Recently, RR&Co. sat down with Dave Anderson to talk about his work for the city of Charleroi, Belgium. The story is not a common one, by any stretch of the imagination –but it maintains a sort of brilliantly romantic charm. See for yourself, and read on.
RR&Co.: How did you come to photograph the town of Charleroi, Belgium?
DA: The Musée de la Photographie, Charleroi is the largest photography museum in Europe and I had met its director Xavier Canonne in 2004. He had been interested in my project “Rough Beauty” and eventually gave me a solo show of the work in 2008. Charleroi is a post industrial city and Xavier had felt that I brought a humanity to working class subjects that reminded him of Charleroi. He also saw the color work I was doing in New Orleans (that was to become “One Block”) and was excited about it. He asked me if I would come do a residency in Charleroi in which I would live there for a period of time and photograph the city and then he would turn it into a book and exhibition.
That’s kind of a dream project for me so I ended up traveling there twice for two week stints — once in the Winter and once in the Spring — to photograph the city. The work I did there has, as planned, now become the subject of a major exhibition and my newest book.
RR&Co.: What can you tell us about the recent exhibit that opened?
DA: It’s a doozy! The museum tells me it’s the largest exhibition they’ve ever staged. It’s certainly the largest exhibition I’ve ever had. There are, I believe, 106 images in it, ranging from 20×20 inch prints to 40×40 inch prints. In addition, giant billboards of images have been mounted all over the city with no text, which — in effect — acted like a standalone installation. The book has a slightly different edit of images. The folks that printed the exhibition, Digital Silver Imaging, did amazing work on no notice –and it came out great! I’m really so grateful for their involvement and help.
There’s another interesting element to this exhibition. The city of Charleroi has a reputation of being ugly and undesirable. People in Europe avoid the place and say awful things about it. While I don’t have any interest in beautifying or intentionally changing impressions (after all — some stereotypes are actually true), I came to believe that it was a much more attractive place & people then its reputation would have indicated. You know many people say that Paris is the most beautiful city in the world (and it is beautiful in many ways), but it also has some very unattractive parts. Generalisms about places are so often wrong — or terribly incomplete — and I think my pictures began to reflect a place that was much more vibrant and interesting then its reputation. I had suspected this might be the case but at the opening people kept coming up to me and saying how grateful they were that I had shown Charleroi in this way. While that was not my goal, it was still very gratifying that what I felt was a clear-eyed look at a place (warts and all) filled such a gap with people there. It seemed like the work gave legitimacy to their civic pride and that’s a wonderful byproduct of the project.
RR&Co.: If you were to choose a few words –or even a brief phrase –to describe the “gestalt” of Charleroi, what would you they be?
DA: Resilient & spirited.
RR&Co.: What is, or was, your most memorable, or special, moment while shooting in Charleroi?
DA: That’s an interesting question. There were some very interesting moments. I remember really cluing into the loneliness in some of the most happening nightclubs. It’s interesting to see people in public spaces when they withdraw into themselves — whether it’s a beautiful waitress who knows all the men are ogling her or a boy who looks longingly at a girl who is looking at somebody else. Those are very poignant moments and really stuck with me. But the crazy adventures are also very memorable. My first night there I had arranged to be introduced to the “head” soccer hooligan (google the term if you don’t know what I mean) so that I’d be “allowed” to embed with them during their pregame drinking and carousing before a big match. Once embedded I spent the night with them as they partied then marched to the stadium (where opposing fans had been locked into a strict police-enforced route into the city and stadium so they wouldn’t riot with the Charleroi hooligans I was with) and shot the whole game from the hooligan perspective. That was awesome. On another occasion I jumped in a car with some strangers who took me to a bar on the far outskirts of town where old couples were all dolled up and dancing to cheesy 50’s standards late one night. That’s a place I could never have found without the benefit of being willing to say ‘what the hell!’
RR&Co.: So the town has your photographs up as billboards! Do you think your images have a different effect in this medium? If so, could you explain it?
DA: Yeah that was pretty amazing. You know since the photos were OF Charleroi and ABOUT Charleroi they almost seemed to act as city symbols. Some were quite large and had an imposing effect while others were smaller and more subtle and snuck up on you. It just goes to show how important presentation, location, context and editing are. In this case, I think they served as a warm tribute to a place that doesn’t get many tributes.
RR&Co.: Is there anything else you would like to share with us about your overall experience in Charleroi?
DA: Well this process of immersing myself in a city or place and really photographing it in deep and subtle ways is about the most perfect subject I can think of for me. I love it and I want to do more (though I want the next one to involve video too).
RR&Co.: Thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions! Your responses have been fascinating.
See full post here: reneerhyner.com/node-feed2012-10-23.