By Ana Schultze

affiche-wrek-wrk02.inddThe Bibliotheca Wittockiana is the museum of book arts and bookbinding in Brussels. Besides maintaining a prestigious collection of both historical and contemporary books (and having a weirdly large number of baby rattles), they also host a few temporary exhibitions each year. From September 19th until January 20th, the artist Olivier Deprez (Binche, 1966) presented his project WREK in the exhibition WREK NOT WORK, curated by Géraldine David and Jan Baetens.

Deprez is an engraver and thus shows his woodcuts, also known as xylographs, in the Wittockiana. However, sharing his sources of inspiration and creative processes seems to be just as important to him. Central in the very impressive scenography of the exhibition stands a booth with a small printing press, as well as chisels and a stack of drawing plates. Manual labour truly is key in the lengthy process of wood engraving, making Deprez both artist and artisan. In a way, the materiality of wood engraving and printing is a focus point throughout the exhibition. The technique does not only go way back to ancient eastern Asia, but is also recognised in the work of – among many others – Albrecht Dürer, Frans Masereel, Lynd Ward and movements such as French Japonism and German expressionism. Still, the technique of wood engraving has been seriously underrated throughout traditional art history.

The title of the exhibition entails more than just an anagram of werk (work). Through the technical aspects and materiality of Deprez’ oeuvre, the viewer is invited to dive into the imaginary wold of the artist. His woodcuts represent storytelling, remixing and recycling. Deprez himself is the first one to acknowledge his rich visual archive of inspirational sources: literature, video, animation and comics have received a prominent place in the exhibition.

These influences are also clear in his artworks, where artists, authors and characters within a wide spectrum show up, from Malevich and Tatlin, to Beckett and Kafka, to Donald Duck and Nancy. Other artworks are based on stills from the digital age, such as YouTube videos and other captures of social media. Reinterpretations of these result in woodcuts that examine consumer society via parody and satire. Thus the almost obligatory question concerning intellectual property and authorship is also touched upon. And: what is the role of artists within this debate? The exhibition is not a random selection of works, but a well though-out unity that tells a story about the engagement of an artist in the twenty-first century.

The exhibition has already closed, but you can still check out the amazing catalogue. It consists of three booklets: a first one contains an interview with Deprez and a second one presents a selection of woodcuts from the project WREK. The third one, NOISE, shows some of the joint works of Deprez and Adolpho Avril, artist in residence of the creative atelier La “S”, the two previously collaborated on the book Après la Mort, après la vie.

At the moment, we can already start looking forward to the book version of the project, WREK: les indigènes de l’abstraction. Later this year, it will be published by FRMK. For more information about Olivier Deprez and the exhibition, please check out http://www.olivierdeprez.info/ and https://wittockiana.org/.


True Copy

By Ana Schultze and Geert Janssen

The Dutchman Geert Jan Jansen (Waalre, 1943) is an art forger who was exposed and arrested in 1994. He was, for example, so familiar with Karel Appel’s style that the artist himself could not see the difference between an original and a counterfeit work. The multimedia theater company BERLIN has built its play True Copy around Jansen after he had previously played a small role in their play Perhaps All The Dragons. The central question is where the boundaries lie between real and fake. In True Copy, quite relevantly, nothing is as it seems.


The evening starts just like an interview in a snappy late-night talk show, but Jansen quickly takes over from the host. He shares his trade secrets with us as if it were a YouTube tutorial. A ‘good’ counterfeit is more than just a matter of style: you have to consider the right type of paint and canvas, select the right frame, and forge archival documents. Once the painting materials are prepared, Jansen enters an enclosed booth on stage, where the public can only watch him via camera footage.

Gradually, more and more biographical elements come forward, culminating in the unmasking of the art forger. Very prosaically, it was not a stylistic but a linguistic error, in a falsified Chagall certificate, that exposed Jansen. An enthusiastic intern smelled trouble and went exploring (a successful internship can truly give you a nice place in cultural history!). The police came over to Jansen’s castle and he ended up in jail for six months. However, the public prosecutor found nobody willing to stand as a civil party. Jansen had, allegedly, no dissatisfied customers.

