ZOOM on the creative process of Jonk

Can you remind us who you are and your artistic practice?

My name is Jonk, I am 36 years old and live in Paris. I am a photographer of abandoned places.

What is your background, how did you start creating?

I discovered photography at the age of 11 when my parents sent me on a language trip to the United States, where each of the ten children in the group lived with a different host family. The few souvenir pictures I took with the famous orange disposable cameras were my first. For the next six years, I went to a new family in a different state every winter, and in the meantime upgraded my equipment with an entry-level film camera.

After exchanging it for a pocket digital camera, I made my first solo trip at the age of 19. This trip to Barcelona changed my life, and I came back with two passions that will never leave me: travel (I have since visited more than 70 countries) and urban arts (street art and graffiti), whose discovery gave me my first photographic subject, and which still occupies me today.

Living in Paris, I discovered urban exploration at the end of the 2000’s with roofing, subways and unofficial catacombs. I then found a second exciting subject: documenting the hidden side of the city and invested in my first SLR camera, an APS-C. Climbing on the rooftops to see it from above, walking at night in the subway or spending whole days in the catacombs to explore its dozens of kilometers of galleries and rooms dug in the rock, I find in this activity a great excitement, the adrenaline I am looking for in my life. These urban explorations, and my research of unpublished photographs of graffiti, quickly lead me to abandoned places, where graffiti artists often go to paint to be alone, quiet, and take their time to realize bigger and more beautiful paintings. After a while of hanging out with these artists, I started to paint in these places myself, hence the nickname “Jonk”. At that time, I also glued my travel pictures in the street.

Traveling, painting, pasting, photographing, wandering on rooftops, in the subway or catacombs, a very busy job, did not leave me enough time to do everything. At the time of the choices, I drop the spray can, the glue pot, the altitude and the underground to stay with the photo of wasteland, even if I never gave up my blaze, symbol of my graffiti artist period, very important for me. I continue to travel, almost exclusively in search of abandoned places, with or without graffiti. I still improve my equipment with one, then two, full frame reflex.

Today, I have visited more than a thousand and five hundred places in about fifty countries on four continents.

In your daily work as an artist, what inspires you? What is the trigger for the creation of a work?

When I visit an abandoned place, I sometimes don’t take the camera out of my backpack. This is often the case in newly abandoned places, where the impact of time that has passed is not yet visible. This is what attracts me: what I call the decay, the markers of time that has passed.

With time, my interest is therefore focused on what I call time capsules, those places on which only the time that has passed has had an impact, without human intervention. I like to have the impression that time has been frozen for years, decades. The most striking example of time that has passed is nature taking over. This is what seems to me the strongest in this vast subject of abandonment and therefore the subject on which I decide to focus. It is poetic, almost magical, to see it take back what was once its own, to reintegrate through broken windows and cracks the spaces built and then abandoned by Man, until they are totally engulfed.

This theme came naturally to me because of the ecological awareness that has animated me since my youth and the strength of the fundamental question it raises: that of the place of Man on Earth and his relationship with Nature. While the impact of Man on his environment has never been so strong, it also and above all seeks to raise awareness, without being pessimistic. This nature that reclaims abandoned places is clearly what inspires me the most. This work is published in two books Naturalia and Naturalia II released in March 2018 and April 2021 respectively. Volume III will perhaps appear in March 2024, who knows… 😉

If these time capsules linked to Nature are certainly the strongest from a philosophical point of view, it is the Soviet wastelands that are for me the strongest on a pictorial level.

What is stronger than a decrepit theater with a banner reading “Art belongs to the people” in Cyrillic script above the stage and “V.I. Lenin” as a signature on the quote?

What is more powerful than being in the headquarters of the Soviet forces in East Germany and seeing the map of the strategic attack on Berlin in 1945?

What is stronger than being on the roof of a 16-story building in Pripyat in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone and being in front of a metal structure several meters high representing a hammer and a sickle?

Thus, I travel very often in the former USSR to photograph the remains. I went 7 times to Chernobyl (the time capsule par excellence) where I now bring groups.

Can you explain us the way you build a work ? What are the different stages of creation?

For me, almost all photography is based on framing. The adjustment part is secondary and almost automatic/instinctive. So I spend a certain amount of time analyzing the scene. I always try to get the verticals straight, and sometimes the horizontals too. I tend to abuse the wide angle and try to get as much as possible in the frame, but I take care of myself!

When the frame is done, “click” then I do everything I can to not get caught 😉

Follow Jonk’s work on his Instagram account.

And to continue, find his book “Wastelands: art in the wasteland” on fluctushop.fr