Herman Selleslags moves 80,000 negatives: “Every photo is true and a lie at the same time” (Antwerp)

Herman Selleslags moves 80,000 negatives: “Every photo is true and a lie at the same time” (Antwerp)
Herman Selleslags moves 80,000 negatives: “Every photo is true and a lie at the same time” (Antwerp)

Herman Selleslags (86) has moved from his large house in the Cogels-Osylei to an apartment in the suburbs. This was not only accompanied by saying goodbye to a familiar environment, but also with a gigantic archive of an estimated 80,000 recordings. His son Jan now manages the rights and all negatives have been transferred to the Photo Museum. Aline Reinink made a documentary about the move and memories when re-viewing images, which can now be seen in Cinema Lumière, in anticipation of the portrait being broadcast on TV and becoming available digitally.

Following the documentary, Herman Selleslags also curated the exhibition ‘Reflections’ in Galerie Verbeeck-Van Dyck on Het Eilandje. It was a sophisticated selection of 25 photos in which mirrors and windows provide an indirect or fragmented image of the photographed persons. There are familiar shots by Jan Decleir, David Byrne or Donovan, but also photos that Selleslags recently rediscovered in his archive.

Jan Decleir in reflection, 1990. — © Herman Selleslags


“Mirrors are a proven photographer’s trick,” says Herman Selleslags. “You don’t see reality but a reflection. In fact, every photo is a lie in itself, a snapshot that is simultaneously true and not true. Those who stood half a meter further saw it differently and those who came an hour later saw something completely different. An image in reflection is a kind of double lie, but it can be an extra beautiful lie.”

Herman Selleslags has been recording events large and small for seventy years. He left school at the age of fifteen and became the errand boy for his father, photographer Rik Selleslags. “At home we were a small photo factory with five people,” says Selleslags. “My father was mainly a technical photographer at the time who did the catalogs for Grand Bazar, Massive chandeliers or Flandria Fietsen. He sent me out for reports.”

He made his first reports for Handelsblad, but especially as in-house photographer for Humo he would have an enviable list of world stars in front of his lens: The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, Edith Piaf, Alfred Hitchcock and Claudia Cardinale in addition to politicians and sports stars. “Do I still remember them all? No,” Selleslags admits honestly. “And perhaps I retain some distorted impressions. Circumstances help determine memory. Rain or sun, it makes a difference. I always thought I had never photographed Paul Simon until I came across a report about him in my archives. We must have even played table football. Much has been forgotten.”

Street photography

Celebrities may produce the best-known photos, but Selleslags took many of his best shots without an assignment, just on the street, with anonymous people. “It’s not that I was looking for anything in particular, but some cities or districts of Antwerp are so fascinating that you come across the images unexpectedly,” says Selleslags. “Moreover, every photo, when you look at it again twenty years later, contains a piece of history that will not come back.”

Theater Antwerp 1950s. — © Herman Selleslags

The exhibition features a photo of a cashier in a long-gone Antwerp theater with rolls and rolls of tickets with different prices behind her. Selleslags also took iconic photos in the Jewish quarter in Antwerp. “I used to walk around there a lot when I was young,” says Selleslags. “I was fascinated and always thought: that religion is going to disappear and I have to record it. But it has not disappeared, on the contrary.”

Van Immerseelstraat Antwerp, 2014.

Van Immerseelstraat Antwerp, 2014. — © Herman Selleslags

Selleslags is still taking photographs today. “Less driven,” he admits. “You keep looking, that’s automatic. Sometimes I see it, but I don’t think it’s worth it anymore. Or is it already over? The atmosphere has also changed because there is more suspicion. Every photographer has to be a bit of a voyeur, but that doesn’t prevent us from using it correctly.”

Reflections, until April 28, www.verbeeckvandyck.be; Film ‘Life will give you pictures’ on April 11 at 8 PM and April 21 at 2:30 PM, www.lumiere-antwerpen.be

Tags: Herman Selleslags moves negatives photo true lie time Antwerp


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