interview

Julie Scheurweghs: 'Photography has chosen me'

On an extendable ladder under an exemplary hatch in the ceiling we hoist ourselves with photographer Julie Scheurweghs to the roof of her attic apartment, on which an improvised sun terrasse has been installed.

Who is Julie Scheurweghs?

  • Born in 1988, lives and works in Brussels
  • Obtains her Master’s degree in photography at LUCA School of Arts in Brussels in 2010
  • Has her first solo exhibition “Accidentally on purpose" in Amsterdam in 2012
  • Is preparing her solo exhibition “Birth of a Mother” in Mu.ZEE in Ostend (www.muzee.be)

At first Scheurweghs thought about trying out the nearby residential tower in the Ducpétiaux­laan/avenue Ducpétiaux, but why do that when she has a 360-degree view of the skyline, which includes the golden angels on the tower of the Town Hall of Sint-Gillis/Saint-Gilles, the basilica in Koekelberg, and the church on Hoogte Honderd/Altitude Cent?

Scheurweghs likes a view that stretches. She has lived in Brussels since she was a teenager, but originally comes from Ostend, where she still “sits with her feet in the sand” gazing across the sea and getting a breath of fresh air. “Maybe that's why in the city I like to sit up high, to feel that wind again,” says the photographer, who has nevertheless become a real city person. “Due to family expansion (Scheur­weghs had a baby two years ago, ed.) and the fact that my boyfriend and I are both avid collectors, this apartment is getting too small and we're looking into moving,” she says. “The idea that we would be forced to move outside of Brussels feels a bit sad to me.”

Covid also contributed to the idea of taking a new step. “Like a lot of people, during the lockdown we felt the limitations of an apartment in the city. I'd go crazy if I had to stay indoors all the time. I need to be on the road and do things. Fortunately, I still had my half-time job as a social worker for people with mental disabilities, which never stopped. There is always that eternal doubt whether I should become a fully independent photographer, but if I had been one a year ago, I would have suddenly run out of income. That makes you stop and think.”

Fortunately, there are also good prospects for her artistic work. “I am preparing an exhibition that will open in September in Ostend. 'Birth of a Mother' features mothers who are pregnant, mothers who are in labour, or who have just gone through labour, but is more about birth as a mother than the birth of the child. I started that series during lockdown and it has had a great impact on me. I actually wanted to photograph mothers in all sorts of circumstances, but that turned out differently because a lot of things didn't work out. I was no longer allowed to go into hospitals to photograph deliveries, so I photographed many home births."

"At the beginning of the lockdown, I also made a separate series of mothers with their baby behind the window. Becoming a mother during the lockdown was hard for many women. When you're pregnant you want everyone to see your belly and then when your baby arrives, you want to show it to the world. Instead, all new mothers had to stay home while their baby grew up quickly. My own daughter has only relied on me and her father all that time, so she is now more reserved around other people. Before she could speak, she handed us face masks to show that she wanted to go outside. I found that so sad. Just like the idea of growing up seeing only half the faces of people on the street.”

Still peering into the distance, we also see the future glowing. “Corona isn't over yet and then something will take its place. The water is up to our necks and yet we are not changing our lifestyles, so I fear that our future is less than bright. Or do I sound too pessimistic now? The best thing you can do is try to be part of the solution instead of the problem.”

Then there is still the urge to set up new projects. “Why do I take photos? I'm not asking that question. Photography has chosen me. When I was twelve I said: 'I'm going to take pictures'. Both collecting family photos discarded at Vossenmarkt/place du Jeu de Balle and other flea markets, and the photography itself I do of course to record and keep track of things, but for a photographer to say such a thing is pretty cliché.”

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