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My Brussels: Photographer Eric Danhier has a unique view of the capital

21:23 19/12/2018
Eric Danhier on photographing the city - and how the capital of Europe is really a village

Next time you attend a major event in Brussels, the chances are Eric Danhier will be there too. Born and bred in the capital, the 36-year-old is the official photographer for the City of Brussels and regional tourism body Visit Brussels, snapping everything from the Christmas market to the Ommegang. He times his holidays around the city’s cultural agenda and his new book, Best of Brussels, brings together some of his favourite shots of city life.

Where did your love of photography come from?

I had a student job in a gardening company, but our family was going through a rough period and that led me to completely rethink what I wanted to do with my life. My father and grandfather both enjoyed photography as a hobby, mostly travel and wildlife photos. I had a good basis and understanding of all things visual, I had focused on art in secondary school, so it seemed the right path to follow. After studying, I did an apprenticeship and worked for a press agency and in advertising.

Tell us a bit about your career

During my studies I did a photo project on Charleroi, which I find fascinating as a town. The City of Brussels discovered my work and found it very interesting. They and Visit Brussels are now my two main clients. I cover their events and take photos for their brochures and magazines. I also cover institutional events for ULB university.

I photograph so many events in Brussels that I only take my holidays in October/November and around mid-February, when I can leave the city without missing anything major. The Flower Carpet is probably my favourite: it’s always very interesting, it attracts so many people, and the fact it’s only there for a few days every two years adds to its charm.

What challenges does the job bring?

Photography requires patience, but that’s normal. Waiting is part of the job. From the very beginning, you know you’ll have to wait for the right moment, for the right politician to walk past. For me, the most complicated challenge is putting the photography to one side and living day-to-day life without photos. Whether you’re at home or on holiday, you always have some sort of camera with you, even if it’s just a mobile phone. It’s very hard at times to separate yourself from the photography. Friends invite me out to events and they’re sometimes disappointed when I turn up without a camera.

My work involves putting Brussels on a stage, showing what it has to offer, but it’s not always beautiful. The City of Brussels might send me to take a photo of a road in a particular neighbourhood for the city’s magazine and I’ll get there and think: how am I going to do this? I like things a bit raw: I’m not going to hide away the rubbish bins. I photograph what I see in front of me. In my book you’ll see photos of Brussels in the rain. Bad moments and bad weather are a fact of life.

What does Brussels mean to you?

For me, Brussels is a village – albeit a village with 180 different nationalities. Whether you’re in Woluwe, Anderlecht or Uccle, you always find yourself bumping into someone you know, or you come across a place with memories attached to it. That’s what I love about the city. I think I know Brussels like the back of my hand – even the shortcuts to avoid traffic jams.

Brussels is a living, breathing city. It changes, moves, evolves all the time, with new buildings popping up, new street art. And despite its international side, Brussels remains Brussels. I’ve visited lots of cities, but this place is incredible. I love working here and I don’t want to stop what I’m doing.

Eric's best of Brussels

City Hall spire
When I’m taking photos from up here, you feel like an eagle looking down on the centre of Brussels. But it’s not so much what you can see, it’s what you hear: the people talking on the Grand’Place below, the everyday noises of the neighbouring streets.

Mont des Arts
Everyone stops here for a photo. I think I could spend a whole day here, just taking photos of people taking photos. And I’ve spent hours here looking for the perfect sunset.

I love meat and this brasserie in Saint-Gilles has it all. It attracts everyone from tourists and Eurocrats to Brussels’ trendy types.

Old fish market
The area next to Sainte-Catherine has really developed over the past few years. When the sun is out, you see people dipping their feet in the water, enjoying an apéro on one of the cafe terraces.

Laeken cemetery
It’s like Brussels’ Père-Lachaise, though without so many celebrities buried there. I find all the monuments incredible. It’s the history of Brussels in one place, so many people’s stories. I think more could be done to promote and enhance it.

Photo: Mathieu Golinvaux. Best of Brussels by Eric Danhier is out now, published by Editions Racine

Written by Paul McNally