An Exclusive Interview With Barbara Vandendriessche
Art Market|Issue #53 November 2020
Barbara Vandendriessche grew up in a small city Roeselare in Belgium, not far away from the French border. Her decision to study and practice theater directing and scenography brought her to Antwerp and finally to Brussels.
By Ida Salamon

During the first years, I was sometimes overwhelmed, but then I learned to appreciate the city. Its complexity, its different municipalities and neighborhoods, its people, says Barbara to Art Market Magazine in between her online teaching at the LUCA School of Arts in Leuven.

In an exclusive interview, she reveals the historical characters that are the inspiration for her work, her relation to photography, the Greek tragedy, and the people facing the uncertainty during the coronavirus pandemic.

Art Market Magazine: You were recently honorably mentioned in the Fine Art section at the Julia Margaret Cameron Prize award. This Victorian artist was famous for her romantic portraits of women. We often see women as the central figure in your photography, but other motives can also be found. How would you describe yourself as a photographer?

Barbara Vandendriessche: I like Julia Margaret Cameron's work. Her photography work is very inspiring, and it was a great honor to be awarded this prize. Two years ago, I worked on Recanati, based on the Italian romantic poet Giacomo Leopardi's life. I made a series about romanticism and melancholia with both women and men, but less with men indeed. Since then, the melancholy as an emotion returns a lot. I would describe myself as a photographer who wants to capture the emotions in a body. Not necessarily the beauty of the male or female body, but what is underneath. I want the photos to tell a story without being explicit. There must be a secret still to discover, or never to discover.

A.M.: The expressions and emotions you show, the colors, effects, and lights you use create a composition in harmony. Can you reveal to us more about your technique?

B.V.: I don't know if I have a unique technique. I try not to think too much about it because I have learned that overthinking the process and gear might hinder my creation. When I start, there comes a sort of concentration and focus, and I improvise with the theme, the materials, and the models. Afterwards, while I edit, I also get in a sort of concentration and start working. The best moments are when you are surprised by what you see and never imagined it would turn out this good. I have to rely on coincidences, on mistakes that then yield a new approach.

A.M.: What is the message of your works?

B.V.: I don't have a message. I just want to share something I like, something that can be touching and inspiring for someone else. Music, poetry, and film can comfort a person and give the option to escape everyday life's ugliness or unhappiness. I think that I strive more towards that with my work. Art softens the morals, they say. It's a cliché, but in my case, you can take that literally.

A.M.: How do you choose your models?

B.V.: I choose them, or they choose me. In the beginning, I worked with actresses and dancers I worked with in the past. Because I knew they had fragility, they could show their emotions. I knew they would understand what I wanted to tell. Later, people presented themselves to me. If I felt they were drawn to my images and not the posing itself, then I knew we could create something together. So I have made beautiful photographs with models who never modeled before, but they were willing to step into my world for a few hours and trusted me. That's very important.

A.M.: Where and in what environment do you prefer to shoot the photos? Do you get your inspirations for the posing spontaneously, or do you proceed according to a plan?

B.V.: Since I have my studio, I prefer to shoot there. I can prepare everything in my own rhythm and place. I can try out sets and compositions, adjust them, and throw them away when they don't seem like anything I wanted. So yes, I prepare it well. But once the model is there, I start to improvise with everything that I had prepared. There are always, immediately, things that happen that were not prepared in advance. And very often, those are the photos I like the most once the project is finished.

A.M.: In the introductory sentence on your webpage, you wrote, With my pictures and sculptures I seek for the beauty in the tragical, in pain. This is a serious statement; what is the reason for it?

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