Interview with Kris Vervaeke
Juror’s Pick (Stacey Clarkson), Daylight/CDS Photo Awards Project Prize
Many people fall into the grind of the corporate world and brush their passions aside. What motivated you to leave your corporate career and transition solely towards freelance photography?
I had worked for more than fifteen years for the same company; I always did enjoy it, it was in international sales, traveling the world with many opportunities. But at a certain point, your life is a little on automatic pilot where a corporate career is expected and pushed, which has never really been my drive. So you start wondering: Is this it, is this going to be for the rest of my life? It does take some time to sink in, though. In the meantime I finished evening classes in photography. And fortunately in Belgium, there is a law that offers employees, under certain conditions, to take some years off at no pay from the company you work with. After such a break, you could return to your old position within the company. In my case, it allowed me to explore photography further and see how it could work out. I never went back to my company. It is not easy but it gave me flexibility, more freedom, and more creative impulses. I have never regretted it.
The most difficult thing was actually to finally dare to take that decision as you are in such a comfortable life with good work, travel, being well paid, social security, and lots of holidays.
After traveling around the world you are back in Asia. What draws you to this area? Are you inspired most here?
It’s mainly because of my wife’s work. Just after the start of my break, she got a job offer in Asia. We both like Asia; my wife studied in China and I traveled to Asia before. The decision was quickly made! And for me to get started in Belgium or somewhere else would not make much difference. The challenges are basically the same, and I would say that it actually offered some other opportunities.
In regard to inspiration: my inspiration is not really regionally determined. I get inspired very much by people and way of life. Whether it is Asia, the Middle East, Africa, or another place. However since Asia is so diverse and changing so rapidly, it is great to get immersed here and pick up inspiration on the streets, in the city, in religion, etc.
What brought you to photograph Chinese tombstones for Fade Away?
I was taking pictures of the city, which also brought me to the local cemetery to take some cityscape pics. By walking around the huge cemetery you start observing the tombs, noticing the various pictures. . . .
I took some pictures then. However it was only some months later, when looking at the pictures again, thinking about it further, that the idea grew to take the pictures, bring it out of context, and make a series out of it. The old pictures themselves represent so much, but on the other hand they are—purely graphically—also beautiful. So I went back to the cemeteries and Fade Away started.
Clearly, over time the images on the tombstones have faded almost as if their legacy is just a decaying image on a piece of stone. What would you like your legacy to be and what would you like people to take away from these photos?
Eventually I also will be a very much-faded picture. We get erased. I have no illusions about having an impact after my life, except for my kids. I hope people simply like the pictures. Maybe some will like it purely graphically. Others will see a story behind it.
It is not necessarily about death itself. Nobody is different. No denying the truth. We get erased. Pictures fade away but so do memories. Sometimes that even happens during life.
In your opinion, do you think your photographs, in a sense, give the anonymous faces an identity?
I don’t think so. The pictures were intentionally taken out of the context of the cemetery. I did not want to show “dead” people as such. I wanted to have anonymous portraits, with identities erased or getting erased, which does not mean a viewer might not imagine an identity with the portrait.
CDS undergraduate student Whitney Hills conducted this interview as part of the “Multimedia Documentary” class in the fall of 2011.