Eddy van Gestel: Well-known Belgian Photographer and Africa lover

by  Editor Marc van Kempen

Eddy van Gestel is a Belgian photographer who lives most of the year in Africa. He is 54 years old, married with children. He has been a professional photographer for the past 20 years.

I met him in Antwerp in his gallery. Together with his partner he owns a design company, which he combines with his gallery. Since September 2017 his extensive expo on Africa in all its beauty is on show here. Every photo has been treated with utmost care and has been printed in large format. Against the façade of their beautiful house in the center of Antwerp a gorgeous poster of the expo invites you in.
 


© Marc van Kempen


Eddy’s family was not artistic. He has developed his love for photography on his own and started shooting from the age of 20, partly because he saw a film about Africa in the cinema. His children are not interested yet but if they ever feel the desire to start with photography he will support them, but he will never push them.

Eddy van Gestel  by ©Marc van Kempen
 

The film he saw was “Out of Africa”: beautiful shots in a romantic setting. His love for the continent has never diminished. He wants to bring the real Africa to life, sometimes a bit surrealistically because in real life some components might not fit together. He walks around and observes. He spends a lot of time getting to know the locals. Sometimes it takes 2 or 3 days before he starts photographing.

Africa XL is Eddy’s fourth book in which he tried to show the culture of Kenya for posterity. At the moment a new book of him is in the shops: “Perla Nera”. Beautiful shots, full of atmosphere and shot in gorgeous light. Eddy is still using analogue cameras with old-fashioned film. It gives his photos extra depth. Of course he edits them digitally afterwards, which results in perfect shots.

The following gives an impression of what is on show at the moment in his Gallery:

© Marc van Kempen

 

© Marc van Kempen


I was particularly struck by two images: first of all the portrait of a woman whose head is covered in what seems to be dried leaves. Beautiful soft light; it has been used for the cover of the “Perla Nera” book. Eddy admitted to me that this is also one of his personal favorites.

 

© Eddy van Gestel


Another top photo is of a naked woman sitting all alone in the waving African desert. He positioned her just above the center on the left side. This is also one of Eddy’s favorites because of the beautiful sandy colours and the position of the model.

© Eddy van Gestel 


While I was walking around the exhibition I was thinking back to a discussion I had in 2017 with another photographer who travels around the world photographing native people, sometimes in Africa. His name is Jimmy Nelson (link to Jimmy's interview). Do I see a comparison between these two but also a difference. Both are focused on beauty but Jimmy’s focus is more on documenting the disappearance of ethnic groups. Eddy is more concentrated on individual portraiture combined with picturesque lighting and showing the setting in which this person is present.

Following are some examples of recent portraits:

© Eddy van Gestel 

 

© Eddy van Gestel

 

© Eddy van Gestel 


Besides portraits Eddy specializes in mostly naked female bodies in dreamlike settings, photographed in natural light.
 

© Eddy van Gestel

 

© Eddy van Gestel 

 

© Eddy van Gestel

 

© Eddy van Gestel

 

© Eddy van Gestel

 

© Eddy van Gestel

 

© Eddy van Gestel


Earlier work from Eddy van Gestel
 

© Eddy van Gestel

 

© Eddy van Gestel

 

© Eddy van Gestel

 

© Eddy van Gestel

 

© Eddy van Gestel

 

© Eddy van Gestel


Eddy is constantly looking to bring more meaning to his work. He is looking for more layers. At the moment he is working on a new project in which he is questioning how the world would look if a black person had invented something very important or if a black person had had an important function in history. He showed me an example: one of his earlier models with a large cigar in his mouth, linking the image to the idea we have of Churchill. How would the world look today if a black person had had the role of Churchill? Eddy is calling this series: “Just imagine”.  Eddy is still working on it and it will be a while before it will be shown. The deeper meaning of this series is pure genius and different from his earlier work. Eddy has been photographing in Africa for years and is trying not to get stuck; he is constantly looking for new themes. At one time he took a photo of a man holding a Playboy in his hand but this instantly brought smiles to the spectator and that is not what he is after. So he abandoned that idea. He masters the art of selection and omission.

Published books of Eddy van Gestel:

  1. Afrika in de kijker (A continent in the picture)
  2. Afrika op het ritme van de zon (To the Rhythm of the sun)
  3. African Queen
  4. Africa XL
  5. Safari in Oost-Afrika
  6. Terra Africana
  7. Perla Nera

More work can be admired on his website
www.eddyvangestel.com

 

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