Moments can be cherished, put away in a hidden room, pulled out context and be reflected upon. They start becoming an entity on their own, creating a longing for that particular time away from reality. The photography of Feline De Coninck works in a similar way: she shoots what she needs to remember. We had a little chat with Feline about her work and feelings for something lost.
Hi Feline, congrats with the new website! How have you been?
I am fine, thank you. I’ve been quite busy with my new website, but now I’m glad about the release.
Can you tell us a little about yourself? Who is Feline de Coninck? Where did you grow up, favourite childhood memory etc?
I am 24 years old and currently living in Ghent. I started working as a social worker three years ago. I’ve always been fascinated by people and the lives they live. So, having conversations, trying to solve problems and listening, are aspects which are essential in my job. Since my job is sometimes quite demanding, I feel the urge to focus on other things like reading, going to concerts, passing some time with friends, etc. Moreover, I need to get away sometimes and I like discovering new places and get to know other people. I grew up in the countryside in a little village not far from Ghent. I have an older brother, Brecht. Like many children I had a lot of imagination. Although I had some friends, I didn’t mind spending some time on my own. My room was my shelter. Growing older, I learned to express my feelings in an adequate way and photography was a great help. As for a favourite childhood memory, I think it is hard to really pin it down to a single moment. There are some things I will never forget about being a child, for example; the smell of my grandfather’s pipe and his paintings, my mom singing in the kitchen while cooking and the mesmerizing smell of her meals, how happy my brother and I felt when we got to buy a new dog, the trips by car to the South of France – In a certain way, my childhood memories are inseparable from the summers I’ve spent in the south of France.
How did you start photography? Do you remember the first time you held a camera in your hands?
Photography is something I grew up with as a child. It has always been around. My father was always seeking for an image that he could capture and I can’t think of him not holding a camera. I became more and more curious and wanted to spend time with my father in the darkroom, it started to lure me as a sort of haven. Whenever my father showed the results of his work, my love for photography got kindled unconsciously. I am grateful that my parents gave me an education where there was room for art in general.
During primary school, I got disposable cameras under the guise of “toys to play with”. When I got older, my father gave me a digital reflex camera and later on I found some analogue cameras of my grandfather in the attic. It is with these cameras that I discovered my preference towards analogue photography. Personally, the challenge with analogue photography lies in the fact that I need to understand the “moment” I want to capture rather than the looking for that perfect snapshot. It is in the search for that “moment” I find solace. At first, I took photos leisurely but soon I realised that the process of taking photos was a way of expressing myself and an outlet for my feelings. My photos could phrase what I couldn’t say in words.
How would you describe your work?
No one can ever deny that his or her work is a reflection of one’s personality, especially when intuition is used as the guiding hand. This is how I work, instinctively and with emotion. What I try to capture with my photos are emotions that appeal to the frailness and a certain degree of ‘tristesse’ of one’s personality, both that of my subject as of the observer. With my work I give a view in how I perceive the world and how I feel about certain things and people in my surroundings. For example, my portraits try to represent youth and the growing pains that come along with. Describing my work is hard to do for me because I would rather like let my photos speak for themselves. In that lies the magic of photography.
Who are your subjects?
With my photos, I want to reproduce a false sense of nostalgia, where one can go back to a certain place or time, away from the daily rush in our lives. So my subjects are often people I care about or whose appearance comforts me. As for the landscapes, I intend to capture desolation, remoteness and solitude. If you would refer to the nudity in my work, I think the naked body is something beautiful. I want to capture the frail purity of the human being.
Did you study photography and if so, what do you think this added to your practice? If it added anything at all?
I didn’t study photography, so I know little about the technical aspects of photography. I don’t like to think about it that much, I like to focus more on connecting to and having a conversation with my subject while photographing. On the other hand, I would like to learn to develop my own photos. I think that would be very interesting. The process of developing a photo and still be able to make last-minute decisions is something that I look forward to. I would like to refer to the work of Bruno Roels, he shows us how you can experiment and that you can obtain different results with one picture.
If you could go anywhere in the world to take pictures, where would it be and why?
I have a big fascination for Japan. I would like to go to Tokyo or Kyoto someday. I am a big fan of Haruki Murakami, a Japanese writer. I have read all his books. Daido Moriyama, Noboyushi Araki and Yamamoto Masao are Japanese photographers who inspire me a lot. Daido Moriyama, for example, is not the best photographer, but he made me think a lot about street photography. I recommend the documentary “Near Equal”, it shows his way of working on how he blends in the masses, for example in a hectic city like Tokyo. I want to immerse myself more in street photography, it fascinates me a lot. One of Daido’s best-known images is that of a stray dog he encountered on a street in Aomori, in northern Japan. It has become one of his metaphors for street photography: “walk around like a stray dog”.
What excites you about photography?
What excites me the most about photography is that you get enabled to be curious. While I‘m taking pictures, it fascinates me that people can be open and allow my presence for a brief moment in their personal lives, even though I barely know them.
I account this to art in general, but photography allures to emotions that people tend to pass by in the rush of their daily lives.
Have you ever tried storytelling through other media? Can you tell us a bit about that?
The only social medium I keep up-to-date is via Tumblr, both a personal one and another more focused on things that inspire me; such as music, books I’ve read and films I have seen. Storytelling isn’t really an aspect of it, although it gives a view of things that influenced me throughout the years.
What or who inspires you as an artist?
One of my favourite photo books is “The Ballad of Sexual Dependency” by Nan Goldin. It’s a ballad of love. It’s about men alone, women alone, women being beaten, men and women falling in and out of love, about living and dying. It’s a visual diary about life, about living in the moment. She talks about photographs creating their own memories. The pictures are really intriguing and she has been a big inspiration for me. But there are a lot of other photographers who have inspired me like Anders Petersen, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank, Vivian Maier, Francesca Woodman, etc.
It is the little things in our daily lives that affect me as a photographer; observing people, being with beloved ones (as well as being alone), the soothing presence of nature, the beauty of stormy weather. These are examples of things that keep my eyes open.
What’s the best advice you ever had as a photographer?
That’s a difficult question, there was someone who said this to me recently: “You don’t have to take photos all the time if you don’t feel like it. It’s art, not your job.” That was great advice because I was a bit stuck. I didn’t pick up my camera for almost 4 months and I thought there was something wrong, but these words came at the right time.
Is there anything you’d like to accomplish with your photography and if so, what would that be? How would you like to grow as an artist?
My photos are just a process, a sort of diary that I like to share with others. To me, it is important to keep photography as a passion, where there is no mention of “need” or “must”, as a means to expand my horizons, both literally as figuratively.
Any exciting new projects you would like to share with us?
Nothing concrete, what I would like to do is to combine my job as a social worker with photography. A documentary of some sort.
Any famous last words?
“I did my very best”.
Who should we interview next?
Julie Van der Vaart. I have been following her work for a while now. The capturing and intimate atmosphere she creates, is something I sympathise with. In a way, she has influenced me with her approach towards photography.
Intro text by Bert De Backer