Fashion photographer Zeb Daemen on androgyny and the search for timelessness

Despite being only 28, Zeb Daemen has been shooting fashion for more than six years already. Sleek, stylised and minimal, his pictures ooze sophistication and sensuality. We caught up with the new darling of the Antwerp fashion scene to find out why less is always more.

Portrait Ferry Van Der Nat

I’ve interviewed several young designers in Belgium and your name kept coming up. Actually, have we met?

Yes, we did. It was at RA in Antwerp. I was there with designer Lena Lumelsky, whose images I’ve been shooting for a few seasons now.

Ah yes, I remember. Why do you like working with young designers? What’s in it for you?

I love getting completely involved – and that’s something you can do with a young designer. I like to prepare my shoots in advance and need to know where I’m going. I enjoy talking to designers and taking the time to understand their vision. With Lena Lumelsky, for instance, I talk to her about which clothes could be featured in the commercial look book, and which ones we should keep for the press. I feel quite free with young designers.

Do you feel you have a connection with them?

Yes, I do. I met them while they were still at the Academy and we got to know each other well. They launched their own line after graduating and I’ve followed every step since the beginning. It’s like a bonding process. I love fashion and will often spend days researching a shoot, going through images I have in mind before the mood board is finalised.

It all sounds very organised. Is control important for you?

Yes, I do like a certain amount of control, but shooting fashion is also team work. People should never forget that.

Would you say that all photographers are voyeurs?

I guess so. When I was a child, I liked looking at things through a camera. I had a telescope and used it all the time, to look at the stars and observe everything around me. The idea of watching the world through a lens has always appealed to me.

There’s something very structured and pure about your images. Is ‘minimal’ an appropriate word to describe your work?

It’s always hard for me to verbalise what I photograph, but I do like simplicity and geometry. I studied graphic design and like to compose images in a certain way. It’s pretty natural though. I don’t sit down and analyse my work. Clean and graphic, with a hint of classic. I think every photographer is looking for timelessness in an image, even if it’s a fashion photograph.

I want women to be a bit alien-like, with wet hair, shiny skin and long nails. I like them tall and skinny.

There’s something robotic about your models. Is that intentional?

Yes, it is. I want women to be a bit alien-like, with wet hair, shiny skin and long nails. I like them tall and skinny.

Almost like creatures, then?

Yes, I think so. I keep going back to that look. I don’t like girls to have big hair and look too glamourous, even though glamour is not something I have a problem with.

The people you photograph seem pretty androgynous. Are you busy creating a third gender?

Maybe. For some shoots, I like models to appear this way, even though I don’t want to take the idea too far. Androgyny has always attracted me.

You recently shot for  Chinese GQ. Did you have the freedom to do what you wanted?

Yes, it was a great experience. I find that magazines in China tend to be more open than in Europe. People there seem to crave novelty and they’re taking risks with photographers who are not necessarily well-known.

What’s the difference between working with a young designer and shooting for a major magazine?

Stylists are much more involved when it comes to an important publication. They often have a concept in mind and will end up contacting you because your photography fits what they’re looking for. I expected the GQ shoot to be really intense, with lots of talk involved, but the vibe was very relaxed and I felt super comfortable.

Where did you shoot the series?

We shot in a studio in Paris. It happened a few months ago.

Are you proud of what you’ve achieved in six years?

I guess I am. I just hope my photographs keep getting better. I’m happy with my life at the moment and have enough work to stay focused. The one thing I hate is doing nothing.