Sébastien Van Malleghem (Namur, 1986), is a young and prolific freelance photographer who was this year’s recipient of the Bozar Nikon-Monography Series Award for his work PRISONS (2011-2014) – a thought provoking reportage on the oft stealth living conditions of, in this case, the Belgian penitentiary system. Here, Malleghem shares a few words with us on his award-winning series exhibited in Bozar, and discusses a forthcoming work on drug addiction in Northern France.


Prisons © Sébastien Van Malleghem.

What were your original ideas and intentions when starting to work on your latest series?

I started from scratch with the reportage PRISONS. After my first long term reportage about the Police in Belgium (2008-2012), during the end of it, I began to think about the next part of this reportage: what happens to the people arrested by the police, who go to jail?

A female prisoner sunbathing at the women’s prison in Berkendaele, in Brussels. This courtyard is located next to a men’s prison, whose cells offer a direct view on the women’s courtyard. Women enjoy mocking men or expose themselves to their sight. Brussels, Belgium – July, 2011. © Sébastien Van Malleghem.

What would you say was its starting point?

Finding the right person inside the administration who could give me the go-ahead to enter the Belgian prisons and take pictures inside. I took me almost eight months.

Prisoners watching a movie inside the movie theatre in the prison of Ghent, Belgium, April 2014. © Sébastien Van Malleghem.

Is there something very specific you’re hoping the series will express/communicate?

I wish people would think more about our current penitentiary system – see it from another angle other than what the press and television shows. I wish they would change their minds a bit when they think about the conditions of our prisons, shown through the pictures. I wish they would understand why and how we treat the mistakes people do.

Prison officers proudly show a cell of a former inmate who drew all over the wall with a pen. Namur, Belgium – March 2012. © Sébastien Van Malleghem.

Can you talk to us about your approach in general?

I search and photograph the reportages I want. I’m a freelancer so I find a subject that interests me, that touch me and that matter. Then I struggle until I gain access to them, and once I’m in I try to disappear, to not disturb anybody. I photograph in Belgium, and mostly in Europe.

How would you say this series fits in with your wider body of work?

It’s a part of it. I don’t think of whether it fits or not. I don’t look at my work as an “artist,” but as a photographer. Showing the truth is the only thing that matters.

Three mentally ill prisoners are smoking at the entrance of the inner courtyard in Paifve’s prison. Liège, Belgium – February 2011. © Sébastien Van Malleghem.

Can you talk to us about how you see your own work? How would you describe it?

As photographs of the reality, taken with a subjective look.

What is your preferred medium for exhibiting your work? Book? Solo show? Group exhibition?

With a long-term project such as Police and Prisons, the only way to show them properly, with the full content, is with a book.

Who would you say was instrumental in shaping your work?

Certainly the people who taught me photography.

View from a wing inside the prison of Ghent. The director of the prison chose to not put any fences between the wings, he said it’s better for the daily life inside, for the mind of the people working and those incarcerated. It’s also easier for the guards to reach a cell if there is an emergency. Ghent, Belgium, December 2013. © Sébastien Van Malleghem.
Sebastien Van Malleghem: Prisons
From the 13th of November until 3rd of January 2016