They ask me where I am, what my position in the world is; as a person, as a photographer. I don’t care. It is not about where I am – it is about how long I have left.
I am not dying of anything in particular; but my body is an intricate machine that could break down at any moment of a multitude of reasons.
I fear; the invisible death that comes from within. The sunlight that warms my skin has the power to destroy it. A cancer that eats at me invisibly will be treated with the same radiation that may have caused it. It is a very thin line between living and dying.
I cannot make an image of the dying body: being eaten from within by alien cells. Invisibly sick, invisibly dying – there is nothing to see here. For god’ sake; chop me into pieces; burn me at the stake, commit whatever violent monstrosity, but don’t let me pointlessly fade away, invisibly.
I cannot make an image of the exact moment of death. Does it last shorter than a shutter or much longer? Death is when a person becomes a thing. Through photography, in a way, the subject also dies a little – becomes an object, a photograph. If to die and to be photographed are the same thing, how can we possibly make a distinction between a photographed body and a photographed body at the exact moment of its silent death?
Death is as omnipresent as it is illusive.
Looking at corpses is not kosher – let alone taking their photograph. The works of Witkin are swiftly exiled to the realm of the macabre. We cover up our dead so we don’t have to face them; so we don’t have to face our own mortality.
But at the same time; we are obliged not to feel indifferent about death. Life is sacred – death an unwelcome fiend. We are caught in an impossible juxtaposition. It is as if we are locked inside a room with a corpse. We find some white sheets to hastily cover it up; but we cannot leave the room, and we know very well why the sheets are slowly becoming dirty from within, where the increasing stench is coming from.
But this fear that weighs on me is not my own; it is the product of the well-intentioned fear of my parents, projected on a young and over-sensitive boy. And I do not want it anymore. The promise that controlling every aspect of life – looking for certainties – postpones death is clearly a false one.
Perhaps this fear is as much a fear of death as a fear of living. Life is the cancer that slowly eats away at the time we have left. Fear of death is fear of an uncertainty that is fundamental to life itself.
And it is rooted deeply into who I have become. I am not trying to break free of it. The opposite; I try to get close to it; feel it intensely. To confront myself with death, decay, radioactivity, a life on the streets without certainties.
It is in this confrontation that my images are born. I guess I found a position in the world after all; somewhere between the inevitable demise that awaits us all, and my intimate fear of it.
Stijn Belle - April 2018