Hors des sentiers battus de la photographie, il se rencontre encore quelques électrons libres. Dirk Braeckman en est un. Ce photographe belge de 56 ans a toujours cherché à faire abstraction des normes. Peur du vide ? Jamais.
Des images solarisées. Un monde clos, isolé. Presque vide, si ce n’est, un bout de papier-peint, un pan de rideau, les motifs d’un couvre-lit, un tableau, une silhouette ou un corps de femme, un visage parfois… Une tendance à s’intéresser à ce qui se trouve juste à côté de l’image, hors-champ. Une ambiance, une atmosphère au noir ? Quelque chose de tactile plane aussi… Voyage dans un monde calmement troué de perceptions, entre la precision du rêve et l’imprécision du réveil, tout au vertige du présent. Apparition ? Ou impression ? Braeckman travaille la photographie comme le peintre sa toile, tout en nuance, manipulant ses tirages dans sa chambre noire. Surexposition. Sous-exposition. Pas de pathos. Pas de nostalgie. Aucune anecdote. Ses images sont là, c’est tout. Ce qui importe, avant tout dira-t-il, c’est « l’acte même de photographier », ce moment fragile de la saisie qu’il traque en obsessionnel. Décryptage.
There are still some aeroliths away from photography’s beaten tracks. Dirk Braeckman is one of them. The 56 years old Belgian photographer always made a point to ignore the norms. Fear ofthe void ? Never.
Solarized images. A closed-in, isolated world. Nearly empty, if it wasn’t for a piece of wallpaper, a curtain, a carpet, a bed spread, a painting, or the silhouette of a woman, sometimes and an inclination to focus on whatever is besides the image, off-camera. A dark atmosphere ? And with something tactile. A journey into a world quietly filled with perceptions, between the precision of a dream, the imprecision of the awakening, and the vertigo of the present. Apparition? Or impression? Braeckman works photography like the painter his canvas, all in subtlety. Over-exposure. Under-exposure. No pathos. No nostalgia. No anecdote. His images are there, that’s it. What matters most, according to Dirk Braeckman, is “the act of photographing”, that fragile moment of the capture that he hunts for obsessively. Decryption.
Dirk Braeckman: I never visit places or events with the intention to make photographs. It just happens, while I’m travelling, or in my direct surroundings, at home for example. Because of that, my work is highly subjective, but it has nothing to do with the documentary, except for the autobiographical. I often use old negatives from my archive, which eventually lead to new images. The passing of time makes me less emotionally involved with the actual moment when the photograph was taken. Because of that, I can better focus on the image as image.
Maga: Do you have any references?
Dirk: I’m most inspired by photo work that doesn’t pretend to be “art”. I would like to refer to a book, Evidences, by NY based photographer Luc Sante, which includes 55 evidence photographs taken by the New York City Police Department between 1914 and 1918. These startling, harsh, yet poetic pictures definitely had a major influence on my work. But contrary to these crime scenes, I’m more interested in the suggestiveness of it. That’s why I don’t give titles to my works, but archival codes. I don’t want my images to become an anecdote, a story. Other references include functional photography, used for industrial and scientific purposes, or amateur photography. I also learn a lot out of films, sculptures, and maybe most of all paintings, especially the old masters. In my opinion, “Art photography” is an ugly and needless word.
Maga: You began studying painting?
Dirk: It was a period – the end of the 70s – when painters often worked from photos. Someone suggested that I first study photography for one year. In the end, I never studied painting, but I have always remained interested in it. In fact, that was my starting point. The way I photograph is like a painter who takes his images to his studio to work with them. In my case, I work on them as if they were drawings or paintings; it is very physical, because of the direct contact with the paper and materials, yet through a photographic processing. That is also why I continue working with analog printing. Digital photography is a totally different medium. You sit in front of a computer screen, and I simply can’t do the same as what I’m used to do with analog processing. It’s my tool. I need the physical approach.
Dirk: In the darkroom, I used to experiment a lot with chemicals, brushes and paper, which resulted in unique prints; the same as a painter who works with his tools. Recently, I have been experimenting a lot in the dark room again, but instead of chemicals, I am manipulating light, a process called “solarisation”. For example, with the negative of a curtain: I make 5 prints out of it, but each of these 5 prints is unique, an image on its own. Because when I manipulate the light by solarizing, I can never reproduce the image again. Also new is the appropriation of my own work. Do I copy my own work? Yes, but I find the possibilities of creating new work through existing images truly endless. Curtains, for example. They are very present in my work. They conceal, cover, and obstruct at the same time. There’s a symbolism to it that never gets exhausted. In the beginning of my career, I wasn’t as interested in what I photographed as much as how I treated and processed the images. Taking the picture became as important as processing it. You can’t make a good photo from a bad negative.
Dirk: In a way, yes. Contrary to most photography, times, places and stories are irrelevant in my work. I want the image to reveal something universal and recognizable. I question all the so-called photographic conventions, for example, by playing with the tactility of the print, blurriness and flashlight, which distracts the viewer, inviting him to an almost physical relationship to the work by which the image becomes an object.
Maga: By the end of the 80s, you travelled a lot, to New York in particular…
Dirk: I was looking for other directions for my work. At that time, in New York, I had a very active nightlife, making photographs from time to time. I remember one of Warhol’s personal photographers, Nat Finkelstein taking me to exclusive parties, places called Palladium, or The Limelight on 6th avenue which was a church turned into a disco. The transvestite scene had a particular impact on me. NYC’s nightlife in those days was quite extravagant, but I never meant to document a certain “zeitgeist”. On the contrary, I used these photographs as images to work on as images. And the date given to a work is the date when the print was made, not that of the actual taking of the photograph. It has to do with taking a distance, not with denial.
Dirk: I have always often been in a certain state of “being wide awake” or readiness, which inevitably creates agitation or stress. Fear, to a certain extent, is actually healthy to create, but when it gets extreme and takes on useless twists, it’s no good at all. In our relatively safe Western society, there’s little need for “fear”, and yet, the opposite is also true. Our society suffers from endless anxieties, much cultivated
by politics and media. A sad thing to observe. For a very long time,
my life was ruled by two contradictions, fear and freedom. At a certain time, inspired by Søren Kierkegaard’s quote “Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom”, I decided to choose freedom over this crippling fear. Also, it is a balance one has to work on permanently.
Maga: Regarding your photography, could we say “worrisome strangeness”?
Dirk: I would rather say that everyone can look at my work in their own way.
Interview publiée dans le Double 27, paru en Mai 2014, qui abordait le thème de la peur.
Dirk Braeckman à voir en ce moment au Bal et ce, jusqu’au 4 janvier 2015.