An interview with up-and-coming Belgian photographer Mieke Verbijlen

 Having first presented her work earlier this week through a portfolio presentation, we have a chat with emerging Belgian photographer Mieke Verbijlen who reveals why she gave up on her digital camera, her inspirations and her love for beautiful objects. 

What are you currently working on?

Since August 2011 I am mainly concentrating on shooting apartments; interiors. I’m also working on a book together with a friend who is an art teacher. The book is about children’s art and I take photographs that are linked to the artworks of the kids.

Do you shoot digital or analogue?

First I worked with a digital camera because I felt like it suited me: It’s fast, easy and cheap. But one day an old man asked me to take a portrait of him, the portrait that he wanted to use for his future funeral. He asked me to shoot it analogue, in black and white. I still had a coloured film in my analogue camera, so I had to finish it before I could photograph him. And I loved the results. It’s so much nicer. So in the end I shoot everything analogue now. It’s really a big difference. The light, the colours…they are more powerful and the atmosphere is different. In my opinion analogue images can stand on their own whilst digital ones most of the time need to be part of a series.

How has your work developed over the years?

I studied photography and graduated in 2006. In the beginning I mainly made portraits, but never just people alone. I always photographed them with objects, revealing their relationship with them. I’ve always been fascinated with beautiful objects, which is why I opened up a shop selling them. But it didn’t really work out and two years ago we closed. So it was a quite natural development for me to photograph interiors, beautiful things, and people who collect them.

How do you find the places you photograph?

Most of the time the apartments belong to friends or friends of friends. It’s a nice excuse to discover peoples’ homes. I don’t photograph just any place of course. There needs to be something special about it. That doesn’t necessarily mean I need to personally like it. Sometimes they are not really my style but there is something interesting. Once a girl told me that her dad never owned a wardrobe and just hung his clothes everywhere, and that she still does it the same way. It’s nice when there’s a personal story to tell somehow.

What influences and inspires you?

I have a thing for lights, light is very inspiring to me. I also get inspired by watching how people put things together, what they collect, first of all my friends. And in the end you are influenced by everything around you: books, music, art, …

What is your working process like? How do you get from idea to final product?

I used to think too much about it, about developing a concept. Now I just go somewhere and shoot without overthinking it. But it’s important that something is not just beautiful – there needs to be a certain atmosphere, a feeling, a little story inside. I don’t photoshop much. But what’s really important for me is the selection process: Which photos do I choose of the many many that I took? It’s important how everything is put together, sometimes a photo looks better because it is shown next to a certain other one. I usually only shoot one film per apartment because analogue photography is quite expensive and it also takes much longer to take a photo as you have to adjust everything yourself by hand.

What do you hope people will take away from your art?

I don’t really have a message to be honest. I photograph what I like and want to share it with others, not more. And of course it’s nice if my photos inspire others to take up photography too.

What subjects do you deal with in your art?

People and their homes. And plants! I like how they change, what they look like when the light shines on them in a certain way.

What would you have been if you hadn’t been an artist?

I already wanted to be a photographer when I was 16 years old. Then after I graduated I really wanted to open this shop I mentioned earlier. And when that didn’t work out I found back to photography – it’s the only thing I’ve always enjoyed doing.

What other Belgian photographers do you like?

Actually I really like to browse through Flickr. There is so much good stuff out there. And I really like Michel Francois, who is not Belgian though and does more than just phorography. His photos are very powerful. I’m also a fan of Lartigue and I really like the work of Ksenia Galiaeva.

How important is your environment in shaping your work?

It’s super important. Many of my friends have very nice places which is very inspiring and helped me in coming up with my idea to photograph people’s homes. Also, I’m quite shy, so it was helpful to begin my project with my friends.

How would you describe the art scene in Belgium today?

Most of my friends are involved in art. There are quite a lot of artists in Belgium, especially in Antwerp. But it’s not easy to live from it, most of us are struggling and have to get normal jobs to be able to pay their rent – and then they don’t have enough time anymore for their art. Personally I don’t really see my work in a gallery, more in a magazine. So I wouldn’t really have that problem.