Belgium’s best and brightest photographers at Bozar


As part of the citywide Summer of Photography, The Word Magazine puts the spotlight on six photographers at tipping points in their careers

Diversity is key to exhibition

Pointing to a picture of a beautiful Indian woman in an elegant azure sari sitting on a four-poster bed, smoking a cigarette and staring dreamily towards the ceiling, Nicholas Lewis tells me: “She is a Bollywood actress, and this is her bedroom.”

We are standing in The Belgian Six photography show, which takes up four rooms in Bozar. Lewis, founder and editor-in-chief of the English-language bi-annual magazine The Word, which covers photography, music and art in Belgium, is giving me a tour of the exhibition, which he curated as part of the Summer of Photography festival now on in Brussels until the end of August.

The photograph is by Max Pinckers, one of six young photographers Lewis selected to be part of “the Belgian Six”, a name that tips its hat to the famous Antwerp Six designers who dominated the European fashion scene in the 1980s.

The exhibition presents the work of six photographers whom Lewis believes to be at the top of the list of local talent to watch out for. Apart from Pinckers, that group includes Sarah Eechaut, Hana Miletic, Sébastien Bonin, Bieke Depoorter and David Widart.

Making the cut

Lewis says that choosing which artists would be included in the show was an easy task. “We always knew what we wanted to represent in the show,” he says. “These photographers just kind of popped out by themselves.”

I don’t believe in objective photography … you constantly make choices

- Bieke Depoorter

Several of the artists had worked with Lewis on The Word assignments; others the curator had only followed from afar. None of them are currently represented by a gallery, but Lewis warns that this does not mean they are novices. “You cannot call them emerging photographers because they have already had a lot of shows and a lot of interest from publications,” he says. “But they are also not yet established; they’re really on the cusp.”

With his broad knowledge of the type of work photographers are doing today, it was always clear to Lewis that diversity would be key to the exhibition. “It is the intention to represent different strands of photography, so you have everything from documentary photography, to something that is much more abstract, leaning towards painting, to Dash Snow-like autobiographical work.”

While each has a different approach, according to Lewis, what they share is a unique, intriguing vision on photography today.

The scenarist

At 25, Pinckers is both the youngest of the Belgian Six and the biggest name of them all.

“Max Pinckers is becoming very important in photography, especially in the last two years,” adds Christophe De Jaeger, Bozar’s programme co-ordinator for the Summer of Photography.

Shot in Bombay, Pinckers’ photographs are of elaborately staged scenes built in the subjects’ real surroundings. While they look like film sets, Pinckers' work also shatters illusions about life in Bombay.

“This is her life; this is where she lives,” Lewis says, describing the earlier picture, which is part of Pinckers’ Will They Sing Like Raindrops or Leave Me Thirsty series. “A woman smoking – you would never see that in film in India. It really makes a statement.”

This hyper-reality in his photographs is quickly becoming Pinckers’ trademark. “He stages scenarios, but in a way that can be taken seriously,” the curator explains.

The guest

Bieke Depoorter, who together with David Widart is perhaps the most realistic photographer of the six, recently told Radio 1: “I don’t believe in objective photography. In one way or another you take a piece out of reality, and you choose your own story based on a certain frame. So you make constant choices.”

Depoorter is a traveller, and the results of her trips offer some of the most moving images in the exhibition. Journeying through Russia, Egypt and, most recently, the United States, Depoorter meets people on the street and asks to spend the night at their houses. There, she photographs them, creating intimate glimpses into their family homes.

“It is very touching imagery, even in quite stark or harsh contexts,” Lewis says. “Most of the time, she goes into places that are very poor, but you do not feel like you are exploiting them. You do not feel like you are looking at poverty, but that you are looking at their lives.”

The documentarian

Like Depoorter, David Widart looks to real life for his art. However, his work (pictured) is edgier and more raw than the others, inspired by the artist’s interest in hip-hop and gang culture.

Widart has a lot of heavy-hitting imagery that really screams to be heard

- Curator Nicholas Lewis

Lewis compares Widart’s work to that of the late American photographer Dash Snow. “He has a lot of heavy-hitting imagery that really screams to be heard, but, for the most part, he goes to interesting places and photographs what he sees around him.”

The activist

Brussels artist Hana Miletic, meanwhile, presents a series of photographs of hairdressers’ shop windows in the Brussels district of Molenbeek. “There is an intensity to the photos,” says Lewis. “She also photographed the pavement in front of the windows, recontextualising her work within the typical Brussels cobblestones.”

Instead of the cool, detached eye of the documentarian, Miletic’s work carries with it a message, says Lewis. “Her work has points it wants to get across about culture. She makes social statements with photography.”

The painter

Sebastian Bonin is a photographer without a camera. He does not take photographs. Instead, he creates portraits of colour using a technique in which he projects coloured light onto photograph paper, making for strange effects of bright, Pantone-like colours.

“Photography is much more of just a process, a means to an end for him. If he could do this with paint, he would do it with paint,” Lewis says.

The mother

Lewis calls Sarah Eechaut the “most emotional and tactile of the photographers”. The Ghent native is the only one of the artists to put her own family life forward as art.

“She is all about the feeling and the relationships she manages to build with the subjects she photographs,” says Lewis, pointing out that her work began to develop along these lines 18 months ago when Eechaut first became a mother. “There is a new fragility that has come to her work and a maturity as well.”

Until 31 August at Bozar, Ravensteinstraat 23, Brussels