In this way, he passes on the blame: not he, but the art world is corrupt. It is currently estimated that up to forty percent of paintings in circulation are counterfeit. Painters, buyers, auction houses, connoisseurs and historians cover each other as nobody wants to admit their mistake. To illustrate how easy this is, Jansen auctions a Picasso of his hand on the spot. In Overpelt, after some encouragement, it was sold for 2800 euros.


Generation A: 50s in Antwerp Relived

Look. Evoke. Shake. Flicker.

An admiration of images then, a record of life now, a salute to the past, a celebration of the present, and a quest for the future.


How often do we look back? What are we looking at when we look into the past? In an attempt to find answers, a student team from KU Leuven’s Master of  Cultural Studies made an open call to emerging photographers spotlighting Generation A – A referring to Antwerp, a city assigned great significance and aesthetic values. Under the framework of the EC funded project ‘50s in Europe Kaleidoscope’, these young creatives were invited to rewash negatives of the 50s and give way to their experience of (re)living the past, creating a bridge between the post-war society of the 1950s and young citizens today. After months of search and discovery, we are nearly ready to share and engage you with a photographic dialogue between (the representation of) life in Antwerp in the 50s and now.

Bridging then and now

In the framework of the exhibition “Blue Skies, Red Panic”, which showcases photographs of the 50’s in Europe, we set up our own sub-exhibition, which is now nearly ready to be visited. Following one of the aims of the ‘Kaleidoscope’ project – to create a bridge between today’s viewers and the 1950s post-war generation, making heritage more accessible and relatable – we focused on Antwerp with an open call to emerging local artists. These artists engaged with selected photographs of the 50s in Antwerp – transforming, interpreting and actualising them, and looking at the past as an inspiration to create new meaning. The connection of the old and the new, the past and the present, resulted in the exhibition “Generation A”. We also invited established photographers and artists to pre-view the submitted works, giving us and the emerging artists a professional opinion. With the exhibition we do not only want to contribute to the bigger ‘Kaleidoscope’ project and engage more users to interact with heritage and history, but we also want to give emerging photographers and artists a stage and platform to present their work.

Vernissage & Exhibition

FlyerOn January 9th the doors of KU Leuven Campus Antwerpen will open for the Vernissage of not only “Blue Skies, Red Panic”, but also “Generation A”. From 6pm onwards visitors are welcome to stroll through the exhibition engaging with heritage and building bridges to today’s life, experiencing the present art-scene of upcoming artists in Antwerp. The Vernissage is accompanied by a reception and opening speeches by Prof. Dr. Bart Van Looy, Academic Dean of Flanders Business School, and Professor Fred Truyen, from the Cultural Studies Department of KU Leuven.

The exhibition(s) run from January 10th until February 7th, and are open from 10am until 6pm.

Do come, enjoy the images, go back in time and please, don’t forget to register for the vernissage here:


Merel Daemen , Eline Debeaussaert, Marieke Devaere, Lien Joosten, Lisa Kraus, Ziyue Lu, Kim Vanuytrecht, Loes Welkenhuysen

More Information:

Generation A – Facebook:


Link to Venue – KU Leuven Campus Carolus, Antwerpen


Blue Skies, Red Panic Exhibition:



‘50s in Europe Kaleidoscope’:












Project turns showcase: ‘50s in Europe Kaleidoscope’ and ‘Blue Skies, Red Panic’

By Sofie Taes


Girl with greased quiff and leather jacket, 1959
AB Helsingborgs-Bild
Kulturmagasinet, Helsingborgs museer. Public Domain

A promising premise

Image factsheetMuch like scents, flavours and music, photographs are powerful triggers of memory. So what better medium to recall a past as recent and as iconic as early postwar Europe…? For about a year, the consortium involved in the project ‘50s in Europe Kaleidoscope’ has been diving into collections of libraries, archives and commercial agencies across Europe, to trace the tracks of the fifties in photography.

‘50s in Europe Kaleidoscope’, a project co-financed by the European Union in the framework of the Connecting Europe Facility Programme, aims at leveraging photographic collections depicting the 1950s in Europeana: Europe’s most trusted and extensive portal to cultural heritage. To increase engagement with Europeana, Kaleidoscope focuses on crowdsourcing and co-curation, inviting European citizens to share personal stories and explore common history.

