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The Shattered Lens of Leopold: On Photographer Colin Delfosse
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The Shattered Lens of Leopold: On Photographer Colin Delfosse

Picture of Adetokumbo Ayorinde
Updated: 29 January 2016
Photographer Colin Delfosse has documented far-flung parts of the world in order to transcribe a simple message of honesty. This is a man with a gift for representing regions often reduced to headlines and blind sensationalism. Traveling into maligned nations such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kazakhstan and Afghanistan, he infuses a warm sense of intimacy to his stark photography.

How did a man from one the smallest nations in Europe, find the urge to dedicate his life to interpreting much of the underrepresented world?

Belgium, the nation of his birth has a horrific history of international barbarism and colonialism. In fact Delfosse’s hometown of Brussels still has a statue of King Léopold, the infamous inspiration for Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.

What is clear is that Delfosse is modernity in action. Freed from awkward and cumbersome historical tropes, Brussels’ boy Delfosse grew up in what has become a multicultural city, which sees itself as the epicenter of political Europe, and is home to a real mix of African and Middle Eastern immigrants. This altered landscape helps to explain the natural curiosity that shaped him as a traveller.

Delfosse began his world adventures in Vietnam, taking the familiar gap year route. There he helped create a documentary in Vietnam analyzing the encroaching influence of the West; but put off by the sheer scale of its westernization, he left. At that point he decided to take a complete sideward step and ventured into the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Colin Delfosse, Parc des Ateliers © Jacqueline Poggi/Flickr
Colin Delfosse, Parc des Ateliers | © Jacqueline Poggi/Flickr

The events of the Congo do not have a large presence within western society. Consumers of British and American news sources are often more familiar with West African nations such as Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa. But Belgium’s complex political history with the Congo gives it a stronger presence as an African nation in Belgium and this transparency initially soured Delfosse’s perspective toward the nation, as this assumed familiarity with the state bored him.

“I never wanted to go to the Congo,” Delfosse comments. But when he actually went, he “fell in love” with the Congo. Its distinct energy and warmth have found its way into his photography. He met up with fellow Belgians and began documenting the lives of miners in Kinshasa. One day after his work documenting the miners, he encountered a man walking in strange attire, introduced himself and through their conversations was formally introduced to the world of Congolese wresting, which he then began photographing as well.

The Congo experience forged a clear mandate for Delfosse: to delve deep into cultures and into contested norms. His later work in Kazakhstan is a clear example of this.

Kazakhstan’s PR has taken a real battering in recent years, often recognized only as a land sadly twinned with its faux ambassador Borat. Delfosse counters this by featuring the lives of Kazakh women taking up arms to defend their land and lives against radicalized extremists. He documented these women in late 2011, against the backdrop of the Arab Spring and its effect on their lives in Kazakhstan.

Colin Delfosse has a real talent in documenting nations, with a candid mix of eccentricity and intimacy. His adventures have since taken him all over the world and continue to take him everywhere, from Uzbekistan to Paris.