PLEASE, INTRODUCE YOURSELF. WHAT'S YOUR BACKGROUND?
Hi, I’m Max Kesteloot. I live and work in Oostende and Gent, Belgium.
HOW DID YOU GET IN TOUCH WITH PHOTOGRAPHY?
I guess I was always interested in taking photographs. Actually I think everybody does, especially nowadays - it’s within everyone’s reach! For me it must have been around 2003 -when I started graffiti writing that the actual need of taking a good photograph in not so ideal situations presented itself. From that moment on photography has always been there. Whether it was to keep a memory from a trip or to frame a situation that I liked.
JUDGING BY YOUR WORK IT LOOKS LIKE MOST OF YOUR SHOTS ARE VERY RELAXED AND PONDERED, HOW MUCH DOES IT TAKE TO YOU TO TAKE A PHOTOGRAPH (FROM CHOOSING THE SUBJECT TO GETTING THE SHOT)? CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR PROCESS?
I actually don’t consider myself as being a photographer, you know... I just really like to observe things, and to capture these observations I take a photograph of it. Because it’s actually an easy medium. I work really strict. It could easily take about half an hour before I actually take a photo of something that I like. Think twice, shoot once. I work really over controlled. I’m a bit neurotic. But it’s okay, I like it like that. It’s a calm and quiet process full of elements that are logical to manipulate. Such as light & focus. Maybe that’s the reason why there’s not too much people in my work. The real protagonists are rather a plastic bottle or a fence. I guess they’re much easier to control and they don’t move around. This gives me the opportunity to really take my time.
RECENTLY, YOU DECIDED TO INTEGRATE YOUR PHOTOGRAPHY WITH PAINTING. WHAT KIND OF RESEARCH/EXPERIMENTATION IS BEHIND IT?
It’s been around for quite some time tough. I feel the need to move further then just being an observer. But because I don’t change anything to these ‘as found’ situations this is actually very hard. It came to me right after my first show in 2014, Nowhere - part 1, KERK - Gent (BE), where I made really large scaled prints of photographs I took that year. These images were then glued onto the exhibition space’s walls. When the exhibition was over I wanted to recover the prints and started to recollect them. By doing this some fragments of the images suddenly became isolated. Today I’m still working in relation to these (and other, more recent) fragments. I’m taking larger scaled prints of images that I made very carefully and controlled into a final finished image. After laying them out on the floor I – completely against my nature – start to tear parts of them, which will then later on be recomposed into a new image. This gives me the freedom to interact with the reality of the ‘as found’ situations without having to change the setting at that moment. The part where spray paint, brush and acrylics comes in is actually just a method to precisely re-frame/crop the final result as one would do in Photoshop or by using a passe-partout.
YOU'RE ALSO WORKING IN ARCHITECTURE, HOW DO YOU THINK THIS PROFESSION CAN BE RELATED TO PHOTOGRAPHY? HOW DOES IT INFLUENCE YOUR WORK?
Without wanting to go to deeply into the subject of the relation and difference between architecture and art. Okay, just this; I believe that architecture is as much about observing the context as it is for art or photography. Or for film, writing etc..
WOULD YOU CONSIDER SHOOTING LIKE A WAY TO REMEMBER AND KEEP A MEMORY OF THINGS FOR THE FUTURE OR MORE TO OBSERVE AND ANALYSE THEM IN THE PRESENT?
If there’s one thing I’ve learned trough architecture is that time is a very important actor in the process of making. One of the fragments could easily be a summary of a timespan of 2 to 3 years. I almost need to forget about an image, before being able to be surprised about the details again afterwards. Because I take a lot of time to actually make a photograph I think I’m completely 100 procent aware of what’s happening at that moment. I think it’s just about finding something beautiful, interesting or stupid at a point in time and there’s the need to collect that image. Maybe it’s because I have a really bad memory, so if I wouldn’t have framed that image I would forget about it later on.
SINCE THE MAIN THEME OF YOUR WORK IS REPRESENTED BY THE ABSENCE, COULD YOU TELL ME WHAT FASCINATES YOU ABOUT THIS SENSATION? WHAT IS YOUR IDEA OF “ABSENCE”?
I never felt that my work is about absence. Au contraire - I’d rather say it’s about presence. As once said by the guys over at GAFPA* “Max's work develops around the paradox of the apparent absence of a subject in my images. That this gives every detail in his work the status of context.” I think I finally start to understand what they actually meant by that.
WHAT ARE THE OTHER ASPECTS OF A SUBJECT THAT ATTRACT YOU? WHAT DO YOU LOOK FOR WHILE YOU'RE ON THE STREETS?
For me it’s absolutely luxurious, but also scarce (but isn’t that how it goes with luxurious things?) being able to walk around in a place when the only purpose is to have a good look around. I don’t go and look for specific things. There’s always things around that are either brilliant or stupid enough to be worth looking at.
TELL ME ABOUT YOUR EXPERIENCE AS A TEACHER, IS IT ANYHOW INFLUENCED BY YOUR WORK (BOTH YOUR WORK IN ARCHITECTURE AND ART) AND VICE VERSA?
Of course it’s obvious that teaching is working both ways. You give to the students - you take from the students. That’s something that I could have expected when starting to teach. The other thing - which is still quite obvious - is that my own work is implemented in the courses I give. However what I didn’t expect is the fact that when I’m being obliged to actually frame or bundle my thoughts or work method, and having to explain that to around 100 students; that it actually helps to set out a system for my own work to evolve in! It’s a bit like this interview. I wanted to keep it light and comprehensible like the interview Dominik did for UNDRSTND. (- he’s the best!) But I can’t. Being forced to give answers on questions you never really thought about - or reflecting on things that you normally do so spontaneously. It suddenly puts a thumb on things. Maybe that’s very much related to my work and it’s method. Cropping images or thoughts into newly composed images that suddenly exist from the moment I say it’s ready and done. Sounds a bit strange, no?
I’m really looking forward towards the artist residency I got offered by the people from Museum Dhondt-Dhaenens * at Juliaan Lampens’ Woning Vanwassenhove in Ghent (BE) end of January 2019. And summer holidays, I love those! I really enjoyed writing the book SPOT SPOTS - Prologue due to circumstances as well as making the accompanying movie. There’s something really satisfying about making the exact same work in two different medias with a different outcome. It’s nice to be able to rediscover small similarities. - so I guess I’ll also be trying to make a new film in the future.