Sarah Lowie’s intimate photographs of Charleroi’s Madil City Gang

Charleroi-born Sarah Lowie’s (1994) first solo exhibition ‘SIXMILLE’ opened earlier this month at Contretype in Brussels in the context of Bozar’s Summer of Photography. A recent graduate of art school Le 75, the now Brussels-based photographer talks to us about her hometown, complete artistic submersion, intuition, and chaos.

What were your original ideas and intentions at the start of working on this new series?

Honestly, I don’t remember anymore. Did I even have intentions at the start? Actually, they (the Madil City Gang) came to me. I grabbed the opportunity, I knew, and I saw that they were living on the fringes. I told myself: “you’ll see where this will take you, Sarah”. The idea came gradually and inconsistently. SIXMILLE is a sort of intimate journal, because it shows their private life, which, over time, became my private and intimate life as well. I tell stories about what we’ve been through together, stories they told me. I show my viewpoint of them. I was never attracted by “objective” photography.

What would you say was its starting point?

D called me up one day, asking me to pass by the studio. That’s all he told me. Intuitively, I took my camera. I arrived around midday. The mattress was on the floor, some of the guys were still sleeping. Two hours later we started taking photos. They were talking about their upcoming concert, and I asked if I could come by to take photos. That’s where everything started.


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

What attracted me to them was their way of life, completely on the fringes, as outsiders of society, in refusal of the dear “metro-work-sleep”. They have different ideas than the ones most of us have. Everything was different, like another world. And it was beautiful, in a way.

Can you talk to us about your approach in general?

Complete submersion. Physically and mentally.

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

The year before SIXMILLE I worked on Charleroi, in a different way, with a rolleiflex, in black and white, about the changing architecture in Charleroi, the start of major renovations of the city. There was a heavy atmosphere, and I never saw a single person. SIXMILLE is, in a way, a continuation of this work. Passing from Charleroi’s architecture to Charleroi’s people.

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

While taking photos, it was my life, what I was seeing, what I was feeling. With no reservations. I explain this in my book SIXMILLE. It was intense, very intense, too intense. I wrote the book in chaos. I put words on things they didn’t talk about.


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

A dark piece with a comfortable armchair, with a bedside table next to it, an ashtray on top of it, a lamp, and the SIXMILLE book. People would sit down, light the lamp that would illuminate the space, and then the analog photographs would become visible on the walls. After a couple of minutes of observation, people would open the book and plunge in the universe of SIXMILLE, just like I did.

Who would you say was instrumental in shaping your work?

Django, one of the gang members, was my most important source of inspiration for this project.