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ONCE UPON A TIME

A road trip through the postindustrial heart of Western Europe

 

When we traveled abroad by car, my father usually took the "route du soleil" via Liège. Just across the border, the landscape along the Meuse turned into a gray industrial wasteland that was as awesome as it was mysterious.   That was the moment for my mother to hermetically seal the car, to keep the smoke and especially the smells out. The holiday feeling only came when we had reached the Ardennes.

 

After I graduated I came to live in Maastricht. What I did  not know is that Maastricht was the first real industrial city in the Netherlands in the nineteenth century. Its impor-tance grew in the footstep of the Walloon cities. Wallonia even became the third largest economic power in the world, after the United States and Great Britain.

 

When I discovered my "industrial backyard" at the end of 2015, I became fascinated by the size and grandeur of the complexes in Seraing, Genk, Beringen, Charleroi, Mons and Bergen. Work in the mines, steel and construction companies attracted workers from Flanders to Eastern Europe, Italy and the Maghreb. Iron ore and coal were mined. Machines, ships, locomotives and railway tracks were first produced on a large scale here.

 

Unlike in Maastricht, the industrial past in Wallonia is still clearly visible in the landscape. The dilapidated factories, broken roads, gray houses and the birch trees overgrown mining mountains are the backdrop to a poor region of uncomfortable cinematic beauty.

 

Yet it is not primarily the aesthetics of decay that I want to document. Driving through these raw, unpolished urban landscapes, I often hit the brakes because I saw some-thing in the corner of my eye that seems so unusual to me that I have to take a picture of it. This is often a 'human' detail in the surreal, post-industrial decor, adding a color-ful, contrasting or poetic element to the environment.

 

What I closed my eyes to as a teenager in the family car,   I bonded with it during my voyages of discovery. As a photographer I have come to feel more and more familiar with the urban rawness, the chaotic landscape and the characteristic residents in my region next door. It is a pity that I have found so little of the atmosphere from the Limburg industrial era in my immediate living environ-ment. But indirectly, the photos in ‘Once upon a time’     are also an ode to this piece of forgotten history of the Netherlands.

Photographs from this series were published in Dodho Magazine (august 2016) and exposed at Centre Ceramique Maastricht (10 sept – 15 oktober 2017) and in the Dutch Photomuseum Rotterdam (10 - 13 may 2018).