American Landscape Photographer Buys An Entire French Village…Cheap


posted Wednesday, May 23, 2012 at 3:38 PM EDT

Courbefy-ahae-logoAn American landscape photographer bought an entire French village yesterday for what many people pay for a new house.

Ahae Jeong (shown on the right), who goes by his first name, purchased the village of Courbefy, France, for just $663,000, which was actually some $400,000 over the auction starting price.

Ahae, a South Korean born photographer based in the United States, shoots very quiet and serene nature photography, images one observer described as “so simple, so beautiful, so perfect.”

Widely collected and published, Ahae will have a one-man exhibition of his images this June at the Tuileries garden of the Musée du Louvre in Paris. Some of the images in that show can be seen here.

The French village, located in the Limousin region of central France between Bordeaux and Lyon, consists of 19 homes, a 13th-century ruined castle, a half completed hotel, a chapel, a swimming pool, an overgrown tennis court and rundown stables. (To see more images of Courbefy, click here.)

Jean-Pierre Chateau, who lives near Courbefy, told Le Figaro newspaper that it was "heartbreaking" to see the abandoned village, recalling "village festivals held right up until the 1960s."

He said the most of villagers, about 200 farmers and their families, began moving out of the village in the 1970s. In the 1990s, investors bought the village planning to turn it into a holiday resort. Their plans included hotels and restaurants but turned out to be too expensive for them. By 2008, the village had been repossessed by the bank and left deserted, attracting only "thieves and squatters."
Courbefy first went up for auction in February but at that time there was not a single bid. This time, at the auction in the city of Limoges some 30 miles from the village, there were two other bidders besides the photographer.

According to Paul Gerardin, a lawyer for the French bank Crédit Agricole that owned the repossessed village, the two other bidders were a Belgian representing a company that wanted to build a retirement center and an Irishman who wanted to use the village as a setting for a TV reality show.

Having won the village, a representative for Ahae says that the artist wants to set up an "environmental, artistic and cultural" project in the village. However, details are few and any plans Ahae has will have to get approval from the local regional government.

But with France still in the grip of the economic recession, the purchase of the village was seen as a hopeful sign by the photographer’s new neighbors. Bernard Guilhem, the mayor of the commune that includes Courbefy, believes Ahae’s project will create jobs, telling French radio station RTL, "I’m reassured the village has at last been sold. Even if the (artist’s) project is not very clear,  I’m sure it will revive the area and boost the economy."

The challenge for Ahae will be, of course, to get people to visit and live in the new Courbefy.

As a new resident of a French village myself, I’d suggest Ahae find a theme for his project such as making Courbefy a photography center, complete with studios, photo workshops, lofts and exhibition spaces.

Imagine a whole village devoted to photography, just minutes from some of the world’s most beautiful vineyards. That would offer photographers some great photo ops as well as some equally great wines ops.