An interview with Frederik Buyckx
“Nothing ever felt more intense than being caught by beauty and anxiety at the same time”.
Frederik Buyckx was selected by fine art photographer Mona Kuhn as the inaugural winner of our Series Award – a prize designed to celebrate a single body of work alongside the main themed Life Framer Photography Prize.
Looking through his images, words such as magical, ethereal, and enigmatic spring to mind. Perhaps it is the way he deftly renders the scenes before him in black and white, his touch subtle and light; or maybe it is the intrinsic beauty of the landscapes and the compositions he makes in and of these places. Surely it is all of these things, yet a second glance confirms what we already know: these images are ultimately indefinable, they exist in a realm of their own, and no matter how hard we try it is impossible to put a finger on what makes them so captivating.
But that is precisely the joy of such a body of work – one that delights in its mysteriousness. Motivated by a desire to immerse himself in nature and experience both its beauty and fearsome spirit first-hand, Frederik journeyed across Europe, crossing paths with people and animals who live off the land. Allowing himself to be at one with the landscapes he encountered, in the way a wolf might, he embraced the inevitable loneliness that came his way, deliberately entering into uncomfortable situations so he could photograph what he was seeing and experiencing in the most real way possible.
What he gives us is a taste of unbridled nature where senses are heightened and impending disaster hovers at the edges of beauty. Frederik shows that by reaching outside of one’s comfort zone and running towards rather than from the anxiety created by nature’s tempestuousness, it is possible to experience the profound beauty of our world’s most wild places.
We sat down with Frederik to ask him a little more about the series…
How did the series come about?
Initially, I didn’t plan to make this series. Two years ago after I made a project in Brazil, I started traveling within Europe. I felt the need to experience nature, and started documenting this. I realised I really enjoyed just being there, so after some travels the idea came to maybe focus more on this for a new bigger project.
What challenges did you face when working on this series?
The biggest trip I did for this project was when I traveled with my van to the Balkan for six weeks. It was probably the loneliest experience in my life. Everyday eating, sleeping and living in my van. I never stayed in a hotel, never ate in restaurants and I moved to a new place every day. The human contact was almost non-existent in these weeks. Sometimes it would almost drive me crazy; it was very intense and often felt like some self-reflection retreat. But it made me look differently at the world and I am quite sure it influenced how I took photographs.
Another more creative challenge is the fact I was used to photographing only people before and I’ve always worked in color. So working in black and white and focusing more on nature was completely new for me. I didn’t know if it would work at all, but it felt good to challenge myself with something completely different.
How did you keep the momentum going when things got tough as they inevitably did?
I did have some problems with my car due to bad roads or being stuck in the snow. At that moment the weather becomes your enemy and being alone in a remote area in a country you don’t know can frighten you. But in the end that is what the project partially is about, coming out of my comfort zone and confronting the force of nature, discovering unknown areas, getting lost and letting faith decide where I end up.
What subject or scenes were you drawn to most and why?
I am really drawn to remote areas where people live in some form of isolation. I grew up in a city and in Belgium there is almost no more space left to really feel a bit ‘away from society’. This isolation together with living more in close contact with nature has something very romantic, but at the same time it’s often also a much harder life because people really depend more on themselves.
Why choose black and white over colour?
Firstly, as I mentioned, the use of black and white was some kind of personal challenge because I had always worked with color for my previous projects. I was waiting for the right subject to finally try black and white. When I went discovering these isolated places in Europe I had the feeling that I had found the right subject matter.
What did you want to convey through the work?
I want to share what I experience when I try to take a step back. It’s about the beauty of nature but it also shows that nature can be unpredictably harsh at the same time. The power of nature is something we will always have to respect. You can get caught by beauty and anxiety at the same time, which is a very special feeling I discovered.
What surprised you most when shooting this series? What did you learn or have taken away from the experience?
What surprised me the most was how ‘at home’ I began to feel in these places, to the point where I had difficulties feeling at home again when I got back to Belgium. It seems like these places really have an impact on me as a person. I maybe wouldn’t want to live in such places forever, but being there from time to time really makes me happy.
You say the series is on-going – what’s next for it and you?
The main reason I don’t want to finish the project yet, is that I really enjoy going to these places and I would like to keep on doing so for the next couple of years. And there are many more corners in Europe I’m looking forward to discovering.