in the Category: art

When the night falls, the world unfurls and my inspiration gets a boost

While her subjects are sometimes actors in her narratives, Bieke Depoorter is the detective trying to reconstruct their lives. Much like the work of a detective in a 1950s film noir, her practice is driven by the night. People are more real when they leave the daily performance behind and move on to the privacy of houses and bedrooms. Since she was 25, Bieke Depoorter has published four books and is member of Magnum, a cooperative photo agency. She becomes part of intimate moments of domestic life in various cities, always creating a bond - or drinking a glass of wine - with the people she takes pictures of.

Interview by Herlinde Raeman
Text by Céline Van de Rostyne and Milena Maenhaut
Photos by Catherine Lemblé, shot in Ghent

You travel all around the world. Do you miss home when you’re abroad?  

Travelling made me understand what works for me. Usually I make a little studio in a hotel room or airbnb when I’m abroad. Lately, I noticed that I was missing that kind of creative place in Belgium. These last few years I’ve been looking for a similar but domestic environment to work in. That's why I used an empty house in Sint-Amandsberg for a while in 2019. Each room housed a different project. I could manage the chaos in my head as the house mirrored my mind.


Do you always work on different projects at the same time? 

Yes. My projects live and evolve with me. If an idea pops up, it’s impossible to leave it behind. Besides, I can't keep on focusing on the same work for too long, I need a certain level of chaos.

I need a certain level of chaos

Do you experience pressure?

I don't feel any pressure to perform creatively, but I do hate e-mailing. I manage to turn off stimuli by keeping certain periods free from interviews and external obligations as those things can be very time-consuming. I feel like stress kills creativity. You have to give yourself time and space to experiment and to fail as an artist.

        Any failed projects recently?

(Laughs) Constantly. My work often handles about doubt and failure itself. I worked with Agata, one of my subjects, after I met her in Paris. After one year and our first exhibition in Antwerp, we decided to continue working together. The cooperation shifted towards something very personal and intense. Something had changed between us. We lost spontaneity and the photos became fake. I decided to show the photographic failure of this last year by describing our relationship instead of exhibiting the pictures I had taken. I showed the audience letters, such as the first letter Agata ever sent me and one in which I explain her why I decided to stop working together.


How are you two doing now? 

We’ve both changed a lot. After all we’ve been through, we decided to travel to Lebanon again to test if we could also be friends without me taking photos. At the end of our last exhibitions in Düsseldorf and Winterthur, I realized that instead of quiting the project, a new chapter may have started. Right now we’re plotting all kinds of plans again. Sometimes, people think we’re a couple (Laughs).

I try to see people as actors in my own narrative

How do you approach your subjects? 

It changed a lot over time. In a few projects, I try to see people as actors in my own narrative. Unless I’m working on an assignment, accidental encounters are my starting point. I try to connect to the people I portray as I don’t want them to be mere subjects for my work.

You enjoy taking pictures at night. What draws you to the dark?

I hardly ever take pictures during the day. When the night falls, the world unfurls and my inspiration gets a boost. The silence of the night creates a special kind of intimacy. Connecting seems to be less difficult when people shrug off the stresses of the day. People are more true to themselves at nighttime. I’m producing short films about Michael right now,  another subject in my work, a man I briefly met in Portland. After he gave me three suitcases full of scrapbooks, collages and more, he disappeared. I'm transforming into a detective, trying to find where he is and to understand his life through everything he has sent me.


How did you get into film? 

During a residency in Norway, I quickly encountered that the outcome of my work was not what I had in mind. I wanted to tell a story about time and the darkness of Norwegian Winters but photography was limiting me as I wanted to play with the notion of time. Later I decided to go back to Norway with Mattias De Craene to work on a film instead of taking photos. That's how I started using this medium.

Have you been attracted to photography from the start? 

No, going to KASK & Conservatorium (School of Arts, Ghent) has changed my life. I did not grow up with a cultural background and never really went to museums with my parents so I didn’t feel artistic at all. This education and the people I’ve met there have turned this around.


When did you decide to take the admission test? 

When I graduated high school I had no idea what to study. Visual art was on the back of my mind but I never really talked about it. After my parents made me take a test, it turned out that a Bachelor in Educational Sciences was the best fit for me. Yet, on the train back home from this test, I decided to try to get into KASK & Conservatorium instead. I guess, I suddenly realized that I would end up doing something I didn’t want to otherwise.

from the moment I walked in, a burden fell down from my shoulders and I never hesitated this decision again

How did you experience the day of this test? 

My cousin took me to Ghent. I was freaking out, I felt like I was entering a world I didn't belong in. Everyone stood there with massive folders of work and I had only my portfolio with me. We drove around the school twice until my cousin made me leave the car. Yet, from the moment I walked in, a burden fell down from my shoulders and I never hesitated this decision again.

What did your portfolio look like? 

(Laughs) I had put it together with my mother. It consisted of poems and photos I had taken during the Summer. Honestly, I still have no clue why I passed. I didn't know a thing about art or photography. We were questioned on famous photographers and agencies and I didn't even know what Magnum was at the time. But, I was very motivated and that must have persuaded the jury.

Subbacultcha and KASK & Conservatorium are teaming up for a series of artist portraits,
featuring some of the interesting alumni profiles.

The school is organising a digital Open Day this Sunday 26 April from 10-17h.