25 year-old Belgian photographer Tom Callemin discusses Index, a series of enigmatic but fascinating pictures loosely related to each other, which however create a cohesive work for the common gloomy atmosphere they possess.
Hello Tom, thank you for this interview. What are your main interests as a photographer?
I use my camera as a way (maybe even an excuse) to get to see things – things that are hidden and are opened up for the sake of photography, things that I create myself in my studio because of the fact that I really want to physically stage a mental image that is in my head.
What is Index about, in particular?
Index is not really a series. I had to name the thing on the occasion of an exhibition in Levallois, but it is an ongoing set of images without a certain subject. I started it 5 years ago and it is the most personal part of my work. Every few weeks or months a new idea for an image pops up in my head. Then this idea becomes the thing I go asleep and wake up with until I make it into a new photograph. What are the pictures about? They are scenes that trigger some thoughts or emotions, make me question my own perspective as a photographer. The key thing that is in almost every image is the confrontation between me as a photographer and a body that is photographed. This body can be human, but even when I’m taking a picture of a tree I tend to look for the same tension.
What inspired Index?
Everyday life, things that are in a radius of some kilometers from my home. I also very much like to look at images on the web that show how people use photography in their daily life, or to proof that something happened. Scientific photography or crime photography are two other sources of inspiration for Index. Reading also helps sometimes.
Can you give some insight into the Index images? Is there a hidden narrative in the pictures or are they unrelated with each other? What are you trying to say or evoke with this work?
I didn’t begin this work with a narrative in my head. For me, every work is a new snapshot of a new untold narrative. I work about 3 or 4 months, sometimes longer, until a work is finished. I never make a couple of works that can fit together as a series. It is rather at the moment of making an exhibition that the photographs come together and create relations.
The only thing I try to do with my work is pass on my emotional connection to situations that I tried to capture in a photograph. Or maybe even just capture this latent image in my head into a photograph that is permanent.
How would you describe your approach to Index, and what does your creative process for this series look like?
It is always by accident that I become fascinated with an image or an idea. This can begin with reading a book, passing a certain place, finding an image in an old magazine, etc. Then there’s a lot of time just walking around with this idea until the formal elements get into place. Next I make some sketches, sometimes I’ll write some sort of a script. I wait to pick up my camera until the image is very clear in my mind. I’m often really afraid of not succeeding in taking this exact and perfect image, so I want to be as prepared as possible. Once everything is set up I pick up my camera and make the picture in an hour or so. Sometimes it works, sometimes 4 re-takes are necessary to get it done. I usually try to work it out with people and locations that are as close as possible to me.
Do you have any specific references or sources of inspiration in mind when working on Index?
Because of the long working process, references and inspirations tend to be very different for every image. Novels, articles, books with scientific photographs, paintings… I’m kind of eager to get to know things. So every once in a while I pass by something that I can use to work with. Usually I get fascinated by a certain subject and in the months that follow I try to collect as many other photographs as possible that relate to that idea. Then all these pictures are mixed together and made into one new work.
How do you hope viewers react to the Index photographs?
Maybe that they just slow their pace when looking at my images. And I hope they get as intrigued as I am by the subject that is in the frame.
What have been the main influences on your photography?
Mostly functional photography that is there just to show the thing that’s in the frame – images where aesthetics are not the main interest.
Who are some of your favorite contemporary photographers?
I like Larry Sultan’s and Mike Mandel’s Evidence, and the work of Craigie Horsfield. Belgian photographer Geert Goiris is also very interesting in showing the joy of discovering the world through photography.
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