Interview by Michela Coslovich
All images © Lucas Leffler
On the occasion of the 24th edition of Paris Photo, we had the pleasure to interview Lucas Leffler about his project Zilverbeek, that will be exhibited for the duration of the festival. A work inspired by the alchemical nature of photography and visually replaying the myth of Grensbeek (Border Creek) that separated the Belgian municipalities of Berchem and Mortsel.
Lucas Leffler (Virton, 1993) is a photographer and visual artist that currently lives and works in Brussels.
Graduated in photography from HELB in Brussels and with a Master’s degree from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Ghent, he exhibited in 2021 at Galerie Intervalle in Paris, at Biennale de l’Image Tangible and at FOMU in Antwerp. His poetry focuses on experimentation, analyzing the more technical aspects of photography and their realization. His attention is focused on the material component of the elements he analyzes, organic or inorganic, and on their symbolic representation.
Michela Coslovich (MC): Hi Lucas, welcome to Pellicola. Could you introduce yourself and tell what your first approach to photography was?
Lucas Leffler (LL): Hi Michela, thank you. My name is Lucas Leffler, I am a Belgian photographer who works and lives in Brussels (BE).
The technical aspect of photography is what drew me into it, much more than its expressive potential. While studying photography I quickly started to stage images in order to create stories. With time the technical interest I had for this medium shaped my work into an experimental practice. I like to question how we can interfere in the making of the photographic image.
(MC): Let’s talk about your visual language: your projects are often a hybrid between photography, sculpture and installation. Where does this artistic modality come from?
(LL): I feel eclectic in my practice and I am interested in many artistic forms besides photography, like sculpture and installation. I am interested in materials, their properties and meanings. This is probably the reason why I am working a lot on the shapes the photo-object can have rather than on the strict content of the image.
Also, in general it is important to me to develop a singular visual language which will evolve with the time. I could not imagine giving the same shapes to my projects with the time.
(MC): Your project Zilverbeek, presented at Paris Photo 2021, starts with the discovery of a historical article from the 1930s. Can you tell us how this work was born and how it developed?
(LL): It dates back from 2017 while I was doing research on Belgian photography factory “Agfa-Gevaert”. I had access to the historical archive of the company and I was fascinated by the technical production of the silver gelatine emulsion. I was also interested in silver recovery techniques used by industry to get back the metals from old used fixers.
There I found an article explaining the story of this creek, in which Gevaert used to dispose wastewater. These waters were silver-containing and a strange chemical reaction made the metal go within the sludge of the creek. Between 1920 and 1950 a worker at Gevaert made a business in filtering silver from these muds. He earned enough money to quit his job at the factory and run this business for thirty years.
When I think about a mud which contains silver-element I speculate on the possible idea that we can use it to print an image on it. However, this idea is actually not possible because this creek is not polluted anymore today. I thought this idea of using the mud from the creek to materialize images of the creek itself was a poetic way to reactivate this past story of pollution. In order to make it possible I add silver-gelatine product in the mud to make it photosensitive.
I started this research with a documentary approach, which took the form of a publication launched in 2019 Zilverbeek (Silver Creek), The Eriskay Connection 2019) and then I gave it a much more experimental dimension with my experiments on mud and steel. This project became a base for a set of experimentations.
(MC): Do you also consider this work as a performative modality?
(LL): The work has a performative aspect in the sense that I re-enact what has been made in the past. As I get back to this place to take mud today, I am playing this story again. I am quoting the words of Yuna Mathieu-Chovet who wrote about this aspect of my work.
“Lucas Leffler’s performative practice of re-enactment questions history and its writing. It is not the issue of remaking history or of repeating it, but rather of replaying for the present events or experiments that have been understated, sometimes ignored by history. Therefore he participates in the contemporary principle of historical reassessment in questioning the values that underlie it.”
(MC): Another work that starts from the analysis of sources is Crescent. Is the approach always the same?
(LL): Crescent is a speculative investigation on the scientific and esoteric significance of the silver element. It takes it as a base to explore all kinds of narratives linked to it. The approach is quite similar in the way it is for me a pretext to experiment around it and to tell stories. However, the project is more open to many stories rather than Zilverbeek which focus on these facts that happened in Antwerp during the last century.
I see this project as a second chapter to my fascination for silver and photography’s processes, and it comes in the continuity of Zilverbeek. But these both works aim to reveal this bivalent nature of the photographic process, somewhere between science and magic.
(MC): Which are the issues you prefer to address within your works?
(LL): I feel concerned with issues linked to the image today. Every three minutes we take as many photographs as the whole image production made during the 19th century. This dematerialization shaped the way we use and produce images which seem now impermanent, continuously replaced by another.
On the contrary, my work takes position today by giving a physicality and a permanency to the image.
(MC): What’s in your artistic future?
(LL): The last few years have been very focused on artwork production for me. Now I feel the coming year will be more into making research on new works.
The Crescent project is still in the making, and I would like to make it a publication soon. Also, I am still producing works with mud and steel to finish the edition for Zilverbeek series as it is something which requires a lot of time.
(MC): Thank you Lucas for sharing your time and words with us!
(LL):With great pleasure!