Stephan Vanfleteren, 30 years of success through the eye of the lens
The anxious hesitation from the beginning of his career about capturing people on camera has made way for calm accuracy. The result is unchanged: original, powerful, expressive portrait photographs. Pretty much the trademark of Stephan Vanfleteren.
Duality runs like a thread through his work: movement versus standstill, black and white versus colour, exciting encounters in the field versus the serene solitude in the studio, real versus staged, life versus death ...
Stephan Vanfleteren made his first steps as a photojournalist at the newspaper De Morgen. Quite a few black-and-white images of tragic events from the 1990s were made by him. These included the death of King Baudouin, the social unrest at Forges de Clabecq, demonstrations, the war in Kosovo, the Rwandan genocide or the Marc Dutroux case. He himself calls his series in war-torn Kosovo possibly the pinnacle of his photojournalism skills. Endless strands of cargo boxes full of people fleeing the violence. Each image screams chaos and misery, without a ray of hope. But oh-so-skilfully made.
In his own country, character heads of farmers and fishermen attract his attention. With a lot of passion but just as much respect, he saves them from oblivion. Like Theofiel, from the Pajottenland, who has managed the farm on his own in rather primitive circumstances as a 16-year-old orphan and now, bent and battered by time but with a certain beauty, steps through life. Deep human portraits.
Fortunately, it's not all gloom and torment or tragedy that marches past Stephen's lens. His penetrating black-and-white photographs of Belgian and international icons are one example. Eddy Merckx, Hugo Claus, Jan Decleir, Queen Beatrix, Joaquin Phoenix and other stars of the silver screen that he was invited to photograph at the Cannes Festival in 2016, 2017 and 2018 by the newspaper Le Monde.
Meanwhile, he has started experimenting with nudes and still lifes, in colour. Like that dead swan. But Stephan Vanfleteren is not a nature photographer, and never will be. He himself says that he lacks their speed and telephoto lenses. Patience is the only thing he has in common with them.
For you and me, it doesn't matter: his varied collection of journalistic, documentary and artistic works of art is enough for us.
© Natacha Hofman