"How can you add a physical experience to your photographs?"

Photographers all over the world, focus your camera for another masterclass "Photography in the Brussels periphery"! From 25 to 28 March, Stephanie Kiwitt (photographer) and Steven Humblet (photography theorist) will guide a small group of participants on a photography trip to the Brussels periphery under the motto “Walks on the Wild Side”. We talked to both of them.

Hi Stephanie, what is the basis of your photographic work?

Stephanie Kiwitt: “I like to observe public or semi-public spaces such as shopping centres, gyms... Places that represent the increasing commercialisation of everyday life. But also exactly the opposite, where everything is dirty or in decay and nothing grows, for instance when I photographed a derelict site in Ghent over a longer period of time. I always work with a whole bunch of pictures that I bring together in a context, which can be a book or an exhibition. I continuously look for new ways in which to visualise certain issues.”

In your presentation of the master class, you talk about “photography as medium for experiences”. What do you mean by that?

Steven Humblet: “At the places that Stephanie talked about, experiences are offered and consumed. For example, a shopping centre is not only a place with stores, it also offers 'shopping experiences’. As a photographer, it is very easy to show the spaciousness of the architecture of such a mall, but capturing the actual shopping experience is much more difficult. In her pictures, Stephanie tries to capture these experiences and that is exactly what I find so intriguing about her work. Another example: Brussels’ main shopping street, the Nieuwstraat. Photographers don’t think it’s an interesting environment for taking pictures because they feel they cannot do anything with it, whereas I believe we should above all challenge ourselves to photograph such seemingly banal spots as these."

“In her most recent book, Stephanie focussed on the periphery of Brussels, a public area that cannot exactly be defined as a well-considered construction: several functions are mingled, none of which should ever completely dominate the environment. Think of the airport of Zaventem, which is completely surrounded by residential neighbourhoods. If one would have created a larger periphery around the airport, the problem of night-time noise exposure would never have existed. Over the years, the Brussels periphery has evolved into an accumulation of different spaces with many conflicting experiences. When driving on the road from Vorst to Drogenbos, you will see quite a few bizarre things. Like a crematorium in a semi-industrial complex: what the hell is going on here?”

Stephanie: “You’ll also find the linguistic border here, the transition from city to village, etc. To capture this multifaceted environment, photographers should not only focus on watching, they should use all their senses to really experience these spots in the periphery.”

Steven: “What makes photography so difficult, is the fact that it is a purely visual medium. All other senses are filtered out: when you look at a picture, you do not hear, smell or feel anything. How can you add this physical experience to your photographs? That is, in short, the challenge that we and the participants want to take on during our four-day master class.”

Capital Decor, reclamebord, Rathausplatz Pforzheim (D), 2015 (c) Stephanie Kiwitt

You both have a lot of experience as a teacher. How will you take on the master class?

Steven: “That is something we want to keep secret for another while (smiles). But I think our approach will most definitely be a dynamic one. We also want to use the master class as a kind of experimentation lab for the participants, enabling everyone to follow his or her own trajectory. There are different ways in which we can work: individually, in group, in confrontation with each other, in a dialogue with one another...”

Stephanie: “We will surely promote mutual exchanges between the participants. And it will most definitely be a very intense programme.”

Steven: “As for the form, we will work towards a small publication: a folded booklet on A3 format, twelve pages per couple. Within these limits, participants can do whatever they want and we will certainly encourage them to experiment.”

Four Oranges, Some Office Buildings, Woman's Legs, kunstenaarsboek, APE#056, Gent (BE), 2015 (c) Stephanie Kiwitt

Finally: what do you hope to achieve among the participants of the master class?

Steven: "I hope we can offer them another perspective on photography. We want to lift participants from their normal behaviour and encourage them to experiment radically with the way in which they approach photography.”

Stephanie: “The locations where we will take pictures may at first sight not appear very attractive and even be a bit boring, but by looking closely and for a long time, participants will learn how to bend them to their will.”

Steven: “One of the most difficult things in photography is making a ‘banal’ photograph. Photography makes the world beautiful, whatever you capture. The neutrality of a banal space, how can you tackle that in photography? How can you capture the interaction of opposite forces in pictures? This really sounds exciting, I would like to join this master class... How much does it cost?” (laughter)

Eline Leonard

Wondelgemse Meersen, kunstenaarsboek, Kodoji Press, Baden (CH), 2012 (c) Stephanie Kiwitt