When I was a little kid, I played a lot in abandoned factories. At the time, I had no idea that I would be photographing them in the future and make it my job. Doing things that aren’t allowed gives me a thrill. I see it as secret adventures, and my love for them grew over the years.
About 12 years ago, I passed an abandoned fort in Belgium. The place was surrounded with fences and had a forbidden access sign. Of course, I was attracted to it. I climbed over the fence and when I got in, I bumped into a dilapidated staircase. It was love at first sight. Unfortunately, I got caught and thrown off the terrain. In that moment, I came to the realization that the beauty I saw in the staircase and corridors of the building, is something nobody sees. Combined with the tension I felt, I decided to visit more abandoned places and take photos. I bought a camera from my father-in-law and got to work.
I have never done a study on photography, I’m fully self-taught.
But when people started to ask me for a copy I realized I wasn’t that bad at it. Soon after that I was discovered by a gallery in Amsterdam. I had my first exhibition and from that moment on, my career kicked off. A year later I had an exhibition in New York and went all over the world.
My photos revolve around imagination and I think it’s important that you are able to get lost in my photos. Therefore, in my work there is mostly a door or window slightly open, to keep the photo interesting. Also people have called me a staircase junkie. I think a staircase is the most beautiful part of a building or house. A staircase has several points of tension because it naturally goes somewhere.
Breaking into abandoned places is illegal, which makes it exciting but does come with quite the risk. Over the years I’ve experienced a lot: getting chased by dogs or the police, seen copper thieves and junkies, discovered drug labs and so on. I’m full of crazy stories because of my job. It’s also insane what I find on my trips. Once, I visited a villa with a private chapel in Italy. When I got in the chapel, I saw a beautiful altar with a chest underneath. My curiosity won and I opened the chest. What I saw was outstanding, a priest with a crown on his head. Just a whole skeleton, laying there like it was nothing.
To me, a photo is good when the tension that I felt while shooting comes across. A lot of people go to school for photography and even though there are many good photographers, many of them shoot with a set of rules in mind. Those rules aren’t important to me, my work is solely based on a feeling. In my case, tension and risk.
It may sound corny, but the one advice I would give other photographers would be to follow your gut feeling. Don’t follow the big crowd and find your own voice in this business. Dare to act differently.