On her spare time, Antwerp-based photographer Stephanie De Smet likes to focus her lens on indoor plants. More precisely, Stephanie photographs entrance halls, lobbies and stairways that, by the simple grace of human intervention, have been cozied and cuddled up by plants. And, despite shooting only analog, she’s an avid Instagrammer (she pretty much single-handedly invented the #insidegreen hashtag), constantly posting a new hallway and its green inside to her growing list of followers who’ve even taken to tagging her in their photographs of plants and entrances. Photography, plants and architecture. What else really?
Where does your attraction to plants, and indoor plants more specifically, stem from?
I like the way plants always manage to survive; if they reach the ceiling, they’ll keep growing in another direction. People put plants in their houses because it gives them life, because they’re nice to look at and because they give a warmer feeling to your room.
Other than documenting, what do you feel the series expresses, communicates? What does it say?
I like the idea that people try to create a homely feeling in an entrance hall; people cared about the style and the presence of the building they’re living in, even if it’s just a functional space, where you come every day, leave, get your mail or wait for a taxi. Sometimes you find design in entrances too, like Knoll or Bellini chairs, combined with a beautiful woodwork and some plants. Nowadays people pay less attention to this – white or pink walls, a fake plastic plant and a bin full of trash.
When did you start the series, and how many indoor plants do you estimate having photographed up to now?
I started the series when I lived in Brussels. While I was looking for an apartment my eyes fell on halls of seventies/sixties buildings. Then the concept changed: ‘looking for an apartment’ became ‘looking for entrances.’ Avenue Winston Churchill was one of my favorite spots. I used it for fashion or jewelry shoots, then later on I started to shoot the entrances themselves.
In addition to the plants, there’s also a very strong knack for composition in your work – it’s very geometric and architectural. What do you attribute this to?
Marble is one of the things that make me step into an entrance hall. It’s a classic and playful material that’s so pure and in combination with wild plants its a bit of a perfection. I like the aesthetics of that little place nobody’s pays attention to. With my series I try to make people discover their own entrance again. Since I’ve started photographing these places, people send me pictures of entrances they’ve seen, or tag me in a picture they made of their own entrance. Those things make me smile, it’s a feeling of mission accomplished!
Do you feel the series will be a life-long project, one you’ll constantly build upon?
For me, the series is slowly coming to an end, but at the same time I think it will be a life-long project, a puzzle of 1000 pieces. I also think that every time I see a nice hall, I will shoot it, and the project will never end.
How would you describe your artistic practice in general, and your approach more specifically? Are you a spontaneous-type of photographer, or more the research-plan-and-shoot type?
I’m more a spontaneous kind of photographer. For my ‘inside green’ series, we drive a lot around Brussels, Antwerp,…looking for some nice shots. Then it’s jumping out of the car, taking 3/4 pictures and jump back in the car and off to the next spot. When I have a shoot for a brand for example, I prep one or two images in my head and walk around in some cheap handicraft stores to buy some stuff. Then when the shoot starts, I start from an idea and it mostly flows into something completely different. I play with things I find around me and let the models do tricks. If the vibe is right, the shoot will be too.
Which artist would you say most influenced the way you look at things and your work?
One of my favorite photographers is definitely Juergen Teller. I like the way his pictures are, how easy he makes them look. They look like snapshots, but if you look closer the details and colors are so perfect. I catch myself looking at his pictures and go through his books a lot. I guess I try to understand the connection between simplicity and perfection.I’m quick to decide what I like and what I don’t when I go to see an exposition, or if I see someone else’s work, but I always find people’s visions interesting.
Where and when were you born?
I was born in 1989, in Tielt. I grew up in Deinze, moved to Brussels when I was 20, and I have been living in Antwerp for the past 3 years. I must say, I finally found my city ;).
Where, when and what did you study?
As a teenager I studied visual arts in Gent, and had the feeling that I learned nothing. I loved to etch and do silkscreening but that was it. When I saw how the students of photography and film class where busy, I wanted to do the same, so I begged my parents to let me change classes. I learned to work with an analogue camera, how to develop my pictures and how to stretch the barriers of analogue photography. I made pictures every day. During that period I published my very first shoot in VICE magazine: pure analogue without photoshop. I was so proud ! To this day I still shoot analog.
Upcoming news for the following months?
I still have some projects I’m working on. One of them is a book I’m making with Lenz Vermeulen from City Furniture. It’s still in progress, but it will be a photo book with an architectural vibe.Follow Stephanie on Instagram. Visit her website.