On 1 March 2019, the new exhibition Photobook Belge at the FOMU Photo Museum in Antwerp has been opened. More than 150 years of Belgian photography books are celebrated by this exposition which runs until 6 October 2019.
By Lieselotte Rouckhout
The best thing about a photography book is that it can be transported to anywhere in the world and create its effect in any place. It reaches a wider public more easily than an exhibition and in that way, such a book is able to produce a much bigger impact. In history, there are more legendary photography books than there are memorable exhibitions. The paradox now lies in the fact that in Antwerp, the exhibition Photobook Belge gives an overview of Belgian photography book history. Luckily, there is an accompanying, same-titled book by Tamara Berghmans that shares the focus of the exhibition.
Photobook Belge wants to illuminate the for many unknown history of the Belgian photography book, because hardly any research had been done on the topic before now. There actually is a rich tradition of this kind of books in Belgium: out of 32.000 unique pieces, a selection of nearly 250 books has been made. As visitors, we go back in time as far as 1854 and trace Belgian photography history up until today. In a sense, we follow Belgian history in general: Belgium and Belgian photography practically grew up together. The text reads: “As the new nation state developed its self-image and cultivated its cultural heritage, this upstart technology and nascent art form was on hand to offer support and reinforce national pride.”
As Belgian identity is an important part of photography, a significant number of the eight chapters into which the exhibition is divided more or less tackles this idea of Belgian distinctiveness. The sections “Congo”, “Belgitude”, “Artist’s Books”, and “Word/Image” can be found. There are also two chapters that take on recent Belgian photobooks, which were published either since the turn of the 21st century or during the past 5 years. We encounter artists as different as Guillaume Calline, with his static photos of Brussels from the mid-19th century, and Stephan Vanfleteren, who portrays Belgium in a dark, melancholic style in the 21st century; Dr. J. Vindevogel, who photographed tumors attacking 22 of his patients, and Louis Paul Boon and his son Jo, melting together a science fiction story and pictures; Jacques Bolle, who presents life in Congo, and Laura Gasparotto, who sees the modern world through her lens.