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Esther Margraff: Photographer of the week

by Yvette Depaepe 

To Esther Margraff  fantasy is elementary, the base of creativity and inner richness.
  Her work is surreal, her artistic mind doesn't know any boundaries.  Everything becomes possible, leaving familiar paths and taking new ones.  Besides being an exceptional artistic photographer, Esther has a charming and warm personality.  In this interview, she takes us on a journey into her dazzling magic world.


'the Ultimatum'


I live in East Belgium, am 65 years old and a retired art teacher.
Additionally, for many years I've been creating crazy chairs made from polyester. My great ideal in this process used to be Nikki de St Phalle.

Already while working in school my greatest concern was to stimulate fantasy and creativity in my pupils. I thereby freely adapted Einstein's motto: 'Fantasy is more important than knowledge, because knowledge is finite.' For me fantasy is something elementary, the base of creativity and an inner richness, that nobody can take from me. I'm also firmly convinced that everybody can train fantasy. It has to do with letting loose. It means turning things upside down, leaving familiar paths and taking new paths that may also turn out to be dead ends. But that is part of the process.

As far as photography is concerned, I've kept myself busy with it since digital photography emerged. It allows us to take pictures without restraint, but – most important - the image processing programs enable me to be absolutely creative. With them everything becomes possible and in contrast to my polyester sculptures nothing is stinking, sticking and making a mess.

For 14 years now I've been engaged in working with 3D-software. I enjoy fooling around with them for hours and doing so I forget time, space and the potatoes on the kitchen stove. It is amazing what those programs are capable of. I'm afraid it will take me a hundred years to penetrate all the functions, which at times can be very frustrating.

It's evident that I've been especially influenced by surrealism. Belgians probably have it in their genes but I couldn't say who of the surrealists I admire most. Magritte, Delvaux, de Chirico? It's hard to say; together with Gilbert Garcin, certainly all of them had an influence on me.


'Game over'

But as a matter of fact, I prefer turning my attention to contemporary artists and there is a lot of good surrealists around: for me THE representative of Belgian surrealism today is Ben Goossens.

I adore the very peculiar surrealism of hardibudi.
I also love the very expressive surreal portraits by Lotta van Droom.

Lately the Iranian art scene has been catching my eye, not only in the field of photography. But here too there are good representatives of a surrealism, that turns out to be very poetical and metaphorical:  Amin Roshan Afshar, Daniyalarabzadeh  and Mohammad Rasool Fahmani.

I'm also very fond of humorous surrealism: Juan de Villalba and Victoria Ivanova.
I could list a lot more here but that would go beyond the scope.

People often ask me how I get my ideas. In my work the idea doesn't stand at the beginning as one would guess, but develops little by little.
First, I take a lot of pictures: on holiday, at street parties, during shootings with friends, with models. At this stage everything is still meaningless for me. It's just collecting material. Only when I'm sitting in front of my computer and watching my pictures, something starts ticking.  Actually, I let myself be surprised by my own pictures. At times it is a detail - a small movement of the hand for instance - that inspires me. Then I start thinking about how I could tell a story out of it. In this case for example it was Indira's forefinger.


'The Yoga Bubble'

To go on spinning the idea further, my 3D software (VUE xstream) proves being very helpful. It's a software specialised in creating synthetical landscapes. This allows you to model terrains, let vegetations grow and make the sun wander around.
You feel a little bit like God.

You can of course also work with in a very realistic style, but when you play with untypical textures and shapes, your work gets a surreal touch. Instead of flowers I can also let chairs sprout or magically arise mountains of peas. For that purpose, I like using self-created textures.


'a pea-counting beauty'

For the atmospheric settings I must start from the real elements in a picture: where was the sun standing, how hard were light and shadow, how misty was the atmosphere? All this has to be analysed first and has to be integrated into my synthetic landscape making it look most harmonious and credible in the end. Into my new scenery I also put synthetical figures as replacement characters for the real ones, to simulate a correct shadow. The replacement character will later be replaced by the real figure. The shadow remains.


'Parisian Waltz'

My basic program for working on photos, especially to produce compositions, is Corel Photopaint X8. The first version I used was Corel 4 and it was issued more or less ...28 years ago!! This shows on the one hand how old I have become but on the other hand it has allowed me to grow with the program and not be smashed down by it. I took my first steps in the field of 3D photography with Bryce. It was built up very playfully and one could get along without the manual. But at a certain point I reached the limit and changed to VUE. My actual version is VUE Xstream.

I possess two cameras: a somewhat older Nikon Df and of late also a Nikon Z7. I have several lenses: a Nikkor 24-70 mm 4/S, a 28-300 mm, a 50 mm as well as a 16-35 mm wide angle which I very rarely use.

