photoreportage

Street art in Brussels

Soon after I first came to live in Brussels in 2004 the great street artist Bonom burst onto the city. His enormous creations bloomed regularly on the sides of buildings all over the centre ville — elephants, a human foetus, dinosaurs… If you know where to look, you can still find a few of these artworks, but most have at least been preserved in photographs.

Apart from the town council’s flaccid tributes to Tintin, Spirou and other Belgian comic book heroes, and Pencil Man’s ubiquitous outings, Brussels’ streets have remained relatively artless since Bonom was shut down by an extraordinary and aggressive legal action in 2010.

In September this year a disused Delhaize supermarket on the Chausée de Waterloo was taken over by Strokar, a collective of street artists from all over Europe, to create Strokar Inside, a magnificent collection of works, still in progress, which will premably survive only until the building is torn down or renovated. It’s open from 11.00 to 18.30, Wednesday to Sunday, and entrance is €8,00.

I had a fantastic time. The individual works themselves are impressive, but what I specially enjoyed was the interaction between them and the carcass of the supermarket that they inhabit. If I was the CEO of Delhaize, I would be trying to commission the artists to decorate all my stores.

La Petite Foire de Semel, 2018

La Petite Foire, organised each year by MAP (Mouvement d'Action Paysanne) on the same weekend as Belgium's main agricultural fair at Libramont, celebrates and promotes the country's growing network of rural craftsmen and women, producers, smallholders and organic farmers.

I volunteered to photograph the event in 2017 and was pleased to be invited back for this year's fair. The people are lovely, the food is great and the mood is positive and engaged. Despite the threat of showers on Saturday, the turnout this year was amazing. Many of the workshops and displays were sell-outs, with people spilling out of the tents onto the surrounding grass. And it was hot! The beer flowed and there was a permanent queue in front of the ice-cream stand.

Although the fair is very largely run by volunteers, MAP depends on some public support, in particular from the Province of Luxembourg, and I was careful to get good shots of their banners. But the local politicians who came along to the official opening must have been impressed by the numbers of people who were there, so I hope funding is secure for the next few years.

An inspiring group of young Belgians

I spent the day of the Zinneke Parade with around 20 pupils from the Institut Sainte-Marie, a secondary-level art school in Saint Gilles. Gently encouraged by their teacher Roxane Carlier, the young people had thrown themselves into this entirely voluntary project with enthusiasm, designing and producing their own costumes.

I didn't know that the group would be so young, and they certainly hadn't expected to be accompanied by a photographer. A few were immediately keen to pose for the camera, but many were reticent at the start. But they soon got used to me, especially when we left the dressing-room and got out onto the streets of central Brussels.

I was impressed and moved by their energy and good humour, and especially by the confidence with which they interacted with the crowds of spectators. I enjoyed their company a lot, and was very happy to hear from Roxane that they had appreciated the photographs that I sent her.