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Stephan Vanfleteren II

A Visit at the BELGICUM Exhibition

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Using four examples from his BELGICUM project, Stephan Vanfleteren talks here about his photographs and why he is a photographer. His work moving, photojournalistic is a clear reflection his own warm and caring personality.

A typical example is the story about René, a poor, lonely man living in Brussels. Vanfleteren and a writer friend of his met René in a bar. They had a few beers together, René buying some of the drinks although he really couldn’t afford it. It turned out too, that René was on medication and shouldn’t have been drinking alcohol at all.  Unable to walk home, René was taken back to his room by the photographer and the writer. They carried him upstairs “like two maffiosi with a corpse”, put him on his bed, took off his shoes, covered him up and left: A poignant episode for Vanfleteren and one that started a whole series of photographs of poor people in Belgium. René became “a kind of a friend” who Vanfleteren visited whenever he was in the neighborhood. “He never knew know how meaningful he was for me”, says Vanfleteren, “You have to be humble and thankful”. René later died. One can feel the emotion in Vanfleteren’s narrative.

Then there’s the serendipitous picture of an old couple, the man taking a snapshot of his wife, whose skirt is blowing up in a parody of the famous Marilyn Monroe image. They are on the parapet of a large church in Brussels, having come there from a little village somewhere to visit Brussels. “There is a lot of love in this picture”, he says. Vanfleteren has captured a magic moment that he couldn’t really believe until he got home and developed the images.

Vanfleteren’s landscapes are misty and mysterious. See the strange image of an old, deserted Mercedes car in a wood, slowly being taken over by Mother Nature. “It was too beautiful to be true,” says Vanfleteren. The windscreen is intact, the papers still in the glove box, the car not vandalized at all. This symbol of movement stands oddly fixed in the landscape.

Finally there are the portraits of fishermen: Memories for Vanfleteren, of his boyhood growing up on the Belgian coast. Over a five-year period he went back again and again to see if these old fishermen were still there. And he found them, listened to their stories of the sea, the heartache of losing friends overboard in storms, and he photographed their deeply lined and weathered faces.

For these portraits he used daylight. Sometimes it was from a window or in a garage. And as always he worked slowly with a large format camera in black and white, sometimes taking an hour for a single picture. He feels uncomfortable with small cameras. “The World is too fast,” says Vanfleteren, “I stand with foot on the brake: That’s maybe the reason I’m a photographer.”

There are more of Stephan Vanfleteren’s pictures on his homepage. The Galerie Hilaneh von Kories in Hamburg, Germany, where his BELGICUM series has been exhibited, also carries a short vita (in German).


It is quite easy to become a

It is quite easy to become a photographer these days as the price of DSLR cameras are not that high these days and since everything is digital, this profession has become an easy one. But these are the people who had to be appreciated, as they shot these photos using SLR which is risky and tough.