European Street Photography Week: Kristin Van den Eede: A Limit to the Dark
While investigating the array of European photographers involved in diverse collectives focused on street photography, I came across Kristin Van den Eede‘s eerie and engaging world view. What intrigues me about her work as a street photographer is her preference for the darker mysteries of the night. One feels like a voyeur or Peeping Tom when delving into her images.
–What was that cabal plotting while clustered around a table with cocktails in hand and light reflecting off the red walls?
–Who was the costumed couple and what were they doing in that elderly couple’s salon?
–What about the bearded lady and the lady behind her?
–Why is that man all alone in an office cubicle late at night?
There are more questions than answers when you begin to assess Van den Eede’s work and that is all part of the experience. As an admitted creature of the night, she shines her light on windows, doors, reflections and whatever else her eye discerns from unusual light sources. The result is invariably a surprise or another question.
According to Van den Eede in describing her project “A Limit to the Dark”, “Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been drawn to dark things. Hidden things peeking through windows and branches. Glimpses of flesh between shadows, TV screens humming behind curtains, while the creatures of the night roam freely outside. The world is more interesting if you don’t look directly at it. And it’s softer after dusk, people tread more carefully, sounds become muted. I often walk around in that grey area between night and day when the streetlights are just starting to come on. I watch the night deepen and turn blacker, bolder, less velvety. It’s such an elusive time of day and I love letting it slip through my fingers. It is finite and it is beautiful. Some of these photos were taken on the other side of the world, others a few metres away from my bed. I feel at home in dark places, wherever they may be. Inside or out.
Belgium-based member of the Observe collective, Kristin Van den Eede juggles a career in language education with her passion for photography. Drawn to extraordinary lighting or striking contrasts, she specifically has a taste for emotive scenes with a dark twist. She’s exhibited internationally and been awarded and been a guest speaker and judge at several festivals around Europe and the US.
Follow Kristin Van den Eede on Instagram: @kristinvandeneede
Michael Honegger: What prompted your journey into street photography and what drew you to shooting predominantly at night?
Kristin Van den Eede: I don’t think my work falls that neatly into the category of street photography. Yes, I don’t stage anything, keep post-processing to a minimum and record everyday life in public places. But I also peek through people’s windows, don’t mind eye contact in my photos, shoot landscapes, self-portraits, and abstracts. It depends on your definition of street photography and how strictly you interpret the rules of the genre.
Anyway, I’ve always felt the need to express myself creatively, through writing and drawing, among other things. Around 2014, my partner took up photography, I saw how much he enjoyed it and it just clicked. I discovered Flickr and its active online street photography community so I kind of rolled into it. It felt like a very intuitive way to shoot right from the start. I loved the thrill of finding these interesting, funny, beautiful moments everywhere on the street, just up for grabs.
As far as shooting at night is concerned, I’m just more of an evening person. The world’s more interesting but also more soothing to me after dusk. Everything’s softer, muted, there are fewer people, and my senses can relax.
MH: Shooting at night can present challenges in terms of lighting. Could you share some techniques you’ve developed to effectively use available light in your photographs?
KV: Obviously high ISO and slow shutter speed are key, but a steady hand is really what I rely on most. Use something to rest your hands on if you can, use your core, exhale calmly before you shoot and always – always – take more than one shot. Be aware of the light sources around you and see if you can use them to your advantage by changing positions. Know when something is just too dark – but then try it anyway. Experiment with a flashlight or another source of light that you can wield yourself.
MH: How do you approach capturing the mood and atmosphere of cities after dark? Are there specific elements you seek out?
KV: My gut feeling is my main driver, so it’s often not a conscious choice. I just wander around until I see something that I find interesting. I tend to seek out quiet places, sometimes residential areas, or areas with a lot of windows, derelict buildings, parks, cemeteries. Just places that I like to walk around in, people I enjoy watching or that I can somehow relate to. I always take my time, work different angles, and remind myself to slow down and just enjoy the experience. If you don’t, it’ll show.
MH: Contrast is a key element in your work. How do you use it to enhance the visual impact of your photographs?
KV: I use contrast in multiple ways: light and dark, opposing colours, different textures, contrasting moods.
MH: Many of your photos seem to tell intriguing stories. How do you find these moments amidst the night time city scenes?
KV: There are intriguing stories everywhere, you just need to be very patient and let yourself see them. I think they find me, not the other way around.
MH: Are there any themes or emotions you consistently seek to convey through your work?
KV: There are recurring themes when I look at my work, without a doubt. There are clear parallels between what I shoot, write, and draw. Things that always find their way back are trees, windows, hidden things, a sense of wonder, a kind of stillness, solitude. My creative work documents my own emotional landscape. I can taste and smell it and feel the colours, hear the music that goes with it. I have synesthesia, so my senses are a bit jumbled, and I do mean that quite literally.
MH: Is there a particular photograph or series that holds special significance to you? Could you tell us the story behind it?
KV: A lot of my photos are important to me: they mark a moment in the past that is lost to me now. They often express a feeling that I cannot put into words. They’re like a song that’s just right for a specific moment.
But I’ve picked one that stands out – my sunflowers. This image is special to me because I felt awful when I took it. I have been struggling with my health for the past few years and when I took this photo, I was in a lot of pain and still needed to come to terms with the fact that my life would not be the same again. I feel grateful that I could see past that overwhelming sense of loss and lock on to something beautiful like these dark sunflowers. It feels like they’re waiting for things to clear up, just like I was.
MH: What advice would you give to those looking to delve into nighttime street photography or street photography in general?
KV: Do what you love. Shoot what you feel. Don’t overthink things and enjoy the process.
MH: What can we expect to see from you in the future? Any upcoming projects or themes you are interested in exploring?
KV: I’m exhibiting in my hometown this fall and a series of mine will also be shown at the Head On Photo Festival in Sydney. Other than that, I don’t like to look too far ahead. I’ve started drawing again and will see where that takes me.
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