Questions about documenting

Answering your questions from my page going through

the Belgian prisons report

Prisons

A question I read a lot on my page is “how to start a reportage ?

The answer might sound simple, but it’s really not. So far it’s one of the hardest things to do in photography or photojournalism and documentary. START.

To stay in the documentary field, I would say that the best option is first to choose to document something YOU like, have interest in, got curious about, and especially are sensible about. Because only you will have to wake up every morning (counting that you are a photographer / willing to invest time and patience in your new project) focusing on that and making photographs for days and days about that. Best pick: something that attracts you, that you REALLY want to know about. Remember that you don’t have to go far to do something good.

On my side, I started to document the Police during 3-4 years on my own, and then I wanted to continue focusing on justice in Belgium. Therefore I contacted the authorities to gain access to the Prisons and covered them all around Belgium during 3-4 years again and on my own again.

Ok.. you get that. “But how do you gain access? “ This is where you have to explain what you want to photograph, why you want to photograph it, what moves you in that topic, where you want to photograph, what you want to do with your pictures, and why you think it’s important. Put that down nicely on a piece of paper. Write it again, and again. Honestly.

Marcel Habran, in his cell inside the prison of Nivelles. © Sébastien Van Malleghem

Marcel Habran, in his cell inside the prison of Nivelles. © Sébastien Van Malleghem

Then depending of the choice of your reportage - you present the letter to the person which is responsible of the place you want to photograph. If you don’t know the person responsible? Use internet, call the main info desk and explain shortly your intention. The desk office will definitely direct you to the right person in charge of press request. Here you are, that person will decide of the faith of your project, you better be convincing. Many times, people refuse to let you in, it’s normal. Sometimes you have a chance to argue for your project, DO. Otherwise, keep on trying. The person giving you the access to your future reportage might be tricky to get to talk to. That is why I ask for a meeting as soon as possible.

Prisoners standing in line to get their meals. Leuven, Belgium. May 2014  © Sébastien Van Malleghem

Prisoners standing in line to get their meals. Leuven, Belgium. May 2014

© Sébastien Van Malleghem

It’s your first day of reporting and you ask yourself “How do I get accepted ? “, my answer is: be honest, don’t pretend, be patient, respectful, never judge without knowing, spend time. That shouldn’t be so hard if you really picked a subject that moves you. Then you keep it going. For my point of view there is no time limit on documenting. I do stop when I feel the need to, when I feel that I have seen and understood most of the problematic or decently circle it at least. Sometimes it takes years, sometimes it takes weeks.

Long term prisoners are playing volleyball in the courtyard of Audenaarde's prison. Belgium, August 2014  © Sébastien Van Malleghem

Long term prisoners are playing volleyball in the courtyard of Audenaarde's prison. Belgium, August 2014

© Sébastien Van Malleghem

A inmate is folding the laundry inside the prison of Aundernaarde, 2015. © Sébastien Van Malleghem

A inmate is folding the laundry inside the prison of Aundernaarde, 2015. © Sébastien Van Malleghem

Inmate victim of mental illness got memory problems and forget everything that is said after a period of a few minutes. At the time in the center of Paifve, he did not know his release date. Paifve, Liège, July 2011

Inmate victim of mental illness got memory problems and forget everything that is said after a period of a few minutes. At the time in the center of Paifve, he did not know his release date. Paifve, Liège, July 2011

I would also recommend that you look at the prison book here I’m also answering more questions about prisons on interview with Mathilde Boussion (Fr) or on TIME (Eng) with a short webdoc for Le Temps (fr) and a detailed interview with Alter Echos (fr) and others if you google it. You can also see a video on the video section of my website.


I hope you enjoyed this post, feel free to comment or follow

THX

Seb

A long term detainee inside the prison of Audenaarde., Belgium 2015.

A long term detainee inside the prison of Audenaarde., Belgium 2015.