Tag Archives: Brussels

DAKAR: a photo-essay by Helmut Tezak

Amnesty International has warned us earlier this week that populist politicians are busy creating a hostile climate for refugees and migrants. “Toxic political agendas are dehumanizing and scapegoating entire groups of people.” Of course, most politicians still pay attention not to cross any red line of overt racism or hate speech but their underlying messages (even from those in government positions) are easily decoded as well: ” Migrants (especially Muslims and Africans) have different norms which they have to throw away if they want to become ‘one of us’. There are too many migrants around anyway. And we will shoot from the hip at those who tell you something else.”






© Helmut Tezak

With their persistent tweets and declarations they are all the time trying to infuse our mindset and to drive a wedge between “us” and “them”.

In the light of all this, I have taken an older photobook from the shelves that is investigating how “our” perceptions of “them” are built and how we live by our anticipations. It’s one of these rare pearls that would have been forgotten by the wheels of time, were it not saved from the yellow bag by one of my favourite antiquarian booksellers in town.



© Helmut Tezak

DAKAR by Mr. Helmut Tezak (born in 1948) was published in 1983 with Camera Austria and has the ambition to shed a light “on the ordinary day-to-day life of the inhabitants of an African city.”  And, good to know, the African city, does not refer here solely to the Senegalese capital or to some remote spots on the African countryside. It also refers to the African quarters of Paris and Brussels. It refers to all the different realities that build the contemporary African city!


© Helmut Tezak

Mr Tezak has dedicated DAKAR to the Senegalese ethnologist and film director, Mrs Safi Faye who is still admired today for her poetic and realistic reports from Africa in the 70’ies and 80’ies. This dedication sets the tone. We don’t have to look for evidence of an aestheticizing or idiosyncratic style. The work is old-school humanist (street)photography.





© Helmut Tezak

Following the photographer’s footsteps we can have a rest from the heath in a dusty village, we can have a funny chat with a class of children under a tree or we can connect to the energy in metropolitan Belleville (Paris). But we can also take a breath and a pensive look at the Atlantic Ocean. The images are gritty and the realities they depict are tough.



© Helmut Tezak

But, through the eyes of Mr. Tezak life is never miserable. It is as if the photographer is trying to show that comfort can be provided as well by the warm and natural contact people maintain with each other.  It’s very much about maintaining the humanist standards and not accepting the spiteful, negative and divisive ones of populists or hidden populists! Mr. Tezak’s final words to the book, where he is looking back on the intense two years period that he needed to produce it, are a reminder: “Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s fucking great to be alive!

Mr. Tezak’s photographs are unmistakably also meant to illustrate well-defined and highly theoretical reflections. He describes his book as a “photo-essay about masks, roles, behaviour and anticipation“. There is an “explanatory afterword” where he is presenting the reader with a number of concepts from domains like semiotics, sociology and culture studies. Roland Barthes’ famous texts on contemporary mythologies are mentioned (among other authors), implying that the book is meant to reflect on the myths that we – white Westerners- are imposing through the channels of publicity, television and press on the inhabitants of the African city.



© Helmut Tezak

And on page 26, in the middle of the sequence of images, we find the following quote by Paul Parin: “The attribution of roles to others is one of the most important, perhaps the most important, instrument by which relationships in society are operating; by which relationships are maintained or changed; by which people are manipulated.”

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© Helmut Tezak

Throughout the book we also find a story line with enigmatic interactions between parents and their children. It takes the scope on a higher level. DAKAR is also a reflection about interactions between the strong and the weak. It’s about learning to listen to the messages of the weak as well.


© Helmut Tezak

And then there is this spread with Accatone and Antigone. Is Mr Tezak suggesting that one has to be born with the genes of these two gorgeous European rebels in order to really resist the agendas of the strong and powerful? In order to engage in a genuine and regular interaction with the weak ones (including the new migrants who came to live around the corner)?