Compound eye

In the process of exploring and analyzing relevant photo collections for the project, the expected imagery of the era as a time of intrinsic happiness surfaced quite quickly. The rosy outlook on the fifties as a modern-age, bright-coloured paradise, in which horrors from the past seemed to be gone forever, is frozen in our collective memory and fed by nostalgia of the baby boomers. Yet in recent years, a more holistic view has taken root: a layered, nuanced narrative that we soon started to identify in the picture collections at hand.

Statue of Stalin

Statue of Stalin taken down in Budapest, October 1956
National Széchényi Library. CC BY-NC-SA

With project partners from both sides of the Cold War divide, our perspective quickly turned ‘bifocal’. The fifties were indeed the breeding ground for Europe as we know it today, but at the time political regimes, economic circumstances, societal developments, levels of prosperity and consumer trends were very different in the east and west, north and south.  From a political point of view, Europe was a shattered landscape, trying to cope both with internal tensions (dictatorial regimes in Spain and Portugal, Civil War in Greece, revolution in Hungary, …) and the all-dominating dynamics between east (/USSR/communism) and west(/US/capitalism). Colonial empires were dissolving, only reinforcing the vast waves of migration that drove hundreds or thousands of citizens out of – and others into – the continent. Peace brought prosperity – after the first frugal years following WWII – but not in equal measure throughout Europe.

[Automòbil triauto]

The Messerschmitt Kabinenroller in the streets of Girona, July 1954
Martí Massafont Costals
Ajuntament de Girona / CRDI. CC BY-NC-ND

Showtime: exhibition on the go

WhatsApp Image 2019-08-29 at 12.25.51

Catalogue in Print, August 2019

This historical backdrop, as attested to by the collections of our project partners, was the point of departure for a stroll through a decade that is in need of a refreshed historical approach. In the framework of the project, an important showcase to convey this perspective is the physical exhibition created and curated by KU Leuven’s CS Digital: Blue Skies, Red Panic.

With powers as opposite as the capitalist and communist bastions, and phenomena as contrasting as consumerism and crisis, emancipation and dictatorship, traditionalism and counterculture, this exhibition could have easily turned into a simple game of contrasts and opposites. Yet while the pictures we selected are very much black and white, the stories they convey boast an endless range of greys. Through these shades, the reflection of the 1950s gains nuance, color and depth.

On 6 September, in the splendid palazzo Lanfranchi (Museo della grafica) situated alongside the ‘lungarni’ by the river Arno, Blue Skies, Red Panic was baptized. The setup of 26 vintage images, digitized and printed on large-size panels, deployed a rich narrative in 11 chapters boasting duos and trios of images to shed light on huge trends, interesting undercurrents, big history and personal stories. After its first instance in Pisa, the exhibition recently traveled to Girona where it will re-open at the Centre Cultural la Mercè on November 12th. In January we’ll be showing Blue Skies at the KU Leuven Campus Carolus premises in the heart of historical Antwerp, after which it will go on to visit Kulturforum Berlin (February 2020).


Blue Skies, Red Panic in Pisa, vernissage of September 6th

In the mean time, a completely reworked and extended version of the exhibition has been tailor made for Europeana.eu. Launched only last week, Blue Skies will be open to a large online community.

Annotation 2019-10-31 121838

Blue Skies, Red Panic on europeana.eu: similar scenario, remodeled showcase

Finally, an interactive virtual version will be created with the MuPop-app developed by Amsterdam-based company Noterik, allowing visitors to control the narration and listen to the stories simply by using their smartphone. Blue Skies MuPop will be debuting at the Day of Science at KU Leuven (24 November), will go on to be shown at Coventry University (3 December) and is bound to visit more partner premises in months to come.



