by Dieter Debruyne

© Filip Dujardin from the series ‘Deauville’

In the  beginning of November I had this conversation with Filip Dujardin, one of Belgians most talented artists influenced by architecture and photography. We mainly talked about his art and influences and I’m ver happy to say I will exhibit together with Filip and others during February in the Brussels parliament. 

Filip Dujardin: For me everything started when I studied art history at the university of Ghent. I already had an interest in architecture and so I wrote a thesis on Jan-Albert de Bondt and his technique of the Amsterdam School.

After my studies I applied for a job at a museum, to no avail, and eventually ended up studying photography in evening studies at the Academy in Ghent. In the beginning it was mostly a search for my own style. There I enjoyed a rather broad exposure but primarily I took interest in Carl de Keyzer and also the Becherschule with its business-like style; analytical, which is characteristic to them but also something that is present in my own work.

I have wandered many paths, including work as a photo reporter and as a darkroom assistant, but eventually I ended up in architectural photography. After my graduation I collaborated with colleague photographer Frederik Vercruysse, who shared my interest in architecture.

© Frederik Vercruysse from the series ‘Tempo Polveroso’

After almost ten years of architectural photography I gradually got the feeling that I wanted to manipulate my images to a greater extent and as a result I started to research the mechanics of imagery, how imagery works and how it communicates. I learned this solely by being engaged with and aware of the status of my work in the discourse of architecture, how the work was used and communicated, what the rules of architecture are and the various ways to capture architecture. The ‘clear line’ of Hergé comes to mind in which depth of focus is set to infinity.

I always make the connection between my fictitious work and my architecture, seeing as there actually isn’t much difference and you are constantly dealing with the manipulation of reality. A frame is actually very binding. You set a passe-partout around your subject, so to speak, but you can be in a thousand places to capture an image. The fact that you chase that specific place determines a lot. You can tell a story in a sequence but also in a single image. 

You can exclude or include things to create a second or third layer to your image. I found this mechanism to be very interesting and wanted to reinforce this in some way. I prefer to call this style sculptural, as it did not stem directly from architecture but rather from a non-functional object.

© Filip Dujardin from the series ‘Deauville’

The coast we see here was very iconic in French history. If you look at the paintings from the 19th century, you will notice that this subject frequently recurs. I arrived at this subject because ‘Deauville’ invited me to do something with the subject of romantic coastlines and so I got to work with the typical Normandy truss-style which you can recognise by the graphic use of wood and the regular recurrence of black and white planks. I cite this image now, as it is on its own, a controversy. Most likely the beach is not a building site or at least it shouldn’t be. What we see here is the desire to be near to water. Something we see repeatedly along the Belgian coast for example. They are also not designer buildings, though they might look somewhat futuristic at times, there is always something archaic about them, which I find interesting. At a glance they look to be technologically advanced buildings but up close you can see that they are clearly low-tech.

© Filip Dujardin, Esplanade Brussel, from the series ‘Fictions’

This image was taken at the Esplanade square in Brussels. A number of windows were broken. I then used this as a foundation to further enhance the aesthetics of the broken façade by additional manipulation of the image. The manner in which the building degrades and the whole aesthetic of it has a somewhat Messianic quality.

But not all of my images are a critique. Most just offer commentary on certain aspects of architecture. Sometimes they are a mild comment and sometimes they are quite resolute about the way architecture is composed like a sculpture or object in space by emphasising certain archetypes. I then take another picture of this, so it actually becomes a reproduction from which an image is created that can stand on its own. In this way the structures all but disappear and all that remains is the image. So what then is the status of that image?

© Filip Dujardin from the series ‘Fictions’

My initial goal of a work is always to build something that will continue to exist. In that sense you can describe me as photographer or a visual artist. Given that being a visual artist is actually quite comprehensive, this sometimes stirs up some confusion, however the approach I take is really quite unique. Though most people know me as a photographer, it’s interesting that these days people more often see me building. I take a preparation or a plan as a starting point and then it’s basically an execution. There may be a lot of work involved for just one picture.

© Filip Dujardin, ‘Passing Cloud’

For a while I owned a gallery in San Francisco but it no longer exists, in the sense that it is no longer a space as such. However in that time a number of interesting contacts were made, including the San Francisco and New York MoMa, who both bought an image, as well as the Metropolitan. That last image was taken up in the permanent collection after being used in an exposition concerning digital photographic manipulation. The interesting thing about that last sale was that it was purchased not solely by the photography department but by the architectural department as well, which I thought was great, seeing as the image was being appreciated not only for the architecture but also for its photographic qualities. In principle it is believed that because it involves the depiction of a building, it must fall under the category of architecture. In my eyes however, it’s more than that. It’s a photographic image that represents architecture or sculptural work.

© Filip Dujardin. The installation is part of the art project FLUX celebrating the river Leie which runs through the city of Kortrijk in 2015. In my opinion the city doesn’t have a lot of contact with the river: the city centre is located a bit further and even turns its back to the water. What I did with this intervention was to make a gesture towards the city by building a structure that places several architectural architypes into a certain sequence. By doing so there evolves a suggestion of a silhouette of a street or an unfolded house. In fact it is an action to pull the city towards the water.»

In the end I think I want to make the point that though my work may not necessarily be accessible, I long to go beyond the purely photographical constraints. If you have a powerful concept, photography can sometimes become a burden and the finishing a problem. An image must be perfect down to the smallest details. You must be patient to minimise mistakes so as not to fall through, and sometimes that means a lot of hard work.

If you create an image, what is it that you show, in what context and how does this relate to your doctrine? For me it’s important to question the medium. What does photography come down to? I show pictures but I see them more as constructed images, composed images or a collage so to speak, which, according to definition, is not photography. It is not my intention to dissect this academically because it is a very intuitive process based on trial and error. It is the layers of perspective I find interesting. That at first glance confusion ensues but that upon closer inspection this is nullified and something else takes its place, some sort of experience.

This article was made with the collaboration of Sebastiaan Franco, Sophia Marmelstein and Heleen De Boever


Filip Dujardin