This project was singled out for distinction among the submissions to Magnum Photography Awards 2016 by juror Stacey Baker. Each juror selected one photographer—discover why this one stood out.
Reality is invisible. Photography only shows appearances. You are nightblind when you lose all sense of shape and direction in the dark. Are these photos dayblind?
Paul D’Haese, like many photographers, is an introverted person. An interior architect by trade, his view of the world is dominated by simplicity and an austere visual clarity that comes only from careful (and distanced) deliberation of the world.
In his work, we find echoes of such quiet masters as Dirk Braeckman, Stephen Shore (and many of the other New Topographics). His latest project, tentatively titled “Belgopolis,” consists of a single photo of every town and city in Belgium, 133 in total. Using his camera, he is steadily producing an “imaginary city,” a “big surreal whole’ of the country he calls home.
Despite the unflinching manner with which D’Haese looks at his surroundings, the photographer firmly emphasizes he has no intention of creating a unified picture of Belgium. Rather, the themes he purses are universal and Belgium merely serves as a temporary boundary. Wherever D’Haese goes to pursue the work, he will be uninterested by questions of urbanization, documentation or objectivity—rather, “an interpretation of my direct environment.”
Similarly, although D’Haese ceaseless traverses urban spaces, D’Haese feels little connection with the genre of street photography. As he told us, “My work has nothing to do with the decisive moment at 1/1000th of a second. Instead, I go for long walks, 3 to 4 hours, in each place, producing only 1 or 2 images. When I find the right setting, I wait for the scene to be complete: clouds or no clouds, an absence of people, the right light and so on. Walk, think, look, wait, decide. Often, I have to come back again, with better conditions and a tripod, to make the picture. Finally, I click, perhaps for ½ a second. It’s certainly a slow manner of working.”
In the long run, D’Haese believes that the project will be extended. Although the body work is already enormous, these photos represent perhaps only 10% of “what should be” in the project. So, D’Haese will carry on, walking, thinking, looking and, occasionally, shooting.
If we were to look really carefully at the everyday world around us, we might see what Paul D’Haese sees: sculpture. Or we might not—which is what makes his pictures so striking. He unfamiliarizes familiar landscapes. His is the world I want to walk through.
—Stacey Baker, Photo Editor
New York Times Magazine
New York, USA