10 Up-And-Coming Contemporary Photographers From Belgium

In this award-winning picture by Nick Hannes, Emirati boys are seen playing pool in Dubai
In this award-winning picture by Nick Hannes, Emirati boys are seen playing pool in Dubai | © Nick Hannes

Belgium is bursting with photography talent. Of the roughly 80 members of the prestigious Magnum photo agency, five are Belgian, which is no small feat for such a relatively small country. These 10 up-and-coming Belgian photographers are worth keeping an eye on because they might well be future Magnum collection material.

Nick Hannes

Nick Hannes won the Magnum Photography Award (2017) and the Zeiss Photography Award (2018) with his series Garden of Delight, a documentary on leisure and tourism in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates. The photo above is part of that series and depicts Emirati boys playing pool at Hub Zero, an entertainment hub and fully interactive gaming park in Dubai. Hannes shot the images for this series on five trips to the region in 2016 and 2017. Each photograph was meticulously planned, with locations ranging from a prototype underwater holiday villa to a subzero bar in a shopping mall. Through his work, Hannes explores ideas about capitalism and globalisation and raises questions about authenticity and sustainability.

Hannes worked as a photojournalist for eight years before committing to his own documentary projects in 2006. ‘I travelled for one year by bus and train through the former Soviet Union, with just a backpack and a camera’, he tells Culture Trip. ‘This adventure resulted in my first book, called Red Journey, which deals with the transitional phase in a post-communist society. Most of my personal work has a strong political and social component. I try to detach from the moment and from any possible news value of events in order to create a universal imagery that deals with the problematic relationship we have with each other, with our environment and with our world in general. My second book, Mediterranean. The Continuity of Man focuses on various contemporary issues such as mass-tourism, urbanisation, migration and crises of various kinds in the Mediterranean region’.

Hannes has exhibited at Fotomuseum Antwerp, Centro Andaluz de la Fotografía (Almeria), Triennial of Photography Hamburg and many other places. He also teaches at the KASK/School of Arts in Ghent.

Diana Tamane

This image by Diana Tamane shows her grandmother in Paris and was used by her grandmother to write down her heartbeat and blood pressure

Family plays a big role in Diana Tamane’s work. ‘I often use vernacular photography taken by my family members, exposing kitsch aesthetics of the working class, whose tastes are generally considered insignificant and worthless by the cultural elite’, she explains to Culture Trip. ‘Through narratives of my family, I want to show different social processes and movements of today, creating a portrait of contemporary society’.

The picture shown above is from the project, Blood Pressure, which is a collection of images Tamane found in her great-grandmother’s family album. ‘Every day until her death, she measured her heart beat and blood pressure and wrote it down in a notebook. When she couldn’t find the notebook, she wrote it down on what was near at hand. Apparently, this everyday ritual was more important for her than photographs – her memories’. Tamane has exhibited her work across the globe, from Belgium to Russia, China, Estonia and Latvia.

Dieter De Lathauwer

This image by Dieter De Lathauwer was taken on the grounds of a psychiatric institution in Austria

Dieter De Lathauwer first studied to be a construction engineer, but after finishing his master’s degree, he followed his heart and went to the Academy of Art Photography in Ghent. He has participated in many solo and group exhibitions, mostly in Belgium, but also in the United Kingdom and in Japan. De Lathauwer won the Brussels Centre of Fine Arts Photography BOZAR Award and was a finalist for the LensCulture Exposure Award.

The image above was taken by De Lathauwer on the grounds of a psychiatric institution in Austria. It depicts a railroad and is part of his book, I Loved My Wife (Killing Children Is Good for the Economy). The book is a dark poetic view on one of the darkest pages in Europe: the killing of incurable ill people for the sake of saving money between 1939 and 1941. This was labelled as a mercy killing. Among the more than 70,000 victims were numerous children. Their cost to the society was too high, their contribution too low.

According to De Lathauwer, this project brings together several of his interests in photography. ‘I am fascinated by the exploration of places through social and historical blind spots, questioning how people read photographs and the photobook as objects’, he explains to Culture Trip.

Wiktor Dabkowski

Wiktor Dabkowski’s photo of a 15-year-old Polish prostitute

Wiktor Dabkowski specifically identifies as a journalist, not as a photographer. ‘My stories are always related to the stories I find’, he tells Culture Trip, ‘and these are equally important to the photos I take’. Dabkowski worked as a radio host for 15 years before becoming a photographer in 2006. His work has been published in Le Monde, Der Spiegel, The Washington Post, Time and many others. In 2014, Dabkowksi started the People You May Know photography collective with four friends.

The picture by Dabkowski featured above comes from his Flirtation Cards series. ‘For two years, I visited Polish sanatoriums to figure out what the nightlife of old people who stayed there looked like. During one of those trips, I met a 15-year-old girl named Jola. She was a prostitute and her clients were as old as her grandfather’.

Miles Fischler

The roof of a parking lot in Las Vegas during golden hour, by Miles Fischler

Many of Miles Fischler‘s photographs are collected during walkabouts and travels and feature architecture, as she enjoys playing with geometric shapes and volumes as well as lines and colours to form a balanced composition. Her gradually evolving collection of images explore public space and the way in which humans manifest themselves within these architectonic scenes of colour, volume and rhythm. Fischler has done editorial work for Subbacultcha Belgium and The Word magazine and has exhibited her photos at the Liège Photobook Festival, Le Musée de la Photographie de Bruxelles and Valerie Traan in Antwerp, among other places.

Fischler’s photo above was taken in Las Vegas on the roof of a parking lot during golden hour. ‘Like most photographers, I always come back from my travels with a huge amount of material as new places are always inspiring and make you observe your surroundings with a heightened awareness’, she tells Culture Trip. ‘I usually walk around for hours, just enjoying the pleasure of looking. I walk into random buildings, parks, parking lots and hotels, whenever I can, and see where I end up. And then, I bump into scenes like this one that I simply cannot leave unphotographed’.

