Monday, February 11, 2013

Finding hope and art in waste and decay

By Saturday morning, Sébastien was still undecided about whether to drive the Porsche up from Albany or get his girlfriend Stephanie to take her Hyundai. The weather forecast promised snow in Vermont—a lot of it. But he does love to drive that Boxter. It’s low and fast, a sleek black panther with a cabriolet top for warm, hair blown days.
The car’s as exotic as Sébastien. He’s got that tall, dark French handsomeness about him. Born just outside Paris, he still speaks with a delightful accent even after a decade working in the states. He’s got a PhD in computer science, and I like a guy who gets what I’m saying before I finish saying it. “You’ll need a reservation for dinner at the Bobcat….” And he’s found the number on his phone and is already dialing. Dinner at 7:45, which gave us plenty of time to chat before he and Stephanie slipped and slid down the driveway.

        Working as a biomedical engineer is Sébastien's day job. After hours he’s a photographer. One of his obsessions is photographing architecture—a decrepit old castle, a dilapidated theatre, an abandoned hospital streaked with graffiti. He’s drawn to decaying buildings because of “the sense of time,” he says. “Buildings and structures can outlast us but inevitably crumble and collapse, burying the memories they were attached to.” He wants to preserve those memories and “show a small glimpse of hope in that waste and decay.” In the last couple years his work has been featured in three solo and eighteen group exhibits, and he had photographs displayed at the 75th exhibition of work by artists of the Mohawk-Hudson Region, hosted by the Albany Institute of History and Art. Check out his impressive website at

His passion for buildings may have led Sébastien to Stephanie, who works as an architect designing commercial buildings. She conceptualizes new hospitals, theaters and the like, and Sébastien photographs those that are falling apart. Stephanie doesn't like to talk about herself and asks more questions than she answers, which creates an irresistible mystique about her.
What we did find out about Stephanie is that even though she’s beautiful, she’s also pretty tough. She and Sébastien get the award for spending the most frigid night in the treehouse. On the Saturday evening of their stay, the temperature dipped to -12F. In the morning when they came in for coffee (Sébastien drinks milk), the thermometer was flirting with zero.
“Did you get cold?” I asked Stephanie.
She shook her head no. “I dressed for it,” she said. Practical girl.
Sébastien seemed invigorated by the cold and showed us photos he took of the Treehouse, some at night adorned with its colorful lights and some in a mystical light. He says he tries to “provide a glimpse into the world of chaos and decay before it inevitably gives way to something completely different, old or new.”
As much as I admire Sébastien's photography, on that note I’m rather glad he didn’t ask to photograph this chaotic and decaying writer. Even though he avows that the French don’t like to disclose much about their personal lives, I do hope Sébastien and Stephanie return to Fern Forest—I have a feeling we’ve barely scratched the surface of getting to know this fascinating and very cool duo. 
Here's one of Sébastien's of Fern Forest Treehouse on a cold winter night.

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