copyright Stephen Vanfleteren
Like everyone, there are times when my battery runs low and I seem to run into a brick wall; overcome by the seemingly daunting challenge of making good, interesting photographs, I feel dull and incapable.
Ideally what I need at these low points is a set of jump leads attached to my rear end. But something that has the same if not better effect is reminding myself why and how photography can be powerful and exciting. And for me a quick way to reconnect with this experience is to drag out a few of my favourite photographers’ work.
So over the next couple of weeks I’ll spotlight a few of my favourite contemporary photographers and why I like them. Today I’m starting with the Belgian photographer Stephen Vanfleteren, whose site, along with many samples of his work, you can find here.
Vanfleteren shoots in black and white and predominately on film with, he says, Rolleiflex and Pentax medium format cameras. He shoots editorial work and also personal projects. And he says he doesn’t like to use strobe lighting. His projects include one done in the U.S. following hobos on the train lines. He has published, amongst other things, a collection of his portraits, entitled Portret, a book about cycling in Belgium and a book of photographs from some of Belgium’s poorer areas, entitled Belgicum. The image above is from that book, and the whole collection is wonderful.
In the course of making this book Vanfleteren seems to have managed to get very close to the people he photographs, in the different regions of Belgium, and win their trust over time. His photographs lay their subjects’ lives before us but never judge. He seems instead to have great compassion for these people, and this is the quality that I love most about these photographs; although he portrays loss and despair, his own respect for the people themselves – I’m tempted to say love – is there in each frame. It’s humbling and uplifting.