Peace and tranquility – surprisingly enough these can easily be the first two words one would describe with the photos published on the urbex photography profile @suspiciousminds. I had the pleasure to meet the multiple award-winning photographer, Reginald Van de Velde, the person behind these exceptional photos. Besides finding out more about his work, I asked him to recommend a few concrete spots in Brussels and around Belgium to visit for the WeLoveBrussels community.
It was a sunny Sunday when I met Reginald in Ghent. The place he recommended for lunch was a true art deco gem, a brasserie that has seen a lot through the last century, well tucked away from the tourists’ eyes. As we entered, one of the personnel was peeling and cutting potatoes on the spot – imagine those French fries that accompanied the delicious carbonnade flamande!
– Urbex stands for ‘Urban Exploration’. Let’s start with the most obvious question: how did you start setting off into this hidden world?
– In the late 2000s, Belgium was a heaven of urbex scenes. Photographers from all over arrived to take pictures of abandoned buildings and castles. As for me, abandoned buildings started intriguing me from a very early age. With some of my childhood friends, we would venture inside an abandoned castle that became our true fortress, a world within a world. When I started turning more seriously towards photography, the subject came naturally. I love the atmosphere of abandoned places, where time has a different meaning. Secret little closed-off worlds, where I can find solitude and peace.
Nowadays I travel to discover new abandoned scenes and places around the world. Every journey of mine is preceded by meticulous planning and research. As for planning, I try to include several destinations in a trip within one region or a country. As for research, it depends on the season for example how photogenic a spot would be. There are places that are more impressive while covered with snow, others that look much better covered by rank vegetation.
– How did the COVID-period effect your work as a photographer?
– I had a trip to Jordan fully organized and booked when COVID hit, so I had to cancel everything. I haven’t dared to initiate it again ever since. On the bright side, I had time to go through my archives. I can easily spend 3 or 4 hours editing a photo, so I took time for that, too. I find that by editing I can add that balance and peace that watermark my photos. During these last two years, I also invested more energy in my Instagram profile that has just reached 100K followers. If you look at it, you would see the change of seasons from the color tones of the pictures.
“Marveling upon great architecture, past grandeur: reflecting on times gone by, fabricating memories that were never mine.”(Reginald Van de Velde)
– Urbex photographers would seldomly disclose the exact location of their pictures. Why is that?
– The question of disclosing the exact location is a rather complex one. First and foremost, probably no one wants everyone else to take photos of an original sight. Finding such a place takes lots of time and energy to locate and research. Reaching them takes perseverance, audacity, sometimes a 4m high ladder. All that for a few photographs that would then feature in books, could become prints or enter competitions, exhibitions. Those are the pictures that tell a whole story. Furthermore, there is quite some responsibility related to disclosing locations. On one hand, the more people discover the place, the more endangered a place can become. Some would “decorate” them with graffiti or vandalize. In such cases non-disclosure means protection. In other cases though, disclosing such hidden gems can contribute to their preservation and protection. But that also means that these would become inaccessible for the urbex community. Overall, one always has to consider carefully and handle gently such information. This is part of the job: explorers of secret worlds.
– Last, but not least. Can you name a few places in Brussels and around Belgium that you would recommend for the members of WeLoveBrussels community to visit?
– Of course! This would be my list. Most of them used to be abandoned, but regained a new life these last few years or renovation is ongoing. I hope you will enjoy exploring!
* Aegidium (Brussels): It took me 10 years to finally see this hidden gem of Brussels from the inside. Thanks to @lesvisitesdemonvoisin, there are regular visits when one can not only find out about the history of the place, but the guide fills the spaces up with personal, human stories. Aegidium used to be a very important social hub of Saint Gilles. Currently renovation works are on their way. The majestic staircase, the ballroom and the theatre room with the 1 million diamonds ceiling are all very photogenic. Should you want to take your time in the building, book the special photo shooting sessions.
* Tour & Taxis (Brussels): This venue is a great example for those former abandoned places that have completely reborn and have become new modern hubs. Still, one can find the traces of the old train docks. Definitely worth wondering around in this huge complex that is now the venue of various activities and events throughout the year!
* The Handelsbeurs Stock Exchange (Antwerp): The Handelsbeurs is located in the historic centre of Antwerp, a 10-minute walk from Central Station It was the world’s first purpose-built commodity exchange. The building dating from the 17th century stayed abandoned until 1997. After restoration, it became a unique event hall – open to the public on weekends and for special public events.
* The old Bath House (Spa): Last year the health resort Spa in Wallonia was declared a World Heritage Site as part of a transnational serial nomination. The Great Spas represent a unique cultural phenomenon which helped to shape Europe has been given global recognition. The old Bath House that was abandoned for years will become a hotel.
* Castel van Heers (Heers): A spectacular castle on a site that looks back at a 1000 years long history! Besides a very nice walk open all year around, there are guided tours in Flemish once a month.
* De Hoorn Brewery (Leuven): Leuven is legendary for its beers. The former De Hoorn Brewery was converted into a modern co-working space. The exemplary rehabilitation of this 1923 industrial heritage pearl was recognised by the prestigious EU Prize for Cultural Heritage / Europa Nostra Award in 2016. Today one can find in De Hoorn offices for the creative economy, unique party halls and conference rooms as well as the Grand Café, where one can eat well and drink a good glass of beer.
* Kasteel Hof Ter Borght (Hulshout): One scrolling among urbex pictures in Belgium must have come across the spectacular wintergarden of this castle. Although the building, that will one day become a hotel, is not accessible at the moment, its gardens offer a perfect spot for a picnic.
For more amazing urbex photography content, follow the Instagram profile of Reginald Van de Velde @suspiciousminds.