Meet Jef Claes, a 27-year-old photographer with an eye for the otherwise unseen. He is the man behind the impressive photo shoots of young Belgian labels Arte Antwerp and Six Edges. We sat down with him to discuss his work over a cup of coffee.
How did you get interested in fashion photography?
"I realised I had a fondness for fashion photography, when I was in my second year of studying photography at Narafi in Brussels. I started reading about the photographers I liked and I made a list with specific reasons why I liked them, to figure out what I liked visually. Fashion is one of the facets of photography that appeals to me, as it revolves around building images and scenes. I wondered what my addition to photography could be."
Your addition is pretty clear: you've created impressive campaign images of the latest Arte Antwerp collection on the Greek beach Sarakiniko. How was that experience?
"Heavy. But nice. You know, the danger with locations like this one is that the location starts to predominate the clothes. It is extra difficult when you like clean pictures as much as Bertony (Da Silva, designer Arte Antwerp - editor’s note) and I do (laughs). Bertony is a very passionate designer without a nine-to-five mentality. I’m just like that, so working together was an ideal process."
The office shoot for Six Edges turned out to be a success as well.
"Thanks. For Six Edges, clothing is something that has to be versatile and wearable at all times. It seemed nice to picture these looks in a clean and regular way. So instead of using very dramatic light, I did the exact opposite: I created a very ordinary scene. And Ulrike (De Maeseneire, designer Six Edges - editor’s note) liked that idea, so we went for it. She has a very open mind when it comes to putting her brand out there. The nononsense approach is something I really appreciate in designers and people in general."
I noticed you often make gifs and multiply images. Why do you manipulate your material?
"While in school, figuring out what I like about photography apart from looking at things, I read about the simulacrum theory by French philosopher Jean Baudrillard. Let me give an example of that viewpoint: we know what a plane crash looks like, without ever having witnessed one. Baudrillard enlarged that idea by stating that there is no reality, but everything we see as real is just an image of reality. It was then that I realised just how much you can trick people with the images you show them. The viewer often perceives a sort of personal reality that is different from what a photographer intended, which makes photography a paradoxal and infinitely interesting medium. Photography is still not entirely accepted as a form of art, because of its technicality and rendition of 'reality'. People are getting more interested, but we’re not there yet. And maybe that is the reason why I like to manipulate images, to dissociate them from the recognizable."
What will we see of you in the future?
"Well, I’m working on a project that actually leans on the theory I just mentioned. I’m creating a series called ‘bleek’. I always carry a small point-and-shoot film camera with me and take pictures of everyday things that catch my eye - a motorcycle in a nice colour for example. I scan the negatives, cut the objects out and paste them on a matching, plain coloured background. The end result may seem simple and quick to do, but by working this way, I’ve made the process as long and tedious as possible. It’s sort of my playful reaction against the copy-paste culture and blog-ready imagery that prevails in our tumblr society."