Photographer Peter De Bruyne’s analog grains

The work of photographer Peter De Bruyne (1966) is oddly reminiscent of a mysterious roadmovie. His series ‘De Nada’, which is on exhibition from Saturday 17th September at Ingrid Deuss Gallery in Antwerp, is the result of a road trip he made with Belgian musician Daan in search of, as he states, ‘Nothingness’. We sit down with the artist and talk about breaking rules, serendipity and that age-old debate of analog versus digital.

At its core, what is your work about?

I am always on the lookout for a certain atmosphere, a timeless and motionless feeling in which you can lose yourself, my own little universe of sorts.

What is its starting point and statement?

Often an idea pops in my head at 5 a.m. I never write it down though. If the idea is still around when I wake up in the morning, then it might be a good one. If I forget it, it probably wasn’t worthwhile. In case of De Nada, I wanted to go on a road trip with Daan searching for a place that’s the equivalent of Nothingness. A natural outdoor music studio or a semi blank-canvas we could use to bounce our personalities around side by side, creating sounds or in my case, capture atmospheres.

Can you talk to us about your approach in general? What characterises your work?

To match the photograph to the image I have in my head, I take it slightly out of focus, giving it a blurry and dreamlike quality.  Unnecessary details are eliminated.  I shift the focus to what I believe is essential.  This is something that can be quite confusing for people that are used to watching ‘sharp’ or ‘traditional’ photography.  Where I remain a hardcore traditional – however – is in the use of analogue film.  I love its character and the slow process.  It keeps you on your toes.  You really have to know what you are doing.  And I prefer grain over pixels anytime.


How do you actually work on a piece, from start to finish?

I have to be on the road.  Mind you, that could be on the road from my house to the local supermarket as well as on the road in Spain or the States.  The images I gather are the result of serendipity.  Sometimes, the camera remains in my bag for weeks.  I never force it and take very few pictures when I finally encounter my subject.  And I never return later on, if the light conditions weren’t good enough to make the shot, then, well, tough luck.

Who would you say was instrumental in shaping your artistic practice? 

I obeyed to the ‘classical’ rules of photography during most of my career as a photographer. But one day, in Bluff, Utah to be precise, I captured the autumn foliage of three lonely giant maple trees by shifting out of focus.  I grasped the whole atmosphere of that moment perfectly in this way.  This was my Aha-Erlebnis.  From that day on, photographing out of focus became my second nature. I don’t even notice that it is out of focus anymore.

What are the challenges you face as an artist working in Belgium today?

Plenty of ideas but quite a hassle to gather budget to keep projects afloat.

I prefer grain over pixels anytime.

How do you see yourself fit into the country’s contemporary art scene?

I don’t. Photography is what I must do.  It drives me.  And I like to show and share what I encountered if possible.  And if that happens to coincide with the contemporary art scene, that’s nice, because you can reach an interested audience.

Talk to us about the people around you, your local scene. To what extent does it inspire and influence you?

The enthusiasm of my friends pushes me to believe in, and continue my projects. In this close circle, they inspire me through their work as painters, writers, musicians, filmmakers, journalists, thinkers and unconventional personalities.

What does success look like to you?

Being able to make your dreams come true.

 My family wonders when I’m going to take my photographs back in focus. They hardly ask me to make family portraits anymore.

To you, what role should contemporary art occupy in the community?

It should empower people to discover different viewpoints, open their minds and offer options for a different life(style). 

Which (Belgian) artists do you follow, look at for inspiration? Either from the past or the present.

Jim Jarmusch, Hall Hartley, Gerhard Richter, Luc Tuymans, Philip Aguirre y Otegui, Dolores Marat, Tom Waits, Raymond Depardon, Dead Man Ray, John Lurie, Robert Altman, Albert Frey, Oscar Niemeyer, Andy Warhol, Eroo Saarinen, Rothko, Wim Wenders, Škart and so many others…

On a more personal note, how does your every day inform your work? And what do your parents, your family, think of what you do?

My family wonders when I’m going to take my photographs back in focus. They hardly ask me to make family portraits anymore….