Campaign image of the Swedish department store Nordiska Kompaniet, 1953
Erik Holmén
Stiftelsen Nordiska museet. CC BY-NC-ND

Having had the pleasure to curate this exhibition from the ground up, I am excited by the way it lends itself to being transformed for different platforms, using different media, offering different modes of interaction and participation. The fact that a beautiful, printed catalogue will serve as the everlasting reminder of a splendid project and the unique creative opportunities it has offered me, is a genuine joy as well. But by far the most rewarding result of this effort are the reactions received so far from people who visited the Pisa-installment, read the catalogue or explored the exhibition via Europeana.

There’s awe for the outstanding quality of the images, smiles of recognition, gasps of surprise, reflection, introspection and discussion. Someone wrote to me: ‘What I liked the most is how each image tells a story, yet the text demonstrates there’s more than what meets the eye’. With the open yet critical attitude that is at the core of CS Digital as a constant driver as well as a goal, such feedback is the best return on (creative) investment I could have wished for.

Feeling curious or creative?

Annotation 2019-10-30 120935We warmly invite you to explore the photographs and stories via photoconsortium.net, where all images and texts can be accessed directly and the exhibition catalogue can be downloaded for free. Via the same website, it’s possible to enter the educational portal and retrieve reusable material. Visit fifties.withculture.eu to create your own fifties collections with images from repositories such as Europeana or your own photographic memories. Finally, we’d be delighted if you could help us help more people retrieve these gems by participating in our annotation campaign on withcrowd.eu.

Between Utopia and Dystopia

By Jan Baetens

La Maison d’ailleurs (“The House of Elsewhere”) is a Swiss museum exclusively devoted to the world of science-fiction (http://www.ailleurs.ch/en/). It currently hosts a major exhibition, Mondes Imparfaits/Imperfect Worlds, on the famous Belgian comics series, The Obscure cities, by François Schuiten and Benoît Peeters.[1]

Mondes ImparfaitsThis major event (17 November 2019 – 25 October 2020), which offers a wonderful survey of the artwork of the series (gradually morphed into a transmedial universe that also blurs the boundaries between fiction and reality), is built around a reflection on the tension between utopia and dystopia.

In the lavishly illustrated catalog that serves as the companion volume to the show,[2] the Obscure cities world is framed from three different perspectives, which allow for a broad contextualization of the series’ themes and visual world. Part One is an essay by François Rosset (University of Lausanne) on the notion of utopia, which is approached from a historical as well as thematic point of view. It presents the major landmarks of the genre in various media, while addressing topics such as travelogues, paradise, or frontiers. Part Two, logically devoted to dystopia, contains a study by Marc Atallah (director of the Museum and equally Professor at Lausanne). It also presents its subject with the help of key examples borrowed from several media, mainly literature and cinema, and discusses issues such as alienation and surveillance. The Third Part of the Book is an in-depth conversation with the makers of the series, François Schuiten and Benoît Peeters, who bring together the reflection on their own work and their ideas on utopia and dystopia, more particularly on the way in which the Obscure Cities help question social, artistic, philosophical, and human aspects of an imagined but highly recognizable world.

Imperfect Worlds is not only a great book for the quality of these texts, it is also a richly illustrated and beautifully printed volume that will prove the starting point of many new explorations into the world of science fiction, which as we know is totally part of our own world.

[1] The complete series is now available, for close-reading as well as for binge-reading, in four superb boxes, published with Casterman, see: https://www.casterman.com/Bande-dessinee/Collections-series/albums/les-cites-obscures

[2] Mondes imparfaits. Autour des Cités obscures de Schuiten et Peeters, Yverdon/Brussels : Maison d’ailleurs/Les Impressions nouvelles, ISBN : 9782874497308, 128 pages, hardback, 28,50 euros. ISBN : 9782874497308.


By Ana Schultze

ART@VSAC is an exhibition of artworks selected as a part of the seventh edition of the Visual Science of Art Conference (VSAC), which takes place in Leuven from 21 to 24 August 2019. It is divided over three locations – BAC Atelier, KADOC and the University Library – all venues whose history is closely linked to the university thus forming a peculiar blend of art with science. The artworks on display were invited or submitted to fit in with the conference which is targeted at scientists from several disciplines, interested in visual science and visual art, and also dedicated to encourage interchange between them.