Matthieu Litt

Matthieu Litt combined photos from different locations to create the fictional country of Faristan

In his work, Matthieu Litt is primarily interested in the notion of distance, which he strives to visually break and explore by ‘blurring the boundaries and landmarks between an image taken in his close surroundings and another from far abroad’. Litt currently lives and works in Liège and has exhibited his work across the world, in galleries from Amsterdam to Latvia and Canada.

This image is taken from Litt’s series Horsehead Nebula, which at first seems like a documentary photography series depicting a people’s culture and their surroundings. Litt claims these photographs were taken in and around Faristan, a place that curiously cannot be found on any map. In reality, the photographs were all taken in different places in order to create the fictional country of Faristan. ‘With this series, I am trying to make people aware of their perception of photography and thus, our perception of reality’, Litt tells Culture Trip. ‘It questions our ability to stay critical when looking at photographs that seem to tell us an objective story. The familiar language of documentary photography misleads us into interpreting the images in a certain way. My aim is to take the viewer into another world or perspective of it, rather than describing it’.

Jasper Léonard

In recent years, Jasper Léonard has focused on the tilt-shift technique in his photography, like in this picture of New York

While studying visual arts, Antwerp-based photographer Jasper Léonard started redesigning lenses for his master’s thesis about the photographic expression of reality. He has since created quite a name for himself with his homemade tilt-shift lenses, with his striking work getting coverage from CNN and The Daily Mail.

Tilt-shift photography mimics macro photography by using blur in the foreground and background of the image, giving an impression of a miniature scene. Léonard was Antwerp’s city photographer from 2012 to 2014. He has released several books featuring his tilt-shift photography from Amsterdam, New York and Belgium.
‘I had no idea this project would eventually take me to New York’, he tells Culture Trip about the picture featured in this article. ‘Gazing out over New York through self re-designed tilt-shift lenses was an overwhelming experience. This image sums up a lot of the great things about New York: the classic old, the clash of styles, the industrial and the living areas that make up this town of endless inspiration’.

Thomas Nolf

Thomas Nolf took this photo at the Spring Equinox Conference in Vogosca, Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2017

The work of Brussel-based visual artist Thomas Nolf examines the ways in which national myths are formed, instrumentalised and frequently suppressed. The picture above is from Nolf’s book Peculiar Artifacts in Bosnia and Herzegovina – An imaginary exhibition. For this work, Nolf spent the last four years following the trail of controversial figure Semir Osmaganić, who claims the large hills in the small town of Visoko, Bosnia are actually the world’s first man-made pyramids, among many other bizarre claims. Nolf became fascinated with what he calls its ‘miracle potential’ to a country still dealing with the aftermath of the Bosnian war.

‘I photographed not only the visited locations and artifacts but also how local people and tourists interacted with these phenomena’, Nolf tells Culture Trip. ‘Despite the international archaeological community having firmly debunked Osmaganić’s theories, many Bosnians and even spiritually-inclined tourists have taken to the alternative history with great fervour’.

In the book, Nolf translates this new narrative into mystical nature images and portraits of the community that has formed around the phenomenon, thinking more about the sociological implications for a disillusioned nation and less about grounded facts. With this in mind, and in keeping with the performative elements he likes to incorporate into his work, the artist proposed an exhibit showcasing the Bosnian pyramid phenomenon through one artefact to the National Museum of Sarajevo. The museum has yet to agree, hence the ‘imaginary exhibit’ part in the title of the book.

Colin Delfosse

Colin Delfosse took this picture at the Inga Dam in Congo in 2015

Colin Delfosse is a freelance photographer based in Brussels and a founding member of the Belgian investigative magazine, Médor. He combines NGO field assignments and Brussels-based missions with a job as the photo editor at Médor. His long-term personal photography projects focus on the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African regions and post-Soviet states.

His work has been shown at festivals like Paris Photo, Brussels’ Summer of Photography and Visa pour l’Image. He has also won several awards, such as the Nikon Press Photo Awards, PDN Photo Annual Awards and the Sony World Photography Awards. Delfosse regularly works with The New York Times, Le Monde and Jeune Afrique.

Delfosse took the photo above at the Inga Dam in the Democratic Republic of Congo, during a trip in 2015, and shows workers showering under torn pipes. ‘Designed by Belgian settlers, Mobutu was the developer of this enormous hydropower project on the Congo River, initially meant to bring electricity to every Zairian household’, Delfosse tells Culture Trip. ‘Inga 1 was finalised in 1972. Due to poor maintenance and mismanagement, the dam nowadays only works at 20 percent of its capacity’.

Jeroen Bocken

A Jolly Silver begonia plant, photographed by Jeroen Bocken

Jeroen Bocken lives and works in Antwerp and as a photographer is fascinated by natural science, human criteria and calculations and the limitations of the camera. In his work, he combines a variety of digital processes with natural patterns and algorithms, such as in the picture above, entitled Jolly Silver. It shows a Jolly Silver begonia plant with a natural combination of silver/chrome and green and red. The picture was inspired by a commercial digital technique to combine multiple lightning exposures into one idealised photographic representation.

With his interest in the glorifying and influential nature of photographs and images, Bocken investigates the increasingly prominent role of hyper-idealised aesthetics in today’s world. ‘The interplay between real and constructed images requires vigilance’, Bocken explains to Culture Trip. ‘Playing these extreme methods off against each other is a reminder that an image never really shows the ultimate reality but is only capable of representing it. The image is a documentation, a snapshot and a notion of reality. It has the unequivocal power to steer our interpretation and perception in one direction’.

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