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Marleen Daniëls In Catwalk Chaos

This month, the Flanders Center in Osaka teams up with Marleen Daniëls, one of Belgium’s leading photographers, for an exhibition exploring the world of European catwalk culture. Entitled In Catwalk Chaos, the show will feature 60 hand-selected shots from Daniëls’ illutrious career. We recently exchanged a few emails with the photographer herself.

Can you tell us a bit about how you got into the photography business?

From a young age I was drawn into art. My teachers thought that I had a good eye and could draw well, and I was unruly, so they thought, "send her to the academy!" My mother painted before she started a family and my father was artistic, too. And, last but not least, I wanted to change the world! For me, the best way to achieve that was through photography.

?What kind of equipment do you tend to favour?

I prefer to work with film; medium format. I love my Fuji’s, 4,5×6 with fixed lenses and a little flash – very light, and fantastic to travel with. For portraits and reportage I use a Pentax, 6×7; a Hasselblad 6×6 or a Contax 4,5×6. All these cameras have their particular uses. I also work on my 4×5 inch wooden field camera; my self-portrait was taken on that.??

How does someone go about getting involved in photography at a professional level? With equipment and software so cheap these days, do you feel the profession has been threatened in anyway?

You have to work hard at selling yourself and be inventive and creative. For me, the eye of a photographer is very important, although not many magazines want to pay for that these days. Of course it’s not always easy, and there are some threatening factors, but it keeps me on guard and open to experimentation. I constantly have to improve myself.??

Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 movie Blow Up has become the stereotypical image of the working photographer. Is it still such a glamorous way to make a living?

I don’t know how glamorously a studio photographer lives, and I’m not a man! Once in a while I sleep luxuriously, and join an exclusive dinner party, but I’ve more experience sleeping rough in my professional life. For me, the most attractive part of the job – you can call it glamorous – is trying to come up with interesting pictures (pictures that speak for themselves), meeting creative people, and the diversity of the commissions.

Tokyo’s Akihabara district recently witnessed a shocking knife attack, yet perhaps the most disturbing image was of people standing around photographing the dying victims on their mobile phones. As an experienced war photographer, to what extent do you feel a photographer is just an observer? Where do you draw the line and decide to help?

For me that has always been a difficult subject. In the situations I have been in I always tried to take the picture quickly and help. Eventually you give what you can.

??You’ve taken pictures the world over, but a large section of your portfolio is Japan-based. What’s the attraction?

Japan has this strange relation for me between traditional and modern. It’s very picturesque. The Japanese people are friendly and pleasant to photograph. Recently I showed my portfolio during a lecture, and for the students, the Japanese pictures were the most appealing, because it’s a world they do not know.

What’s with all the pictures of bento boxes?

I shot that story for Damn, a design magazine. For me that is the beauty of Japan.

?Are there any Japanese photographers you particularly admire?

The late Yasuhiro Wakabayashi, called Hiro in his professional life. Hiroshi Sugimoto, Eiko Hosoe and Hiromi Tsuchida.

?What can we expect to see in your In Catwalk Chaos exhibition? How did you go about selecting these particular prints?

In Catwalk Chaos spans about 8 years of fashion reportage photography. These pictures are actually snapshots, taken in chaotic and difficult circumstances. I always refer to war-photography when I talk about the backstage of a fashion show; hours of waiting, not knowing if you are allowed to stay in once the show starts – if you get in at all, that is. At a particular Vivienne Westwood show, years ago, I spent hours waiting in the toilets so that no-one could see me before it started. I have begged, been kicked out, been shouted at, pushed away, ignored… I call myself a reportage photographer interested in image making. Fashion has a secondary place. I hope this expo shows that side of me. It’s a tough job selecting for an expo. A picture has to stand up against time; the more you see it, the better it gets. That’s my selection tool. 

For further information, check the Flanders Center website at www.flanders.jp, and Marleen’s own site at www.marleendaniels.com. The exhibition runs between September 17th and October 11th.