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Going deeper undergroundRoman Veillon

Kolmanskop, the Namibian town left to sink into sand

A French photographer took some time in an African diamond mining village that's been abandoned for 50 years

Roman Veillon is a French photographer with a particular interest in anything abandoned, anything that was once alive, and any place that's been left to decay. Recently, he visited the deserted Namibian town of Kolmanskop, to photograph a once prosperous diamond mining town that's been left to sink into the earth. Dazed caught up with him to ask him about the experience.

Dazed Digital: What led you to Kolmanskop?

Roman Veillon: I first heard about Kolmanskop in a National Geographic report a few years ago. I was totally captivated by the images that I saw and I decided that I wanted to have my own vision of the place. I specialise in abandoned places, so it was one of my dreams to visit and stay in this town for a long time. Doing a project there was special because it's not that popular and not many people have heard of it, so I wanted to show people what it looked like through my eyes.

DD: What can you tell me about the history of the town? Do you know why it was abandoned?

Roman Veillon: The town was founded after German settlers found diamonds there in 1908. Kolmanskop went through a real diamond rush and fast became the nerve centre of the area due to its endless supply of diamonds. The legend goes that even at night, you could even find diamonds in the sand using only moonlight as a guide. Many new immigrants settled in the city and at its peak, Kolmanskop had more than 1,200 people and 700 families. However, the value of diamond dropped after World War I, and the discovery of a bigger diamond deposit further south buried Kolmanskop and its hopes. Little by little, the inhabitants quit town, leaving behind their houses and their belongings. In 1954, the city was completely abandoned and soon only the sand lived there.

DD: Did you see anybody else there? 

Roman Veillon: I was in Namibia by myself and I spent six full days in the town – I had a permit to stay from sunrise to sunset. I didn't see many people there, only a few tourists. I didn't have a guide, but I spoke to the owner of the place I was staying a lot, as well as his regulars. They were a great help for me.

DD: Will you ever return? When do you think Kolmanskop will be totally covered?

Roman Veillon: Namibia was definitely an incredible country and I'd like to go back as soon as I can, particularly to explore the desert of Namib and the skeleton coast. When that happens I'll probably go back to Kolmanskop to see how it's evolved and take some photographs. I don't really know when it'll be completely covered, but slowly the dunes are moving, so some buildings will be completely inaccessible soon.

DD: Do you think it's sad that it's abandoned?

Roman Veillon: No. There is true poetry in this place. I think the purpose of these cities in the desert, where nature has such strength, is that they will be abandoned at some point. It's amazing to see what man can build in the middle of nowhere. I prefer to think about what's left, rather than about what's missing. Everything is ephemeral. Everything goes back to the earth finally, so let's just enjoy it before it's gone.

Visit Roman's website here and check out all the other ruins that he's visited