"I've already been in jail for this" ⸺ From Bremen to Burundi: photographer Jean Molitor's goal is a worldwide archive of modern architecture. An interview conducted by Kaspar Heinrich.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Mr. Molitor, you’re working on a photo archive of modernist buildings. Why do we need one of those?

Jean Molitor: Once I was working in Guatemala and ran across an empty radio station that looked like a whale. It was demolished. The individual shapes of some buildings are so fascinating that they trigger a true feeling of happiness. I’m always running into buildings that are inconceivable. They can be very far away, or right around the corner, like the Hansator customs house in Bremen. I want to preserve them in photographs.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Are historical preservationists in Germany aware of the buildings that are worth protecting?

Molitor: Yes, but many countries don’t have anything like that. The only thing that counts in those places is that a new building is cheaper and requires less effort. So, I’m very happy when buildings are saved. That’s happened in a few places in Burundi: hotels and others have moved into buildings scheduled for demolishment.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Not quite a decade ago you started your photo project bau1haus there. How did that come about?

Molitor: I’d met a French architect who lived with her family in Burundi. She asked me to document some buildings before they were torn down. At the time I thought that all of the buildings were Bauhaus architecture—hence, the name. This turned into a long-term project about urban photographs in which traffic and pedestrians are not seen, the way it would be in a ghost city.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: How do you manage this?

Molitor: In Burundi we left in the pick-up at five a.m. and were able to work through the buildings on more or less deserted streets. Evenings, I would convert the pictures into black-and-white and clean them up by retouching them on the computer—for example, taking out a generator that seemed to me to be in the way, or removing antennae from roofs, or cables running across the picture.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: But aren’t the pictures lacking something if they’ve been so heavily retouched? Is that still street photography?

Molitor: No. Concentrating solely upon the architecture produces something different than what you would see if you were looking at it at noon, when it’s forty degrees Celsius in the shade. It’s important to me to photograph the buildings so that they look timeless. So that they come closer to resembling the architect’s ideas.


An Interview by Kaspar Heinrich. You can read the entire interview in Spiegel Online.

In this context we'd like to thank Allison Moseley for the translation

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