Hendrik Braet does not think that it is necessary to travel far to find the exotic. As he wanders his hometown of Ghent and the wider Flemish region, he is on the look out for the incongruous, the surreal in everyday life. His series “Flemish Eclecticism” testifies to the wealth of such absurdities in his own environment. Braet has been working on this series for several years. It started out as a blog about Ghent, in which he posted the humorous images that he shot in the city. In his own words, he developed a sharp eye for odd or unexpected situations.
His subjects are in fact trouvailles in every sense of the word: he literally finds them on his daily treks across town or on trips – the camera always on hand – and they are clever, unpretentious visual finds that seem to be presented to us with a wink. Braet often focuses his lens and his humour on local traditions, popular events and for his compatriots, familiar scenes, as well as on the people who navigate these occasions so awkwardly. He believes in a folk culture and seeks to capture it from a positive perspective. By consciously playing with the clichés about it, he counters the at times negative image that others have of the region.
This could explain the colour overload in Braet’s work, which is addictive. He has a painter’s eye for linking colours in his pictures: in one, for example, the silver-coloured metal details on a classic, bright blue Citroën 2CV resonate with the colour of the Atomium monument and the sky beyond. The compositions are also clean, to the extent that some of them even look staged. However, the photographer avoids any intervention or manipulation of his subjects.
Braet also likes to include contrasts: this might be the gaudy print on the skirt of an elderly woman clashing with the tablecloth beside her, or dreary and soulless architecture brightened up by trompe-l’oeil murals. As so often in depictions of folk culture, there is an abundance of kitsch but it feels as though Braet attracts it. All the eccentricities and jumbles of colours that he captures become refreshing elixirs in his hands as cynicism is utterly lacking.