicate the singularity of the building, and to immerse the viewer in a history as much as in a place.’
Struck by this sense of memory and history, Marchand and Meffre tried ‘to record this feeling that haunted us during our four days there. It was a feeling of wonder, trauma and emotion…a feeling linked to that imperceptible, immaterial type of presence: absence.’
The Hôtel-Dieu will soon be redeveloped, its museum of medicine expanded, shops opened and the entire space adapted to various purposes. Whilst all efforts will be made to preserve its heritage, Marchand and Meffre offer a glimpse of the hospital as it may never be again, full of overgrown gardens and stairways leading ‘nowhere’, quiet, still and empty.
Dans l’ intimité de l’ Hôtel-Dieu is on display at Hôtel-Dieu, Lyon, France, until January 13th 2012. For further information on the exhibition visit www.hotel-dieu-lyon.com. For more information about Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre visit www.marchand-meffre.com.