Debussy said music is all about “the silence between the notes.” But for Romain Thiery, it’s about making sure that silence doesn’t grow too loud. Since 2009, the pianist, photographer, and overall urbex Renaissance man has been spotlighting the world’s grandest pianos in their final hour, in equally stunning and crumbling abodes, to give them one last ghostly encore…
He’s visited about 150 abandoned places in the past decade or so. “It all started in 2009,” he tells us, “as a real passionate person, I am fortunate to be able to [combine] the two artistic worlds that are close to my heart: photography and pianos”. Today he lives and works from Montpellier, in the south of France, but he traces his obsession with the beautifully abandoned back to his upbringing in Perigord, “a region rich in history and filled with derelict wonders.”
Often they’ll be swimming in dust, resisting greenhouse vines, or standing alone in a ballroom. In fact, he advises zeroing in on lavish old estates as one of the more surefire ways to find an abandoned Baby Grand. “I [would use] Google Earth,” he says about the process, “even though I wasn’t sure I would find pianos in any of [the sites]. But my research focused on castles and cultural buildings, where families that used to inhabit them would often own a piano.”
Thus his photo series, Requiem pour pianos (Requiem for Pianos) took on a life of its own. “I knew my artistic life would change,” he says about the extensive and often dangerous project. “The places I am looking for have to be at the crossroads of my [creative] worlds…This is the culmination of my art; my two passions united in the same feeling. I visited several countries like France, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Germany, Poland, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Romania, [and] Czech Republic since the start.”
When Theiry talks pianos, you start to feel like they’re alive — or at least, dormant. They certainly were the pulse of these crumbling mini-palaces, once filled with champagne and flirting socialites in an era and place, he says, waxing nostalgic, “where grace, luxury and respected novelty used to reign.”
Oh, and as for Theiry’s favourite pianist? “Chopin, and especially all his nocturnes. I practise Chopin every day… and I like to play the nocturnes [during an] opening exhibition. It’s the music [closest] to my work, [with a] kind of romanticism and sadness.”
Thiery’s work will be showing at the ACCI Gallery, in Berkeley, California, during the San Francisco Bay Month of Photography. Come September, he’ll be in exhibition at the Sellanraa Gallery at Trondheim in Norway, and has upcoming shows for November and December in Paris. His work is exhibited permanently at Anywhere Gallery at Piégut-Pluviers in the South of France, as well as on his website.
You can also pre-order a copy of Thiery’s new book here.