No mere worldwide pandemic was going to dampen my determination to run a Street Photography Workshop in Brussels and so, after several false starts, it was with joy and relief that at the beginning of June this year, I finally got the show on the road. It was also fitting that in this most cosmopolitan of European cities, the nationalities of the participants included a Swede, a Chilean, a Belgian, a Frenchman, a Lebanese, and a Vietnamese !
LAYING THE FOUNDATIONS
I arrived in town a few days before the event to reacquaint myself with the best spots and also get my own eye in. I need to feel a connection to a place as well as getting one or two decent shots under my belt, in order to have the inspiration required to motivate the participants, once the Workshop is ready to start.
I soon began to find my feet and feel at home in this charming mess of a metropolis, seduced by the varying styles of architecture as well as the diversity of cultures and characters, lurking at every street corner.
By Friday evening I can firmly say I was truly prepared and really buzzing with excitement at the prospect of meeting the participants for the pre-workshop get-together. We were welcomed at Playful Studio, a coworking venue in the pleasant residential district of Forest, by Jonathan, my friend and local host. A dedicated space had been allocated to us as our base for the duration of the Workshop.
I place significant value on this introductory moment: the chance for everyone to meet up and get to know one another in a relaxed manner, to share some of their photographic experiences over beer and pizza, as well as express their desires and objectives for the coming weekend.
This workshop prelude is also the occasion for me to present my work and street photography influences, which I do in slideshow, print and book form. By introducing this essential background material on the first evening, I deliberately free up valuable shooting time during the workshop proper.
FIRST SHOOTING DAY
Saturday morning and I’m relieved to see the sun shining as brightly as it has been all week.
My Plan A can therefore be activated! When organising a day’s Street Photography, my essential aim is to define a clear route that takes in a series of interesting and varied locations, allowing sufficient time for everyone to be both shooting on their own and chilling out together, the group atmosphere feeding individual creativity.
From a coffee start in the colourful surroundings of St. Gilles, we headed onto the Marolles district, with its traditional flea market, antique shops and trendy boutiques, stopped for lunch in a hip salad bar, before heading upwards to the Place Poelaert and an afternoon electro-rave gathering.
From there, a gentle stroll through the chic Sablons area and along to the Mont des Arts, with its wonderful postcard vistas looking down across central Brussels. It is 4pm and the place is throbbing with tourists and locals alike. As a feeding ground for Street Photography it doesn’t get much better than this.
We then cut sideways via Ravenstein Street to reach the spectacularly newly designed BNP Fortis bank headquarters offering geometrical photo opportunities with the play of light and shade, before passing through the Horta designed Central station and finally reaching Grand’Place, the city’s defining landmark square with its Gothic-meets-Baroque architecture.
With the majority declaring photo burn-out by this stage, the day ended with a much-deserved retreat into a traditional bar, down a well-hidden alleyway, thanks to Luis’s local knowledge. The chance for me also to test out the low-light potential of some of the participants’ cameras !
SUNDAY, DAY TWO
After such a full-on and rich day of photography on the Saturday, we had plenty to enjoy and discuss when viewing the pictures together, Sunday morning at Playful Studio. This allotted moment to review and collectively analyse the previous day’s catch, is an intrinsic element in all Workshops, and enables everyone, myself included, to focus on the positive, accept one’s errors and frustrations, so as to be better prepared for the fresh challenges ahead.
And we certainly had new challenges – as we set out for an afternoon’s shooting under torrential rain! In theory, one can pretend that bad weather is in fact a blessing in disguise, as it is the acid test of a “true photographer” to react in difficult conditions. In reality, not least because of the possible risk for one’s equipment, it takes a considerable effort just to take the camera out of the bag, never mind aiming it in some meaningful direction! Fortunately, in Brussels, there are a number of metro stations that offer interesting visual perspectives, while providing some much needed shelter from the elements. We therefore played a game of cat and mouse with the public, as they were entering and leaving these locations, homing in on colours, shapes and other graphic features of the underground architecture.
I do actually believe that a day of rain after a day of sunshine was beneficial for the whole group. We all had to try something new, get out of our comfort zone. With less people around and fewer subjects to fire the imagination, one had to be more focussed, get the most out of each situation. One other lesson I personally learned from this day, or rather had reminded to me, is that in many instances we spend too long on a fixated idea that never properly materialises, while the more interesting scene is happening just behind our backs. I had been trying to make something clever out of the multicoloured pedestrian crossing for over half an hour, trying all angles, from both sides of the crossing. Eventually I turned round, and there I captured a truly spontaneous Street Photography moment!
Luckily, by late afternoon, the dampness had somewhat abated and we decided it was fitting to end the day with a final stroll through Grand’Place followed by a group photo by Brussel’s most iconic statue, the Manneken Pis. An hommage to the fact that though we are serious about our photography, we, like the locals, don’t take ourselves too seriously !
THE FINAL DEBRIEF
Just as the pre-Workshop evening meet-up is for me, an integral part of getting the event off to the right start, so a final debrief is the proper way to close off proceedings. Having the time on the Monday morning to view everybody’s final edit, enabled me to provide as complete a feedback as possible and allowed each participant to express freely what they gained from the weekend shooting experience, as well as suggesting constructive improvements for future workshops. Moreover this additional moment spent together, after all the photography has been undertaken, helps consolidate the group bonding, laying the ground for continuing friendships and other creative collaborations.
I came away from this workshop feeling truly uplifted and would like to thank those that contributed to such a positive experience. Firstly to all the photographers who took part, Luis, Huy, Jihad, Antoine, Lars and Alain. A really cool bunch, easy to hang out with. You were all motivated to develop your own personal vision and you created so many wonderful pictures, images that I wish I’d seen and taken myself. A gallery of their photos can be viewed here.
A big sense of gratitude to my friend Jonathan, at Playful Studio, whom I met when we were both attending an Alex Webb workshop in Rome. We first talked about this project back in 2018, and I’m indebted that he stuck with me through the pandemic and ensured that the Workshop was put together professionally and in the right spirit. A mention also for my wife, Solange, who joined me half-way through, making sure that over and above the working aspect, the trip also extended to a bit of holiday-time we could enjoy together.
And finally, a big thank you to Brussels. My fourth time in the city and I really dig its vibe. I love the fact it’s a bit wacky, a tad confusing (try working out the public transport map!), but also just wonderfully unpretentious and full of very welcoming people from so many diverse backgrounds.
I was waiting impatiently for Tim Fox to come to Brussels, so as I could participate in this Workshop, and when the moment arrived I was certainly not disappointed! We were straight out into the thick of the action, getting to grips with the subject matter- not too much theory but a lot of practice, which suited me perfectly. I also greatly appreciated the fact that Tim gets as much pleasure being out on the streets as we do, and that he shows by example, how to anticipate and get himself in the right place at the right time to capture a moment within a meaningful context.
Great spirit, worn out feet, forefinger cramping up, tons of images to sort through, that’s how I would sum up my experience of this Brussels workshop!
The long awaited Brussels workshop was a real treat. Under Tim’s friendly, knowledgeable and helpful guidance, setting the tone and spirit for the whole team, we discovered a number of interesting and varied areas of Brussels. Long and fruitful days of photography followed by instructive viewing sessions made it a perfect mix for me and I can truly recommend this style of workshop to future participants.