Following the very successful exhibition “The World Within,” which brought together 27 projects carried out during the first COVID-19 lockdown, the Hangar in Brussels presents a new group exhibition under the title “Look At My Story.” What is the common ground between the work of French photographer Véronique Ellena and the work of the eight Belgian photographers exhibited in the 1,000-square-meter space of this former garage transformed into a center for photography? They all studied at different Belgian art schools and universities. What also brings them together is the way they tell true stories using a wide variety of photographic approaches. Because while their works are rooted in reality, their different styles and the way they stage their images leave plenty of room for fiction.
A journey through the work of Véronique Ellena
For her show at the Hangar, which takes up the ground floor of the venue, Véronique Ellena selected some forty pieces offering a chronological journey through her work, starting in 1992, the year she graduated from La Cambre school in Brussels, through today. This mini-retrospective highlights her early series with self-explanatory titles, such as “Supermarkets”, “Cooking recipes”, “Sundays”, “Life’s Great Moments”, and “The most beautiful age”. “What I was interested in then was to magnify the everyday, that which is ordinary and simple, using a vintage folding camera with bellows, which imposes slow shutter speed,” she says.
For all these works, Véronique Ellena resorts to elaborate staging, but her subjects are her friends and family. 2003 marked a turning point: “At that point, I felt the need to be alone, to settle down. So I went out with my camera to explore different territories. In that work, the connections are silent and contemplative, but I photograph both the landscape and the people: I would wait for the right moment. It’s another form of dialogue.” Following the first images, nicely aligned and framed, come a few large wallpaper formats on which rare prints are hung.
Another turning point in Véronique Ellena’s career: the “Clairs Obscurs” series for which she enlarges negatives: “The idea was to enter a different world, on the other side of the looking glass. To explore photographic materiality through its ambivalence, its facet that is both trivial, magical and mysterious,” she explains.
At the end of the tour, a surprise awaits the visitor in the form of hanging stained glass windows that were designed for the Strasbourg Cathedral. Astonishing objects for which the glass printing manufacturing process was awarded the Bettencourt Prize. They are to be viewed front and back. Here, it is still a question of life story, but coupled with a form of spirituality, as well.
A panorama of Belgian Photography
On the first floor, the eight projects selected for the show offer a panorama of Belgian photography that brings together artists born between 1966 and 1994. In response to the theme “Look at my story,” their work is anchored in reality. Following are some of our favorites.
Among the artists exhibited, some show aspects of reality that we sometimes would like to ignore. Vincen Beeckman, for example, followed Claude and Lilly, two homeless people who express their unconditional love for each other despite the harshness of life on the streets, which has left its marks on their faces. The way the portraits are hung close together echoes the images of the lovers entwined.
Equally poignant is the atmosphere found in the work Anne De Gelas, who tells about her fight against breast cancer through various approaches. On one side, a personal chronicle of her ordeal is presented in a display case and brings together self-portraits, texts, drawings and archives. On the other side, on the wall, are still lifes shot in Polaroid, slightly enlarged and laminated on a thick wooden format. Images that offer a metaphorical vision of the illness and the suffering the artist endured.
We are also moved by Elise Corten and her series “Warmer than the Sun,” produced between 2018 and 2021, in which the young photographer portrays her relationship with her mother with great delicacy. Mixing portraits and still lifes, image after image she tells the story of the intimacy of ordinary, yet emotional, everyday life.
The subject of Téo Becher & Solal Israel’s work might make one smile were it not for the fact that it tells the true story of people who survived after being struck by lightning. Hence the title “Struck people” [Fulgurés]. A documentary series that leaves room for the imagination thanks to the way it combines a film in which the victims testify and talk about their after-effects with images of landscapes, some of which are abstract. Proof that reality is an inexhaustible source of fiction.
By Sophie Bernard
Sophie Bernard is a journalist specializing in photography, a contributor to La Gazette de Drouot and Le Quotidien de l’Art, a curator, and a teacher at EFET in Paris.
“Regarde mon histoire” [Look At My Story] through July 17 at the Hangar, place du Châtelain, 18, 1050 Brussels.