In the wee morning hours of February 1st, 2008, a four-alarm fire ravaged the most ancient and atmospheric taxidermy shop in Paris.
For those familiar with Deyrolle—a crowded cabinet of curiosities located in a multi-room apartment above street level—the news was creepy, if not totally surreal (imagine all those dead beasts having to go through it all again??).“The scene had a Pompeii feeling to it, almost like an archeological dig,” recalls photographer Laurent Bochet of the charred and ransacked insides of the nearly two-hundred-year-old boutique. All of the furniture had gone up in smoke, an entire room was missing a ceiling, and close to 90% of the historic inventory was now a pile of smoking cinders.
A close friend of Deyrolle’s owner Louis Albert de Broglie, Bochet was miraculously given carte blanche to capture it all on film.
His only challenge: making sure his disfigured subjects didn’t disintegrate during their photo session.
Working quickly to snap the animals before they crumbled, Bochet set up a makeshift studio on site. In the harried two weeks following the fire, he shot close to 300 photographs, from eviscerated goats and roasted butterflies to liquefied canisters and sooty minerals.
Timed to coincide with the recent reopening of Deyrolle, the beautiful, haunting images have just been released in a soon-to-be collector’s book, 1000° C: Deyrolle, published by Assouline.
After nearly two years renovating the space and rebuilding the collection (thanks to the generous donations of its well-wishers) Deyrolle is back with new and improved digs, a paired down (yet still remarkable collection) as well as a temporary exhibition of Bochet’s stunning still-lives through December 1st (see below for prices).
Q&A with Photographer Laurent Bochet
How did you get access to Deyrolle after the fire?
I knew the owner, Louis Albert de Broglie, so when I found out about the fire I contacted him. I was very curious about what had happened to the space and I wanted to see it for myself. When I got there I was completely shocked, it was so beautiful, but yet so sad. For an institution like Deyrolle, it was a dramatic event, not only for its historic importance, but also because how devastatingly beautiful the fire scene was.
When and where were the photos taken?
I was lucky to be able to take the photos at Deyrolle between the small window of time after the fire and before work began on the space. I only had two weeks to do it. The fire was on February 1st, so that meant I had until the 15th or 16th to complete the series. The animals were so fragile that the urgency was in capturing them before they completely disintegrated.
What was the most difficult part of the project?
I knew how long it would take me to photograph the animals, but the hardest part was organizing the portraits of the witnesses, the firemen, owners and collectors who somehow participated in the aftermath of the fire. Most of the animals were “saved” by the fireman who arrived on the scene. So I asked the firemen to come back and pose for me. They said yes right away because this type of thing doesn’t happen to them everyday.
How did the firemen react to the scene?
The fire had been raging for several hours when the firemen showed up so the place was thick with black smoke. Here they are in a Parisian apartment (because the shop is technically a large apartment), and they’re in the dark surrounded by wild animals. They were confused and lost. One fireman told me how freaked out they were when they ran into a wild tiger! Suffice to say it was a very surreal and scary experience.
Why did you choose “1000° C” as the title of the book?
The high concentration of animals and the large size of each room meant that the fire burned for many hours, creating a temperature as high as 1000 degrees. That’s why there were so many beautiful things to photograph—they were melted and deformed without being completely destroyed.
How did the photographs influence the book layout?
While the individual photographs stand on their own, I imagined them as a collective document of a specific event. I’m very sensitive to time; most of my projects are linked to a specific time and place. The book is divided into different series on animals, objects, butterflies, and portraits, like chapters in an archeological index. I wanted them to be as descriptive as possible. I tried to apply Deyrolle’s methodology and vision to the layout of the book.
Were there certain subjects that touched you more than others?
They all affected me equally. While photographing the animals I never stopped thinking about the fact that they once were alive. For me, it was criminal to put them in the trash without paying tribute to them somehow by taking their photo.
To buy the book: click here or pre-order a copy through Amazon (USA release Oct 31, 2009)
To view the exhibition: visit Deyrolle (46 rue de Bac, Paris 7th) through December 1st, 2009
Prints available for sale during the exhibition: portraits (400€); objects (1500€), animals (3500-8000€)
If you can’t make it to Paris for the show and would like to purchase prints, contact me to be put in touch with the photographer directly.