As a member of Magnum for almost 20 years, Belgian photographer Carl de Keyzer has published several books, shooting projects across the globe in Europe, Russia, Asia, and the U.S. His strength lies in his ability to consistently capture pointed, expressive moments within daily life. For the photographs in Congo, he took five trips over two years to document the life of a post-colonial nation. “I decided to use a 1954 tourist guide for the Congo – at that time still a Belgian colony. Visiting all kinds of colonial backgrounds – mines, factories, schools, monasteries, churches, prisons. In fact it’s more a project about Belgium itself. A small European country (80 times smaller) being arrogant enough to export their own surrealism to the heart of Africa.”
The photographs were made into a series of two books in 2009 and 2010, Congo (Belge) and Congo Belge en images. The first book consisted of his contemporary photographs (tour guide) and the second included a selection of remastered glass negatives of the birth of the colony (1890 – 1920). Each photograph implies a story or carries a message—all focus on the people in the situation, all cross the line between straightforward photojournalism and a richer, more artful documentary style. “I tend to engage in long-term projects. I prefer to stay in a country for a longish period in order to get a better feeling of what is going on there. I prefer complex images because they reflect the complexity of life itself. There is a conflict between the utilitarian aspect of certain images taken for a precise purpose and photographs expressing a more personal viewpoint. I am always somewhere in the middle. Can you really grasp a situation through a picture? Yes, perhaps. You try, even if you stay a stranger looking in from the outside. What you are aiming at is photographs showing situations that have repercussions on people’s lives. That is why I am a photographer.”
Feature Shoot Contributing Editor Carolyn Rauch is a Photo Editor.
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