Grits/Grids & Conversations

Ines Vansteenkiste-Muylle

Ines Vansteenkiste-Muylle (1997) is born in Leuven, Belgium. She studied human sciences in high school and started her education in photography in 2015 at Luca School of Arts Brussels. Ines always wanted to be a fashion designer but eventually became a photographer who has interests in clothes, subcultures and human beings. Furthermore, she wants her work to be somewhere between art, fashion and social documentary.

Meeting people by photographing them is an important part of her work. In 2017 she made Insight, a project where she showed the beauty of a social housing area in Belgium. In 2018 she made Crossroads in springtime where she took us into the world of young girls, their environments and clothes.

Today she presents her ongoing project about a whole world that she is starting to discover. This project is a way to figure out how the family tree of her boyfriend, that lives in United States, works and how complex it is.

1. Can you tell us a bit about your background?
I grew up in a place close to Leuven, Belgium. As a child, I was or drawing or playing in the woods. I loved being creative!  When I was five I was already taking pictures of my parents on holiday. My father likes painting and is an interior architect. I guess being creative is a part of my genes.

When I was twelve, I wanted to be a fashion designer when I grew up. But I realized that sewing wasn’t something for me. I made collages out of fashion magazines and became aware of the photography in these magazines. I developed a love for photography. In high school, studying human sciences, my fascination for people grew and resulted in the documentary photography that I love doing now. When I walk around I am always on the lookout for interesting faces and interesting people.

2. Who or what inspires you?
Dana Lixenberg has been a big inspiration for me. When I started my studies in photography at Luca School Of Arts Brussels, I fell in love with analog photography. I love 4 by 5 camera’s and midformat camera’s. So when we went to see her exhibition in Huis Marseille Amsterdam, her project Imperial Courts made a big impression on me, and even more, knowing that everything was shot on a 4 by 5 camera!

I am also a big fan of Rosie Matheson and Alec Soth.

Daily life inspires me too, mostly encounters. Things that intrigue me are mostly things I don’t know yet. I love meeting people of other cultures to see what is different from what I expect. I am a person who has a lot of images in my head and I like to break these. Media sometimes give wrong information. I think it is very important to have respect for your subjects. They can feel that I have a lot of affection for them: it is hard to not love them!

3. Your constant pattern as a photographer is that you meet people by photographing them. Are they always comfortable with this method?
I am not that kind of person who throws her camera in the face of my subjects. I make sure they feel at ease first. We talk a little bit and when I feel the moment is right I start photographing. Most of my subjects are informed beforehand that I want to meet them by photographing them.

At first I was a little bit scared to ask if I could photograph people but now I realize that most of the time people like being photographed. Apparently, I have the appearance to be a trustworthy person and someone they can tell stories to. I am a very sensitive person who sees immediately if someone doesn’t feel all right. If so, I will talk to them until I am sure they feel good.

4. How do you break the invisible barrier  that exists between you and the subject?
I do care a lot about putting my subjects at ease. I don’t want them to feel ugly or insecure and tell them a lot they are beautiful. Anyhow, I believe everybody is beautiful the way they are. I start with giving instructions where to stand. If they have an own idea of a pose I am happy to photograph that way! There is always a connection through focus: me looking through my lens and they focusing on keeping their pose. It requires a lot of confidence in me to let me look at them, which I appreciate a lot.

When I make spontaneous shots, I have always been in the room with my camera in my hands for a while before I make the picture.

5. Was it the first time you travelled to United States?
When I was 18 years old I went to New York. That was a whole other experience because you see what you want to see as a tourist. In this case, we went to places where his family lives and sometimes these were areas where I wouldn’t go without Yaro, my boyfriend, and his father Kenyatta by my side. This time felt more honest though. I noticed that the American dream doesn’t exist for everyone.

6. Did you find many differences between his family  and yours?
Yes! The first thing I noticed was that my family is much more quiet and modest. Yaro’s family is very honest and head-on. Another thing that is very striking in Yaro’s family: they call everybody family or cousin. In our family it is important to know who is who. The other differences are mainly food differences I guess. I ate a lot of fried chicken with red beans in America, and if you come to a certain family member you know you are going to eat taco’s. In Belgium we have a couple typical dishes like when I went to my grand-mother we mostly ate dove and fries.

7. Do you have any anecdote you could share with us?
The second time when I travelled alone to Chicago I almost didn’t get there. I was a little bit stressed already about the passport control in America. I had only 1,5 hour to transfer in Newark. At the passport control, they always ask questions like you’re some kind of criminal. Or that is what I feel like at least. When the lady started asking questions, I realized that she wasn’t convinced about me going to America visiting my boyfriend’s family, without my boyfriend. She rolled her eyes when I explained about my photo project and put my passport in a folder that she took to a little desk. There I needed to wait with a lot of other people. I felt like a criminal even though I had nothing to hide. I sat there over an hour doing nothing and missing my transfer flight. After a while, a man just asked the same questions and let me through.

I have a lot anecdotes about uncle Lloyd too. He is such an honest person who enjoys life to the fullest even though he is 74 years old. One day, we arrived at his place and he was having a pool party. He was dancing with the girls on these nice hip hop songs. The funny thing was that these girls were scared to drown so he hung a ribbon in the pool that divided the deep part from the rest of the pool. Uncle Lloyd also likes to keep things simple: one day uncle Lloyd’s friend came in. When he saw my Hasselblad he said: “A Hasselblad is the closest thing to the human eye. Today’s technology is the closest thing to human consciousness.” Uncle Lloyd screamed: “Oh my god I am leaving here, you should have kept it simple man!!” Sometimes I think uncle Lloyd is my spirit animal.

8. If you could describe this whole experience with one word, which one would be?
Enriching. Intellectual enriching because, by looking at things from another perspective, I’ve learned so much about the American and Afro-American culture during this journey.  It was also enriching as a person and as a couple. Yaro and I grew closer to each other by understanding his family tree, I understood Yaro better too.

9. Do you see yourself doing other types of photography? Any projects in mind?
I love documentary photography so I would like to continue in this style. Of course, a photographer has to make a living  too, so I do commercial fashion photography. I am very interested in how social media gives us a wrong image of what beauty is. So I would love to do some fashion shoots with brands who are more open for models who look like real costumers and show that reality can be beautiful as well. For other projects like this, I would love to work around the multiplicity of cultures in Belgium. It interests me how people come to live here and the generations adapt to the Belgian culture but keeping their faith and habits of their original country. I can’t imagine any project starting without interest for people and the habits they create in their life.