Christophe Collas’ 15 best Belgian photobooks

In honour of the second edition of the Liège Photobook Festival running this weekend, we’ve asked photographer and curator Christope Collas to round up a 15-strong list of this year’s best contemporary Belgian photobooks. As expected, the range from intimate portraits to jaw-dropping landscapes encompasses the breadth of photography today. From the Dutch Golden Age inspired scenery by Dirk Lambrechts to Julie Van der Vaart’s attempt to breakdown bodily taboos, we’re covering all things monochrome, vibrant and hand-crafted curation.

Christopher de Béthune, Knights in white satin (2017)

If you’re seeking a photobook to give you that warm and fuzzy feeling inside, Christopher de Béthune is probably not for you. Known for his gritty, eery and always dark photography, his latest work Knights in white satin features urban twilight in all it’s glory. Best enjoyed with an open-mind and a sombre disposition.

Anne de Gelas, Mére et fils (2018)

Sometimes the only way to portray life is in monochrome – at least, that’s how Anne de Gelas felt obliged to capture the aftermath of the sudden death of her partner and father of her son. What follows is an intimate portrait of the relationship between parent and child when grief is tearing both at the seams. Raw, experimental and moving.

Dieter de Lathauwer, I loved my wife (killing children is good for the economy) (2017)

Dieter de Lathauwer award-winning photobook aims to shine a light on the parts of our past most would like to try and forget. I loved my wife (killing children is good for the economy) portrays the elimination of incurable physically and mentally ill patients, both children and adults, between 1939 and 1941. Framed as “mercy killings” or “euthanasia”, these murders served as a precursor for the Holocaust. Through a highly organised structure, 70,000 patients were murdered in Austria because they did not contribute to the society – the goal was to cut cost. From Austrian care centres and psychiatric institutions to stills from Nazi propaganda movies, the design of the book has references to a medical file. Every folder has a manually signed red cross on the cover just like the doctors did when judging someone to be incurable hence to be eliminated. Asking pertinent questions about the price of social security and the power of images Lathauwer’s work is sure to create an impact.

Annelies De Mey, Black Mountain Conversations (2018)

The Black Mountain is the archetype of a mountain that seems unmountable and indestructible because of its steep mountainside. The past and future can have no influence on its power and immortality. Annelies de Mey has respect for the absoluteness of the mountain. She believes in the moment of encounter and waits for the moon, the sun and the snow. Black Mountain Conversations offers the possibility to look at and experience the book in three different ways. If we flip the book backwards, we only see the soft, blue sky. If we flip the book from front to back we only see the Black Mountain. But if we just leaf through the book, the images of the mountain and the sky alternate each other. We experience the interaction between the enclosed landscape and the open sight of the sky. It makes the mountain appear and disappear and makes it possible to meet it over and over again. A truly immersive experience.

Jean-François Flamey, Non-dits (2017)

It’s rare to find an artist so pre-occupied with the reaction of their audience. So it’s only more refreshing to find in Jean-François Flamey’s Non-dits a consistent desire to create a visceral reaction for the reader. From capturing low-light human wonder to faded memory-like slogans carved into the ground, Flamey’s passion for music has been transformed into a visual artefact for our benefit. Mind-blowing.

Geert Goiris, Peak Oil (2017)

Geert Goiris addresses our contemporary oil culture: commissioned by the Rubis Mécénat cultural fund, Goiris was granted access to the Rubis Terminal sites in Rouen amongst other European locations, including Antwerp. He tackles the subject from the outside, limiting himself to that particular moment when oil is seemingly without drama. This is not about the technical feat of extracting the oil from the earth, nor about the economic, social or geopolitical effects generated by its existence; but rather deals with the in-between phases, the moments when oil is only potentially active.

Tine Guns, The Collector (2018)

Huis Van Wassenhove is one of the most important examples of brutalist private architecture in Belgium – but if this villa is known for its open structure, the whole photo series of Tine Guns contradictorily emphasizes the feeling of being trapped. You can’t escape the gaze. We see the shadows of the trees on the outside of the building, inviting us to take a look inside. The readers have to become voyeurs themselves to find clues of what’s going on. Time passes, the shadows of the trees are moving. The Collector is a meta-book on photography and voyeurism and the male-versus-female gaze. Not to mention, the fluidity of time and perception are beautifully weaved through the readers interpretation.

Dirk Lambrechts, Flemish Light (2017)

Drawing inspiration from the painters of the Golden Age, Dirk Lambrechts pours decadence and depth into these landscapes. Flemish Light is all about observation, historical inspiration and technical experimentation. The result is breath-takingly simply, yet striking. From the Dutchman Rembrandt Van Rijn to the iconic Englishman William Turner, Lambrechts is following in the footsteps of great artists and carrying the torch of passion to update the humble landscape for contemporary viewers. It’s about time we see Flanders in a fresh perspective.

Matthieu Litt, Tidal Horizon (2018)

Nowadays people throw around the concept of sublime over a delicious slice of pizza. However, turning back time this all-encompassing word was at the forefront of philosophical and scientific interrogation. Calibrating sublimity, Matthieu Litt has laboured over Tidal Horizon from his Norwegian residency. As always, the interplay between Man and Nature is tantamount. You have to see it to believe it.

Thomas Nolf, Peculiar Artifacts in Bosnia & Herzegovina (2017)

Mystery is the main appeal of this intriguing exploration into Bosnian-Herzegovinian history: Thomas Nolf’s work dives headfirst into a historical conspiracy theory, tapping into the artifacts of by-gone generations intermingled with contemporary life. Questioning the place for objective truth, all that’s left is an alternative biography in a country full of post-war misconceptions.

Rachel Sassi & Florence Cats, Contre-lame (2017)

Flipping through Contre-lame is like taking a peak inside the minds of Rachel Sassi and Florence Cats. Coming together through Sassi’s raw and poignant phrases and brought to life through Cats’ intricate visual details. A living testament to life, love and sadness in contemporary Belgium.

Titus Simoens, For Brigitte (2017)

Working closely together with his sister Lieve, who wanted to surprise Brigitte for her seventieth birthday, photographer Titus Simoens created a book out of old photographs and clippings of her college years. Leaving the design partly up to chance, Simoens builds an accidental and surprising narrative. Photo-album meets artist’s book in a story at once original and coincidental. The final product recounts a personal tale of femininity and youth.

Gaël Turine, En bas la ville (2017)

Reclaiming the portrayal of Haitian life beyond the tragedy on the news, Gaël Turine dives deeper into the colourful community of Port-au-Prince. Humanity appears to be a side-note in these jaw-dropping characterful shots of rundown buildings. One thing shines through: the resilience of individual spirit against the odds.

Julie Van der Vaart, Beyond Time (2017)

Nudity can be found everywhere, from the darker parts of the Internet to bus-stop ads for lingerie. Yet, the nude human form can still be considered taboo. Julie Van der Vaart combines her signature monochrome tonality with bodies and landscapes that forces the audience to reconsider our collective embarrassment of the natural. Straying away from any sexual connotations, all that’s left is an atemporal scientific exploration.

Bastiaan Woudt, Mukono (2018)

Silhouettes of an under-represented community, Bastiaan Woudt siezed the opportunity whilst travelling through Mukono, Uganda. Hauntingly beautiful portraits, still-lifes and landscapes that beg the question, “Why haven’t we seen more of this spectacular country before?” Part documentary investigation and part artistic expression, this collection is a feast for the eyes.
Liège Photobook Festival will be running from Saturday 17th to Sunday 18th of March, at Liège’s La Boverie.