© Helmut Tezak

The other day, I found a curious quote tagged on a P.O. Box in my street “the ruling norms are too narrow to imagine our realities“.  And when I am looking now at the photographs Tezak has made in Brussels, I remember again, why I adore this place which the US President elegantly described as a hell hole. There are so many different realities. It’s still so unpolished. The ruling norms are questioned all the time. The city is a constant invitation to defy the political agenda! I am not Accatone but I am happy to have read this book. And, it’s f*cking great to be alive!

Thank you very much for your photo-essay, Mr. Tezak!
































Where are we now? In barespagnol by Pablo Casino!

Valencia based photographer Pablo Casino went in 2013 to Brussels to document the local community of retired migrants from Spain.  In 2016 he self-published this work in the form of a small but solid photobook and judging by its title, he does not let us doubt about where the community’s heart is beating. It is beating in the “barespagnol“.


© Pablo Casino

The spiral binding of the book invites us to go through the pages over and over, allowing us to recognize here and there a guy that is shown more than once, allowing us to acquaint ourselves too with the particularities of this Spanish microcosm in Belgium’s only big city.


© Pablo Casino

We immediately get the feeling that the heart of the community is beating rather slowly today. The book is showing us a number of businesses that are completely worn-out: the walls have never been repainted, letters on the façade have come down, curtains are not opened any more in the morning.


© Pablo Casino

It is made clear that the dough is not to be found in these pubs, has never been there. But it is also clear that there is something else and that is what Mr. Casino ‘s book is about! Barespagnol is about regulars sitting at their personal table and eating whatever traditional dish the owner’s lady will serve them (again). It is about living this special condition of being an émigré, a condition where “when I go home” or “when I was a child” have unfathomable meanings to the outsider. And it is about living this special condition – silently-  together with only those who can understand: the compañeros, the community.


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© Pablo Casino

During the fifties and sixties of the last century, more than 30.000 Spaniards had embarked on trains that would bring them from the hilly, chilly and wet Spanish province of Asturias to the Brussels railway station “Gare du Midi“, that legendary terminus for so many migrants from the South.


© Pablo Casino

Some of the Asturians were young peasants, who were made (economically speaking) redundant by the introduction of agricultural machinery; others were merely on the run for the Franco authoritarianism. For the Belgian mining consortiums, this distinction did not really matter: as long as they were happy to risk their lives underground.

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© Pablo Casino

After Franco’s death (1975), many Spaniards took the train back home, implying that they had been real refugees. But many others opted to continue their tough job in the mines to support their children born in Belgium.

And how are they doing now, after they have since long reached the age of retirement? Barespagnol sheds a light on a section of society that has never been put in the spotlight. And it is to be feared that many of these ex-workers quiet literally, have bitten the dust. They seem to be as worn-out as the sidreria‘s where they spend the day (the metonymy of the worn-out pub works perfectly), sometimes alone or waiting for a friend who might come by.


© Pablo Casino

They are sitting in the “Picos de Europa” close to the same Gare du Midi where they have arrived half a century ago. It’s ten in the morning and they order a first cerveza. They take a first sip from it and they enjoy the alleviating effect in the mind. They can start a new day trying to remember what they are trying to forget. They know that far away from Brussels, in the hilly and chilly Picos de Europa of Asturias, “their old world has rapidly changed, the losers have eventually won, the past order has ultimately faded, the slow ones have become fast.”

But don’t let me be misunderstood. The fellows that we are seeing don’t seem to be broken or unhappy at all. Throughout the book, you can feel the warm bond that they share with each other; that bond that helps them to protect a kind of happiness deep down inside against all those who are indifferent to their merits and plight.

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© Pablo Casino

The narrative of the book also consists of some really beautiful and well chosen excerpts from literary texts by Julián Ayesta, Julia Faure and Ángel Álvarez. The last excerpt for instance is gradually growing on you while you are turning the pages.  It’s an observation about the color of the smoke that is changing according to the sunlight. Until the moment of its disappearance. Again the image is working perfectly. It reminds us of that one certainty we all share in the big city (foreigners and locals alike) and it allows us to read Barespagnol as a powerful memento mori. And isn’t it that a quality shared by all great works of photography?


© Pablo Casino


Thank you very much, Mr. Casino!