Interview with Thomas Vanoost

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Interview with Thomas Vanoost

Interviewed by

Mohamed Amine Mokcheh

… Tell us a bit about your personal life-

I was born in Belgium in 1982. I’ve always lived in Brussels, until a few months ago, when I moved to a place near to Namur. I am married and I have a 5 years old son. I originally studied philosophy and sociology at the university.  Later on I also studied financial risk management. Meanwhile, I was also studying photography and film lab processing (very bad timing… it was in the last days of film photography, but most people didn’t realise it and digital was widely thought to be only the new fad back then… how wrong we were!). I worked as a wedding photographer for a short time in the 2000’s when I was a student, but I wasn’t very good at it. I finally went working in the investment bank industry, where I occupied a lot of different positions over the years. In 2016, I started my career as an art photographer.

? Were your parents supportive about you wanting to become a photographer-

My dad is an IT engineer, and my mom is a painter and sculptor. Becoming a photographer was a natural path, at the crossing of their respective careers.

  Was there anything specific that you can remember that made you want to become a photographer

I have always used photography as a visual language to express things that I couldn’t express with words. A few years ago, my life was a total mess. I wanted to express that sense of chaos and instability, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t quite explain what I was feeling like with words. I then decided to grab my camera, and tried to express it visually. That’s how I started experimenting with multiple exposure photography. And it worked. Through multiple exposure photography, I could express that sense of stress and chaos inherent to the world we live in much better than I could with written or spoken words.

? Did your schooling affect your creative development in any way-

I originally studied philosophy, back in the early 2000’s in parallel with my photography studies. And my photographic work finds its roots in philosophy, and more specificallyin ontology, the study of the nature of being, and in phenomenology, the branch of philosophy that studies the structure of perception. The central concept at its heart is based on the philosophical idea that all reality around us is utterly chaotic and unstable. This vision of the world as an ever-changing place is not exactly new. Heraclitus of Ephesus already stated this very idea in the 5th century BC (with his concept of “Panta Rhei”, which means “everything flows”), and it remains more actual than ever today. For better or worse, we live in a world that is evolving at a very rapid pace, and we can all feel it. A similar idea can be found in “The City of God”, a book by Christian theologian and Neoplatonic philosopher Augustine of Hippo. For Augustine, as long as the world will exist, nothing will ever be settled. Everything can happen at any time, for better or worse, and the human existence is marked with the seal of a radical uncertainty, neither on the destiny of humankind nor on the fate of any specific human being.

However, despite its inherently chaotic nature, we human beings tend to perceive the reality around us as something more or less stable. We need a sense of structure and permanence if we want to remain sane. This is highly paradoxical. On one hand, reality presents itself as stable, but on the other hand, we can feel it as intrinsically unstable. I call this dichotomy the great ontological treachery.

My photography is a very personal attempt to make sense from this chaos. I try to restore a kind of balance by visually expressing the concepts of chaos, stress and instability, and to question our way of seeing the world as a stable place. By superimposing several exposures, I try to convey that “Panta Rhei” feeling that the world is an ever-changing place. I also try to explore our relationship to time, as the several pictures that compose my photographs are always made at different points in time, yet they are parts of the same final image.

? How did you light the picture-

I work in the street, with natural light only. I never use flash or artificial lightning. It doesn’t mean I don’t care about light though. In fact, I take a great care of working the light. after all, photography literally means “writing with light”.

? How much do you research your subjects before photographing them-

I don’t. I’m much more relying on photographic serendipity, walking around until I find something that catches my eye. It might be light, shapes, people, everything, really… I then work the scene until I get something interesting. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. I take great care of working out the composition of my pictures though. I tend to love some locations, and I get back there again and again, always trying to create something new from the same place. Sometimes, I come across a place and I think ‘wow’, I could do something ‘here’ but for one reason or another, nothing happens. Maybe the light is flat and boring, maybe no one comes in the frame… I then I return to that place until I finally could create the image that I first envisioned. I guess one can say I’m perpetually scouting potential locations, in a sense.

? What camera were you shooting with-

The little Panasonic Lumix GX80, with its incredibly small stock 12-32mm lens. I love this setup because of its extremely small form factor and understated looks. Yet it’s a really capable camera inside. It totally goes unnoticed, and it allows me to take photos in places where I could never shoot with a big DSLR. I also have quite a large collection of cheap lenses, some quite exotic (such as fisheye, adapted CCTV lenses, vintage soviet lenses and so on) but finally, 95% of the time I use my small stock lens. The small size and light weight are very important criteria for me, as I carry my gear with me all day long, every day.

? Regarding the transition from film to digital – when did it happen for you-

Progressively during the mid-2000’s. I learned photography with film, and I was a film shooter. I even had my own lab. I used to but as the technology improved, I found myself shooting more and more digital.

? What was the first digital cameras you started using-

An Olympus Camedia C-960, back in the early 2001. It featured a whopping 1.3 megapixel and you could save a whole 65 images on its 64Mb memory card. Yet, this camera was a revolution for me. For the first time I was free to experiment with wild ideas and not to worry about the cost per frame. I learned a lot about composition, light, and experimentation, toying around with my little Olympus. I keep very fond memories of this camera.

? Are you very hands on with the post processing of the digital files-

I use Adobe Lightroom for editing, archiving, and general adjustments. I also use Adobe Photoshop for more in-depth editing, and sometimes Nik Collection filters with custom profiles.

 

? How do you feel about the transition from film to digital-

I opened a lot of creative opportunities, by providing photographers with a very large array of powerful and convenient tools. It also made photography much cheaper, and allowed photographers to try wild techniques

? Is there anyone, anything that you haven’t photographed yet that you’d like to-

No. I rely a lot on photographic serendipity, walking around until I find something that catches my eye. It might be light, shapes, people, everything, really… I then work the scene until I get something interesting. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. I take great care of working out the composition of my pictures though. I tend to love some locations (such as the spiral stairways in Rogier metro station in Brussels, or the kind of steampunk stairs (in Namur railway station), and I get back there again and again, always trying to create something new from the same place.

? Do you still find photography challenging even after all this time-

It’s not really challenging, but it can be extremely frustrating when I cannot get the exact image I want (i.e. because the light is flat and boring, or because I cannot get the human presence, I would need in my frame…).

? Do you have any tips for an aspiring photographer who’s picking up a camera for the first time-

Try to find your own style, your own voice, and follow it. Make it personal. It is art, and art must be personal. It must be meaningful to you if you want it to be meaningful for the world. Never hesitate to experiment, do wild things, no matter how un-orthodox they might appear. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. There are no limits, especially with the tools available today. But don’t forget art has a long history, and it’s always worth knowing at least a little bit of it. Share your work and ask for feedback, but believe in yourself no matter what.

… Thanks a lot for your interest, you can include any details you want to talk about-

My photos aren’t meant to be displayed on smartphone screens. When I share them on Facebook or Instagram, I merely share a preview of the final work. They are meant to be printed, and printed big. The final work of art is a big sized metal print hanging on a wall, not a JPEG posted on social media.

 


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