I take my pictures in raw format, develop the photos with the Nikon software and then I continue with Corel Paint X8 and the 3D programs. At the end I harmonise it all with my much appreciated Nikfilters.

To sum it all up, one can say that in most cases my pictures are a mixture between real and synthetic photography. The more fluent the transition is, the merrier I am. I try to watch the world with a wink and if the completed picture leaves the observer with a smile on his lips, I'm happy!


'a real gem'






'Somewhere in France'



'the Gardener in Love'



'little box"






'Beach games'



'The point of no return'



'Oasis I'



'Autumn of Life'



'Miss Autumn'



Hallo Esther, deine Fotoarbeiten sind etwas ganz besonderes. Es ist für mich hohe Kunst, aussagekräftig und sehr fantasievoll, einfach genial. Bitte weiter so und bleib gesund.
Danke dir lieber Adam!
Ich bin stark beeindruckt vom Interview und von deinen Arbeiten. Eine große Künstlerin.
danke dir lieber Franz.
Un monde fascinant que tu nous proposes ... heureux de retrouver ton interview et une partie de ta collection de merveilles. Mes compliments Esther !
merci beaucoup cher Luc. Ca me fait énormément plaisir!
Sorry, I'm so impressed that I accidentally hit "write" three times
das geht auch dreimal runter wie Öl. Ganz lieben Dank dir Rolf!
yes, my lips leave your pictures with a smile but also with a high level of recognition and respect. Your pictures have their own language, keep them because they are part of you.
yes, my lips leave your pictures with a smile but also with a high level of recognition and respect. Your pictures have their own language, keep them because they are part of you.
yes, my lips leave your pictures with a smile but also with a high level of recognition and respect. Your pictures have their own language, keep them because they are part of you.
Magnificent interview, stunning work and magnificent images, congrats Esther !!!
many thanks cher Thierry. Ton monde à toi m'épate tout autant je dois dire!
Chère Esther, j'étais déjà un admirateur inconditionnel je le suis encore : mille bravos pour vos formidables créations !
Merci cher Christian pour les compliments qui sont réciproques!
Dear Esther, what a fantastic surreal gallery. My compliments on this intriguing and interesting interview and the chance to understand a little bit about the "behind the scenes" of these great works of art.
dear Arnon, you let beat my teacher's heart again! Thank you so much!
Amazing image , congrats!
thank you very much Milan!
thank you very much!
Congrats and well deserved, great article and photos!
many thanks dear Jeroen!
Congratulations on the "photographer of the week". Rightly so with these great pictures.
thank you very much dear Harry!
Interesting interview and amazing image. Congrats Ester and Yvette
Thanks a lot, dear Vito!
many thanks dear Vito!
Absolutely fascinating, now my mind is ticking over and I need to research some of the programmes that you mentioned like VUE Estream. Thank you both ( Yvette and Esther ) for bringing and telling us this wonderful and never ending creative journey that we can incorporate with our photography.
Thanks Wayne! I'm a big fan of Esther's fantastic work ;-)
many, many thanks dear Wayne!
I am spellbound by each of your images, Esther! They literally spill over with creativity and are inspiring. Thank you for sharing the processes that go into your work. . .and thank you, Yvette for facilitating the interview.
Thanks for your appreciation, dear Sydney!
dear Sydney, you simply...made my day. Thank you so much!
Dear Esther, I always was a big fan of your work, but now I'm a super fan of yours. Thank you so much for your kind collaboration and for sharing your photographic thoughts. Warm greetings, Yvette
Thank you so much dear Yvette . It's you who puts a smile on my face in this hard time. My mother is in a home and I haven't seen her for weeks and I'm very, very worried about her. it paralyzes me and I cannot be so present here as I would like to be. Many thanks and warm regards my friend
thank you so much for the possibility to learn about you and your work. You know that I like your creativity and the inspiring results of your photographic work so much. Keep on creating your fascinating work. Also my thanks to Yvette for her work as an interviewer. Best regards Wolfgang
Thanks a lot, Hans-Wolfgang ;-)
da des Englischen nicht sehr mächtig, antworte ich auf Deutsch. Herzlichen Dank lieber Hans-Wolfgang, dein Lob und auch deine Treue freuen mich ganz besonders. Im Moment hab ich das Gefühl ich kann das nicht so erwidern wie ich das möchte, aber es werden wohl auch wieder bessere Zeiten kommen. Danke und bleib gesund!
Dear Esther, Thanks for this interesting interview. I am always enjoying your pictures . Dear Yvette , Many thanks for this beautiful and interesting interview. Regards Saskia
Thanks, dear Saskia!
Thank you so much dear Saskia!