Photography served as a tool of mediation, a passport through which to land in the inner place of each of those people portrayed. The people at OpStap also took pictures by and of themselves, and had a voice in the selection of the final images that appear in the book. Moreover, the creation of the text was spearheaded by Colin Pantall, who acted as a moderator and led several interviews that explored the goal of the publication. This was, in all its intent and purposes, a collaborative project. Additionally, through Vincen’s typical methods of working, which aims to increase visibility for unrepresented and vulnerable communities, Birds of a Feather reveals itself to be an honest insight into the complicated, rough and often hidden world of drug addiction. By way of a genuine look at people’s lives, Vincen creates a narrative that eschews the drama and prevailing stereotypes when talking about people with addictions. Furthermore, there is no agenda behind his practice, no forcing, no expectations or haughty ambitions. Vincen knows that photography will not drastically change people’s lives, but he understands that “While we collaborate, we invent ourselves,” as said by German journalist and writer Mark Terkessidis. Therefore, giving these people the chance to experience moments of joy, to see themselves to be included in the telling of a story – notably their own story, and, most importantly, to be heard will not fail to instill even a small thought about themselves and who they can be.
Read my interview with Vincen Beeckman below, who shares his observations, challenges, and enjoyments of creating Birds of a Feather.
How was Birds of a Feather born?
The project began one and a half years ago and it’s realized with OpStap, an organization that helps people with drug addictions and people in recovery. They knew about my method of working with communities and other people in different ways, so they asked if I could try to create something with their community. At the beginning, we didn’t have a clear idea about the final product, but we were open to begin and see where the project would go.
I began by making a lot of photographs; I would meet them once a week at the OpStap center, and at some points I would also meet with the people alone outside. There were some moments and days where we’d go on the beach with the group, or sometimes be in nature in the south of Belgium. The idea was to organize workshops where everybody could be included in the project in different ways: some would make pictures, some would be in the picture themself if they wanted, some would make drawings, and others would make texts, and we’d try to compose a chronology about all of these meetings in different ways.
We didn’t want to take pictures when they were feeling very bad or in difficult situations, for instance when they used a drug or were ill. That would have produced a kind of image that you would have seen so many times. We tried to document something more like everyday life; we knew it was difficult, as all they can do is express about the past, or about moments that were not easy for them, or how they could try to recover in a way.