Jun 25, 2018
Debby is a Belgian artist who creates narratives where viewers are invited to establish connections and make their own stories. Working with "empty settings" and inspired mainly by music, the oeuvres of Debby are raw and unsettling, but once we've passed the first impression, we discover amazing details that make us remember past experiences and start creating exciting personal narratives.
am - First of all thank you very much for your contribution to our project. Can you please introduce yourself for us?
DT - My name is Debby Thijs and I recently turned 30. I live together with my boyfriend and our two cats - Mila and Mona – in Hasselt, Belgium. I work full time as a planner and administration officer in the social-welfare sector. Besides working, I’m busy as a visual artist. Additionally I like to swim on a weekly basis and practice horseback riding on a recreational level. I’m a convinced vegetarian since I was a kid, I collect books in almost an obsessive compulsive way and I’m allergic to narcissistic personalities and bad music.
am - How did you start in photography?
DT - I was around fifteen years old when I first picked up a camera. Back then it was a 3 megapixel digital mini camera, it was when the first digital cameras hit the market and people began to speak in terms of megapixels instead of VGA. I started taking photographs of all kind of things in my neighbourhood: flowers, trees, buildings... and because I didn’t have any models around to photograph, portraits were mostly self-portraits, pretty basic. At the age of sixteen I decided to leave regular high school for what it was: I just did not belong there. I decided to continue my studies in art school, more specifically audiovisual arts. I still think this is one of my best decisions ever made – well, that, and becoming a vegetarian – because it was like a whole new world to me: people were dressing the way they wanted, they were taught philosophy and ethics, they called teachers by their first names instead of ‘sir’ or ‘miss’, and more importantly, they were creating things, new and exciting things! After high school I also graduated from Art university with a Masters degree in Fine Art Photography in 2012.
Currently I work with both analogue and digital cameras. I also work with found footage, these are old analog photographs I find at flea markets and in family albums
am - What is this series of photographs about?
DT - I almost never work in series actually, unless I have been asked to do so for a project. I think that all photographs in my collection fit together in some way, they form one “body of work”, on my website they are categorised chronologically.
am - What inspires your work?
DT - Since I remember, I've always been highly influenced by music, even before I was in my teenage years. My taste in music has developed over the years (Thank God!), but it’s still my number one inspiration when it comes to creating things artistically. It often occurs that I’m listening to a track and afterwards just start taking pictures because I visualize the music in my mind.
I’m also inspired by Romanticism, Existentialism and movies, and of course my own personal life keeps inspiring my work, having a chaotic mind, I’m always searching for the balance between rest and chaos in my photography.
am - How would you describe your visual language?
DT - I developed my visual lexicon somewhere around 2008, when I was experimenting at university with different ways of visual storytelling. By becoming older, my work has become more raw and cold, but I still think it has the same overall ‘feel’ to it like it had back then.
I think that the hardest part for artists nowadays, is to set your own mark in the things you create and becoming recognised for your own style. In times when everybody wants to display their opinions on the world wide web about every thinkable topic, where everything has been done before and whatever you create is obliged to have some kind of conceptual value, it is something I've struggled with. I think that the most important thing to keep in mind when making art is: ‘what does it mean to me?’, instead of ‘what does it mean to others?’ Because that last thought will not bring you anywhere and it’s keeping a lot of good artists from sharing their work.
am - Who are your favourite photographers / artists?
DT - There are a lot of people that inspire me in different fields of art. For example, I’m a huge fan of Trent Reznor, frontman of Nine Inch Nails, who inspires me on a creative and intellectual level. When it comes to music, I would need a year just to sum up everyone who inspires me... like Depeche Mode, David Bowie and Fleetwood Mac to name just a few. Bottom-line is I cannot, nor I want to, minimalise the impact of Reznors’ oeuvre on my work, because it has been, and still is, the strongest influence.
When I look at art, other than music, I definitely count Francis Bacon, Caspar David Friedrich, Floria Sigismondi and Dirk Braeckman to be all time favorites, they all have very different styles and are interesting for various reasons.
I also love movies by David Lynch and Lars Von Trier, and in literature I’m fascinated by writers of the Existential movement.
am - What is your work about?
DT - My images are like empty settings, waiting for a new narrative. Desolated landscapes, the back of an anonymous body, abandoned houses and found footage ripped from its original context. It is the viewers' task to relate to the images in their own way. I’m interested in the psychological experiences that photography has to offer and how to manipulate this, that’s why for example, I work with found footage I manipulate by hand. What’s the impact of this manipulation on the viewer’s experience? How does the viewer make connections in his mind between images that aren’t necessarily connected?
I think I always tend to look for ‘empty’ places, looking for new angels of approach. Like the perfect setting for a movie production, only that the crew has left the story. I ask for a new one as I hit the ‘reset’ button.
It is like I said before, I think that it is connected to the fact that I’m a very chaotic person, always feeling I’m “all over the place”, not knowing what to do first and experiencing difficulties to focus on one thing. Therefore I like to focus myself on the essence in my photography, on a new story that rises from an old one.
I ask the viewer to take the time to look closely and therefore demanding a more questioning, sensing type of attitude rather than wanting to explain and document everything.
am - What’s your favourite movie?
DT - Lost highway (David Lynch) & Melancholia (Lars von Trier).
am - What is your favourite photo book?
DT - Not a specific one I guess, I’m more of a “magazine person” when it comes to art publications. Some pieces in my collection:
– Marilyn Manson/David Lynch – Gynealogies of Pain (not a real photo book, but an art book)
– The book by the hand of my best friend and colleague photographer Julie Van der Vaart, is a piece I truly admire for its minimalistic beauty, it is called “Mountains, waves and skies”.
am - Thank you very much for your time and your contribution to analog magazine.
DT - Thank you analog magazine, keep up the good work!
All images © Debby Thijs