Brussels through the lense of Sébastien Nagy

Young Brussels photographer Sébastien Nagy shows his first exposition in Destelheide. The pictures that he makes of our capital from high altitudes not only astonish because of the dangerous situations to which he needs to expose himself for them but just as much because of the beautiful vistas that he unveils with his camera. Visit his exposition in Destelheide and you will discover Brussels like you've never seen it before!

We meet Sébastien Nagy in a Brussels café. In a short time, this young photographer has made a name for himself and we firmly believe that he has a bright future ahead of him. Not only did TV Brussels last year make a television report on him, later this year a first book about him will be introduced and this spring he also has his first exposition ... in Destelheide!

Hi Sébastien. How would describe your style of photography?

Sébastien Nagy: “A considerable part of my work involves roof topping, that is a term that means as much as “taking photographs from high roofs”.  It is part of the broader art movement Urbex, which stands for urban exploration. Everywhere in the city I see opportunities for taking pictures: on high buildings, on derelict sites, in places where nobody else comes... This way, I’ve already uncovered a considerable part of the Brussels landscape.

"What I do is not unique – there are a few other photographers active in this field – but it is certainly a niche in our country. On an international scale, a lot more of this is going on of course, roof top photographers in Paris or New York have a large following here.”

“Sometimes, novice photographers ask me if they may come along with me because they want to discover new locations. Mostly, I refuse. In what I do, looking for special places is at least equally important as the actual photographing itself and I don’t like to unveil my secrets. On the other hand, when I see work from other Brussels roof top photographers, usually I can say quite accurately where they made their picture.”

What do you find so special about Brussels?

"I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with Brussels. Besides, I do not take photographs in our capital alone. Recently, I was in Paris and Copenhagen to take pictures and in 2016 I plan to visit another big city every month. It is more the ‘urban environment’ that fascinates me. I love high buildings, impressive architecture, geometric shapes... it is with good reason that the Brussels North area is my favourite place to take pictures. It is one of the rare places with real high-rise blocks, a bit of a miniature Manhattan. When the sun shines so beautifully on all those glass skyscrapers, the reflections are truly magnificent.”

“Anyway, light is very important for me. I always wait for the right time of the day to take my pictures. Sometimes, you also need a bit of luck of course. For instance, on one of my pictures you can see how one side of the city is still sunny whereas on the other side a big thunder cloud has appeared and it is already raining. Or take the one time I could take photographs from the roof of the Basilica of Koekelberg when – right at that moment – a beautiful rainbow appeared.”

Do you see an evolution in your pictures?

"Absolutely. Photography is still relatively new to me. I take major steps forward every month. Meanwhile, I also explore new horizons. I am, for instance, quite satisfied with some of the pictures that I took during the riots at the end of the large demonstration in Brussels. The smoke on the pictures make the results very intriguing, almost like paintings really. So there are lots of different themes in my photography but in the exposition in Destelheide I didn’t want to present a mishmash. I therefore decided – together with scenographer Pieter Huybrechts – to focus on the roof top photographs of Brussels.”

Is it dangerous what you do? Do you always ask for permission or do you operate surreptitiously?

“On the roof of the Basilica of Koekelberg, I took photographs during a public tour, but most of the time I have to work illegally because I would not get permission otherwise. I’ve come across some guards a couple of times but when you explain what you are doing, that you have no bad intentions and only want to take pictures, they usually say it is okay and don’t send their dogs after you (laughs).”

“Once, I had a confrontation with the police. I wanted to photograph the new tunnels at the station of Brussels National Airport and secretly went into such a railway tunnel, but of course it is packed with cameras there, so after a couple of metres I already heard the police screaming at me. To keep on hiding was too dangerous, so I went back. In the end, I was questioned by court but even there the atmosphere was very relaxed, we even looked together at the pictures on my camera that I had taken in the tunnel (laughs). Before long, though, I will know which fine I will have to pay.”

“For me, my way of working is not about taking the biggest risks or about bringing myself into danger. Nowadays, you see many irresponsible daredevils who, for instance, walk on dangerous ledges of cranes to get as many online likes as possible. Listen, when I am on an apartment block and my feet are dangling over the edge to take pictures, what you can’t see on the actual picture is that there is someone sitting behind me who is holding me by my waist. Also the photograph on which it seems I’m throwing my iPhone over the edge, is not as tough as it seems: in fact, it is a combination of two different images that have been placed over one another, so my iPhone was at no time in danger (laughs).”

Filip Tielens

EXPOSITION SEBASTIEN NAGY

When? February till June 2016

Where? Entrance hall Destelheide

Opening? Wednesday evening, 17 February 2016, at 7.30 pm. Everyone is welcome.

You'll find more photos on the Instagram-account of Sébastien Nagy!

This exposition fits in the Brussels programme of Destelheide.