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Talking to Carl De Keyzer

New Balance sneakers and blue jeans seem to be the sartorial signature-style of many great men. Belgian Magnum photographer Carl De Keyzer couldn’t care less. 

He’s an observer and the more low key the dress code, the more he blends in into the environment. For sure, he loves beauty and he loves art, but he’s a hater of what he calls ‘salon aesthetics’: aesthetics which only function is to decorate houses or to show off wealth. We met Carl in Brussels at a Samsung event. “I use aesthetics to bring people closer to my images. As soon as they get close and understand the subject, they realize they’ve been framed. My photographs are not about beauty. They are an act of criticism on certain situations,…” Explained Carl to us. And because criticism is often followed by heavy reaction, the expo and book Congo (Belge) caused quite a stir in the Congolese community in Belgium.


Congo (Belge) was made at the occasion of the 50th independence anniversary of the Congo. Did you understand why people were so opposed to your book?

At first I was shocked, but I could also understand their reaction. In the Antwerp Museum of Photography my photos were shown and accompanied by texts by David Van Reybrouck. The texts were abstracts from a newspaper from Kinshasa. And they were quite intense and harsh. I said David, what are you doing to me? People told me the pictures shown weren’t the real Congo. To them the representation of Congo was too negative, too much misery was displayed. I never had the intention to portray a negative image. With the colonialism and the patrimony in mind, it was impossible to re-create a pretty image.” 

Why a book about Congo? What’s your personal affiliation with the country? 

I have a few uncles who were missionaries, but other than that I was intrigued by Congo’s past being a colony of Belgium. I’m a fan of observing big systems and the impact they have on mankind.

So actually Congo (Belge) is not a book about Congo? 

Exactly. The book is not a book about Congo, it’s a book about Belgium. It’s about a king who suppressed a big country and used the local community to create some kind of Belgian utopia. It’s stupid and quite surreal is the worst sense of the word. Especially when you look at the consequences for the people who suffered. The Belgian Congo is still a big taboo in Belgium and I wanted to discuss it, although the Congolese society saw my book more as an accusation of the current Congo. And this might be true. I’m not blind. I traveled around Congo for a year and it’s far from perfect. 

What’s the link between this book and the following ‘Moments before the Flood?’  

As I said earlier, I love big systems and their impact on mankind. Next to religion, power, colonialism, nature is the ultimate system. The last fifteen years we have enjoyed nature, but now nature has become a threat to our comfortable and careless lives. Nature isn’t idyllic anymore, it’s a menace and this is something I wanted to explore and address. 


When it comes to social criticism, Carl De Keyzer still has many places to visit and phenomenons to explore. We’re very curious what his next step will be. But in stead of answering this question he answers a call from his contractor. Carl is human after all, he’s fighting this monster called ‘home renovation.’


Text: Magali Elali
Photos: Carl De Keyzer


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