Photo: Xuxu from Spain in Berlin

Text: by Chris

I have tried to keep myself busy, finding ideas and things to do during the lock down. Nevertheless it’s getting incredibly difficult now not to feel frustrated. It’s crazy that it’s been over 2 months since our lives as we know changed dramatically. 2 months, it’s a long time for us to cope, without socializing, traveling and even enjoying your favorite food in your favorite restaurants. Yes, now we realize how much we take for granted in our lives. Perhaps it’s a wake up call for us. However, as life gradually returns to normal, we will surely forget again how precious these things are. Sadly it’s human nature. We are forgetful beings. No need to wait until the future to prove that, there have been reports that parks and beaches in France are already closing down again a few days after relaxing the rules because of people ignoring social distancing. Sad, but not surprised.

So it’s time for self reflection and mostly important to keep my mind away from negative thoughts and shake off this frustration. I guess it’s my mechanism to deal with issues. I take a step back and keep a certain distance so that I can analyze the current situation and eventually find a balance. At the beginning of the lock down, I was fine actually. As there’d always been mountains of work that causes a lot of stress, I was happy to take a break. Having a full time job plus tale of men project basically takes all my free time away. When I am working, I am always looking forward to my next holiday (even though I shoot even more while traveling). That’s why I travel whenever I can. Even though the atmosphere was more surreal and gloomy, I felt I finally could take a breathe from work and expected things to return to normal in 1 month or so.

Of course, life hasn’t returned to normal. We were not ready to deal with the outbreak of the corona virus even though we had been told so in the beginning. Due to the negligence of the government, we lost valuable time, the result of which is lost of human lives. I remember the week before the lock down, the school where I took photography course sent us a message saying one student had been tested positive on corona virus but the classes would take place normally. No extra measures had been taken. In the class we talked about it. One classmate, a man around 60 years old, said indifferently “Corona, ik lig daar niet wakker van.” (Corona, I don’t wake myself up because of it). Some uttered the statement we had heard too often, “it’s like flu.” I asked them if they knew how long the virus could survive outside human body. “A few seconds?” No! 2-3 days depending on the materials.

When China started locking down cities nation wide, Europe was watching, but not learning or preparing. When the virus reached Europe, my family and friends in China sent tons of messages about prevention and the findings on the virus, like the question above, the use of mask, hand hygiene, testing, etc. It took Europe such a long time to finally get in line with what the Chinese already know. Plus the stupid lock down parties some people held didn’t contribute to the control of the virus at all. It’s a bizarre feeling to read news about the virus and the statistics everyday. This pandemic is like a magnifying glass that puts every fiber of the society and humanity into scrutiny. I am not sure if we are ready to accept the truth.

Ok, back to self reflection. While many artists including photographers have stopped their activities all together, I count myself lucky that the trip to Barcelona and Lisbon in February was a very fruitful one. There were many photo shoots and I have never shot so many film rolls before. Shooting analog has always been something I want to try. Part of the reason is nostalgia. Firstly, I am a nostalgic person, someone who lives in the past rather than the future. Secondly, in my memory I always can see the old black and white photos that my dad took of me with his seagull TLR camera. It’s my childhood, even though I couldn’t remember much about it, but I am sure it’s pure and joyful. I once wanted to bring it back to Belgium, but unfortunately it’s broken. It’s bound to be left in the past. The second reason is that going back to the basics of photography might bring something new for me to grow. Developing the films and scanning the films, take a lot of time and energy, but the joy is also sweet when you see some great photos becoming alive in front of your own eyes.

Meanwhile, there have been some collaboration with a few other photographers whose work has been or will be featured shortly. One big project I was trying to make is called “CORO(M)ASTURBATION”. It’s a bold video compilation project that portraits people’s self sexual pleasure moments under the confinement as our social lives are disrupted by the corona virus. “Sexuality in isolation” is the caption of the project. “Stay at home, love yourself and have fun” is the message as the lock down takes a heavy toll on our social life and also mental health. I was overwhelmed by the number of submissions, over 100 participants. Since I have the materials now, I hope to come up with something good soon.

The craving for traveling is getting stronger and stronger. Instagram has this new feature now to show you old posts like 1 year or 2 years ago. Ironically, it’s not really the perfect time to feel nostalgic because we are in the lock down. Just the idea that the borders with Germany, Holland or France might be open only from mid June is excruciating. Do we really have to wait for another few months? The impulsive side of me makes it hard to endure, but it also makes me plan/dream of next trips once the borders are open for free travel. Let’s hope this summer will not be wasted and also safe. I will make at least two road trips, one to Amsterdam (with a stop in Rotterdam) and one to Berlin (many possible stops along the way depending on where the boys are located). And finally that’s something worth looking forward to! Soon, I will be able to create, capture and share a lot of photos and stories again.

Finally, I want to say “thank you” to all of you, the patrons and my followers. The continuous support means a lot. God knows, how many times I feel frustrated and demotivated because of the negativity or the criticism online. Even though I know it’s unavoidable, it’s still very hard to question the purpose of what I do. My goal is to “share”, not to “represent”. That’s why I am against being labeled or categorized, especially by people who have problem themselves with labels and categories because it adds a layer of hypocrisy. It’s too much. Like I said, I am someone who takes a step back to find the balance when encountering issues. That’s what I have done. Moreover, my thoughts always come to you, people who support me and this project and people who simply take good things out of it, be it a touching story or a nice photo. Besides the direct communication with the boys I shoot, this is a very substantial source for me to draw strength from. So, thank you!