Although the selected artworks all share similar traits, they are also diverse in many respects. The used media vary from paintings and photography, to video and film, installations, performance, as well as hybrid or mixed forms. The contributing artists are also in different stages in their career: they range from emerging to well-established. The common interest of the different artists in the fascination of how the eyes and brains of the beholders create the art experience, unites them and makes the collective ART@VSAC exhibition more than the sum of its parts.

The exhibition is open to the public as well, since the artists and scientists involved are eager to share their findings and also want to open up the scientific dialogue on visual art. One third of the human brain is dedicated to the processing of visual information and many of us get pleasure out of visual stimulation. The visual brain is full of opioids for a reason. So come and enjoy what you see at ART@VSAC! Open your eyes, look and walk around, and get your senses triggered, brains stimulated and hearts touched.

More information & opening hours: http://www.vsac2019.org/artatvsac.


A Life of Joy and Care: An Exhibition Review of “Intimate Audrey”

By Laura Katherine Smith

The iconic image from Funny Face (dir. Stanley Donen, 1957), one of the films for which Audrey Hepburn is best known, is the extreme close-up of her facial features—her brows, eyes, nostrils and lips. It is an image that Fred Astaire’s character creates in a dark room in an attempt to convince Hepburn’s character to become a model. He serenades her: “I love your funny face…!”

IntimateAudrey_imageLarge black and white images of the actor’s face greet the visitor of Intimate Audrey as they turn a corner and enter the first exhibition space: a low-lit black-box theatre type setting with a life-sized cut out of Audrey at the far end of the room. As the exhibition’s website explains, Intimate Audrey is a “‘bespoke’ exhibition of the life of Audrey Hepburn created by her son, Sean Hepburn Ferrer, to celebrate her 90th birthday anniversary in her birth town of Brussels, Belgium.”[1]

The feeling of intimacy, established in the first room (in which one also hears Audrey’s voice), does not diminish, but changes, upon entering a larger, more classical exhibition space with numerous photographs arranged in groups across the walls. In what appears to be Audrey’s scrolled handwriting, one can make out “my father Anthony” and “my mother Ella” below mounted clustered framed photographs.[2] If at first odd—to peer closely at photograph after photograph of strangers, sometimes with very little context or description—one quickly settles into what becomes the joy of following the ordinary moments of a life, which is also the extraordinary life of Audrey. Intimacy is tinged with strangeness as this life is both familiar and yet not, in any way, ours. The reminiscing one feels—“Ah, there’s Audrey in the movies!”—blurs with an impossible, though somehow imagined, recognition. We follow Audrey as a young person, in her early career, on her wedding day, as her son is christened; we time travel to where we have never been and see her in these different roles (daughter, actor, wife, mother, friend, muse, and, both throughout the various photographs and in some particularly striking ones, as a radiantly expressive individual). Somewhere between her ballet photos and sudden hair-change in the 60’s, we realize we are temporarily living in a large-scale family album/memory box of Audrey’s life.

While the downstairs section of the exhibition acts as an introduction to Audrey’s early life: her family, her drawings and books, her love of ballet, and her first acting experiences, the second floor displays memorabilia from her films and personal life: her marriage to actor/director/producer, Mel Ferrer, the birth of her first son, Sean, testimonials of her close friends including Hubert de Givenchy, and her work with UNICEF.

The most striking aspect of the exhibition, other than the beauty and the fashion, which we know and love, does not come as a surprise but is beautifully affirmed through still and moving images; that is, Audrey’s radiant joy and care. Across the many images, Audrey beams: she dances, jumps and poses—with flowers, hats, dogs and deer. She holds her sons close, gazes tenderly into the eyes of loved ones, holds hands with her best friend, and kisses the hands of those she traveled far to meet and for whom she advocated.

It seems a difficult task to create an exhibition around the style icon and one of Hollywood’s greatest stars when one is hard-pressed to find an interior of any space devoid of an Audrey reference. The visitor of Intimate Audrey may not learn something new (her love of flowers and her doubts about her appearance and acting skills have been covered in interviews and in her son’s book, Audrey Hepburn, An Elegant Spirit: A Son Remembers (Atria Books, 2003)), but Intimate Audrey is not about new discoveries. It is rather, as its descriptions states, a celebration of one particular life: both ordinary and extraordinary. Intimate Audrey is not a retrospective of a well-known career but an invitation to get a glimpse of a full life (in the always fragmentary way that this is possible): one of personality, youth, love, family and friendship, career and public work.

