Building something in Saint-Josse

I’m lucky enough to be well paid for most of my work. But our skills as photographers are also in demand from people and groups who cannot afford to pay for them at all. Volunteering gives me opportunities that I would never otherwise have – to practise my craft, to learn and to make new friends.

Saint-Josse is a crowded, culturally diverse inner-city area of Brussels. Over ten days at the beginning of July I was invited to document a community project run for local people in the tiny Park Saint François by Ten Noey, Saint-Josse’s Dutch-language cultural centre. 2019 is the third year they have organised Bouwen aan de Zomer (Building the Summer), and it attracted a lot of people.

The project brought a library (housed in a couple of old refridgerators), a bar and lunchtime catering to the park. Ongoing activities included construction in wood, mosaic and print-making. A tea-dance, a hip-hop performance and a concert by a young Tunisian group were special highlights.

Things will start up again for another ten days at the end of the summer on 24 August. I won’t be able to cover the whole ten days, but I’m looking forward to being there for the first few of them. Ten Noey has selected ten of my photos from which they will make very large weather-proof prints to display in the park during this second period. I’m looking forward to seeing how the project’s users respond to the images of themselves.

Documenting a beauty treatment

It was a bright early spring morning when I drove out from Brussels to visit Skin Esthetiek, a busy beauty clinic in Tervuren. The owner, Katrien, had booked me to shoot photos for her website and social media accounts.

Katrien told me that she had asked a friend to model for the shoot. While we waited for Indra she showed me around and explained in a bit more detail what she wanted. Her idea was to tell the complete story of a client’s visit to the clinic – from the welcome and the diagnostic consultation, through a full facial treatment to the sale of after-care products. I was pleased that the treatment room had a large window that would allow me to balance my Rotolight LED/flash unit against some natural light.

When Indra arrived we got started immediately. She told me that she had never modelled before and was not sure what to do. I assured her that she looked great. If I needed her to do something special I would ask, but otherwise she could just relax and enjoy Katrien’s treatment. I think she may have fallen asleep at one point.

For the treatment itself I set my lighting to a soft, warm tone, and shot at f4.0 and 1/180 at ISO 400. For the central element of the facial Katrien painted Indra’s face with a bright blue gel and then gently blew steam onto it. Gradually, the gel bubbled into a fine foam, and I got some fabulous extreme close-ups.

It was an intimate moment, and I feel lucky to have shared it with the two friends. I’m happy to see that Katrien has already used some of my photos on her website and her Instagram account, and I hope they help to bring her a lot of new business.

Street art in Brussels

Soon after I first came to live in Brussels in 2004 the great street artist Bonom burst onto the city. His enormous creations bloomed regularly on the sides of buildings all over the centre ville — elephants, a human foetus, dinosaurs… If you know where to look, you can still find a few of these artworks, but most have at least been preserved in photographs.

Apart from the town council’s flaccid tributes to Tintin, Spirou and other Belgian comic book heroes, and Pencil Man’s ubiquitous outings, Brussels’ streets have remained relatively artless since Bonom was shut down by an extraordinary and aggressive legal action in 2010.

In September this year a disused Delhaize supermarket on the Chausée de Waterloo was taken over by Strokar, a collective of street artists from all over Europe, to create Strokar Inside, a magnificent collection of works, still in progress, which will premably survive only until the building is torn down or renovated. It’s open from 11.00 to 18.30, Wednesday to Sunday, and entrance is €8,00.

I had a fantastic time. The individual works themselves are impressive, but what I specially enjoyed was the interaction between them and the carcass of the supermarket that they inhabit. If I was the CEO of Delhaize, I would be trying to commission the artists to decorate all my stores.