In line with the idea of this exhibition, there were two important curatorial choices that made Intimate Audrey work. The first is the exhibition’s prohibition of picture-taking: one has to look in order to see (the only photo-op permitted is in front of an exhibition poster and a statue of Audrey). This means that the images cannot be collected as mementos after a visit to the exhibition. The second decision involves an original take on the exhibition catalogue. This delightful surprise offers an elegant and interesting solution to an exhibition that seeks to offer a temporary peek into a life; a well-balanced testimony to Audrey, the woman.

Exhibition Information:


On until August 25th, 2019.

Venue: Espace Vanderborght,

Rue de l’Ecuyer 50, 1000 Bruxelles

[1] http://intimateaudrey.org/index.php/en/

[2] Thanks to Stephanie Florizoone for pointing out that the scrolled writing framing clustered photographs seems to match Audrey’s handwriting in her displayed UNICEF speeches. This is not confirmed.

Reading Movies in Print

By Jan Baetens

On: Films à lire. Des scénarios et des livres, ed. by Mireille Brangé and Jean-Louis Jeannelle. Brussels : Les Impressions Nouvelles, 2019, 364 p., ISBN : 9782874496691

Movie scripts are weird. They are neither the works themselves (after all, movies are supposed to replace them), nor the simple blueprint of these works (for the production of the film does not necessarily program their obsolescence). Their status and nature become even weirder when one takes the decision to publish them and the studies collected in this fascinating volume, which complements another volume on scenario and adaptation by Alain Boillat and Gilles Philippe that I presented here a couple of months ago (see: https://culturalstudiesleuven.net/2018/05/07/adaptation-studies-after-the-fidelity-issue/). These publications make very clear that this editorial practice is extremely widespread. Ever since the beginning of cinema as a cultural industry, scenarios have been issued in various forms and formats, ranging from movie magazines to specialized book series, and for widely varying reasons, hovering between art and commerce (published scenarios are a typical movie tie-in product, but they also cater to the needs of die-hard cinephiles).

Reading movies

In Films à lire (with a subtitle that nods to Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men), Brangé and Jeannelle offer the first general overview of the emerging field of “scenarios in print studies”, which will set the standard for all research in the coming years. This book is ground-breaking for different reasons. First of all, it dramatically questions the very definition of the “scenario”, since a scenario in print, that is edited and made available to a non-professional audience, is very different from the technical meaning and practice of scenario, which still dominates most thinking in the field, be it theoretical (what is a scenario?) or practical (how to write a scenario?). A published scenario becomes a work on its own, exploring aspects of literary communication and artistic experiment that classic approaches of the scenario do not touch upon. In addition, the book also challenges all forms of homogeneity in its reading of the scenario. As clearly shown by the many examples of the collection, which contains almost twenty detailed case studies covering various periods and styles of film making in different countries, one should consider the scenario a network of many different types and genres that cannot be reduced to a single mold.

Yet this more open and context sensitive approach of the scenario, as made possible by the shift from the scenario to the scenario in print, is not restricted to the published texts. The most fascinating aspect of Films à lire is the invitation to simultaneously question the twin notions of scenario and movie themselves. In light of what happens when scripts make it into print –and this move is never an automatic or mechanical one–, all contributions help us rethink not only the work of the script writer, but also that of the film maker –both of them being a collective agent rather than an individual and moreover an agent working in conditions that cannot be separated from a large site of technological, legal, aesthetic, financial and highly subjective constraints.

Paper Countries/Countries on Paper

By Jan Baetens

Everyone should head south (in Belgium) this summer for the splendid exhibit at the Museum of Photography in Charleroi on a special genre of photobooks, the so-called “country portraits.” These portraits are a type of verbo-visual travel literature which flourished between 1920 and 1970, that is, between the appearance of modern tourism and the explosion of mass tourism.

“Pays de papier” (literally: “Paper countries”) covers a field that is, at the same time, very well-known and which has fallen somewhat into oblivion for historical as well as aesthetic reasons. Today, this kind of photo-literature is no longer en vogue, which certainly plays a role in the difficulties one finds to recompose the larger archive of the genre. But even during the heyday of the country portrait, this type of book and magazine (generally in the form of special issues of general magazines) was not always taken seriously: too commercial, too often hastily written and edited, too different from what “good” writing and “good” photographs were supposed to be in these years.
The many prejudices against the genre prove, however, wrong as brilliantly shown by the many works displayed as well as the attractive catalog (in French) of the exhibit.

Paper countries
The two curators, David Martens and Anne Reverseau, have managed to bring together an exceptionally rich selection of country portraits and to present them in a smart thematic way. Their selection highlights the nearly industrial structure of the genre as part of the publishing business, with a strong emphasis on issues of seriality and intertextuality. Yet it also helps rediscover many masterpieces, such as the French edition of William Klein’s mythical 1956 book Life is Good For You and Good in New York, a work that also illuminates the international circulation of this kind of book, which were not always initially published in their “home country” or “home market” (the case of Robert Frank’s The Americans is still famous in this regard).

The research behind the exhibit is impressive, and the same goes for the work on the catalog, astute and diverse (a good mix of book history, photography theory, social analysis and philosophical considerations) but always perfectly accessible to a lay audience. The exhibit itself is an eye-opener in many senses of the word: it opens a forgotten world, yet not in a nostalgic way; it is a feast for the eye; and it exemplifies what sound curatorship ought to be.

Practical information:
Musée de la photographie
11, avenue Paul Pastur, 6032 Charleroi (Mont-sur-Marchienne)
Duration of the exhibit: 25.05.2019 > 22.09.2019
The Museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday, between 10.00 and 18.00.

The Belgian Photobook

By Jan Baetens

Curated by Tamara Berghmans and still on display till Oct. 6th, the FOMU (Antwerp Photography Museum) exhibit on the Belgian photobook is an absolute must see. As a specific photographic host medium, the photobook is definitely not new. Actually, the first pictures by Fox Talbot were published in this format and the rapid shift from unique and non-reproducible daguerreographs to positive-negative types of photography capable of being reproduced and hence (more) easily reprinted in book format, represented a kind of silent revolution, the consequences of which have not always been taken seriously. In recent years, the famous trilogy by Martin Parr and Gerry Badger on the photobook as an independent branch of photography culture has dramatically changed this perception and helped challenge the false idea that photographs are only real or serious cultural artefacts when they are seen on the walls of a museum or gallery.

The Anglo-Saxon approach of Parr and Badger does, however, come with a price in terms of corpus (including genres) as well as temporal, geographic and cultural limitations. Volumes 2 and 3 of their trilogy already addressed these issues, but many questions are still open. What about “minor” cultures in a photography field that is so heavily dominated by the Paris-New York axis? What about genres that are underrepresented or ignored in “major” contexts? What about the very idea of word and image relationships when photography becomes a practice that is aimed to circulate in book format?


The FOMU exhibit offers many new answers to questions like these, and it does so in a way that is both highly attractive for a large audience and very rewarding for the more scholarly interested public. The museum showcases a large variety of often fascinating and always very surprising objects, which can not only be seen or admired, but also actually read, either in analog form (many books are on display and can be freely accessed) or in digital form (with the help of tablets and touch screens, all of them using high quality scans). Text panels and captions are exemplary, that is sober and well written, and guide the visitor to the exceptionally well-made (and relatively inexpensive) scientific catalog, which combines detailed descriptions of all items on display and in-depth analyses of thematically structured transversal issues.

In addition, this exhibit is a great opportunity to further reflect on the meaning of the word “Belgium”. The Belgian photobook is radically multilingual, while the differences between Flemish and Francophone cultures are much smaller than one might expect, and it is open to artists, curators, critics, and writers coming from all over the world. In that sense as well, this exhibit is a necessary complement to larger debates on culture and identity in Europe.

Info: https://www.fotomuseum.be/en/exhibitions/Photobook_Belge.html