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NAKED AMBITION. Yves De Brabander

by Kit Bond - 2007


It's hard to pinpoint exactly when Belgian photographer Yves De Brabander entered the world stage. Maybe it was in 2002, when he founded Photoaddict as a platform for his growing works. Maybe it was in 2006, when he was featured in publisher Bruno Gmunder's compendium Visions -Contemporary Male Photography, alongside the likes of Christopher Makos, Steven Underwood and Bruce LaBruce. or maybe... and please indulge us here... it was in mid 2007, when he was featured in issue 1 of GAE. We had a chance to talk to Yves remotely, from his Antwerp apartment. He let us know his thoughts on school, men, handjobs and the inevitable fame and fortune coming his way.

So let's step back a few years. What made you pick yourself up and move to Antwerp from your home town?

I first came here to study. Antwerp is one of the most interesting places in Belgium, that's why I didn't opt for the art academies in Brussels or Ghent... Antwerp had fascinated me for years; it's like the cultural epicentre of this country, the beating heart for arts, photography, design and fashion.

Do you feel that traditional schooling and formal art education was vital to your success as a photographer? Or is that incidental to what you've achieved?

Hmmm... tricky one. I won't deny that I have learned a lot about all the techniques you need, to make a good shot: lighting techniques, composition and color psychology, but the four years also included optics, chemistry, denistometry, geometry, generally stuff I have never needed since.

Nevertheless i graduated cum laude even though not all professors liked my work back then... Sexist remarks like "are you doing boys again?" or "pick a woman next time", "please put some clothes on the guy, do we really need to see his cokc and balls?"... Got them all the time.

You have a sizable collection of commercial works... for the likes of Sensoa's Bend and your work for Popi Café... plus work that is simply made for apparent artistic expression. How do you retain an artistic drive when doing these commercial works?

I think those companies just chose me because they want some artistic flavor in their campaigns. Some years ago I shot campaigns via agencies but I only had to push the camerabutton, everything was pre-arranged by them. I didn't have any input at all. I was relieved one day I could get back to them and say "sorry but won't do your next campaigns anymore."

When I work for Sensoa and Popi Café I get carte blanche and I prefer this way of working... The first Sensoa STD-prevention campaign was about oral sex. I chose to shoot four open mouths and they liked it so much they kept asking me...

For the launch of their Mannenseks ("mansex") website I shot only the legs of a group of swimmers showering and the bottoms of a plumber repairing a sink. It was obvious what i wanted to achieve with these shots (smiles).

Yes, it's pretty clear from your work that you appreciate the human male. You have done fashion photography and musicians and travel photography... but the male body seems to be something you come back to again and again. What besides a sex drive... draws you to the male form?

What else is there, besides a sex drive? (laughs)

Nah, it's just a matter of interest, attraction... I only shoot what I find interesting... I like to travel, I like different cultures so I shoot foreign places. I love music so I shoot concerts, parties and my idols... I love men - in several ways - so I shoot them.

And sometimes I try to combine these... Last year in Norway I made a series of nudes with my boyfriend in those wide open landscapes; I liked them a lot but had to remove them from my website after we broke up. The "males" section of my website is the most visited one... People rarely check out my travel reports (laughs)

And of these, you've done some very intimate and also somewhat explicit works. Is there some obvious line your see where the explicit works become less art and more pornography? Or do you think you can be as explicit as you want and still enjoy the comfort and dignity of the word "art"?

Aw... Well that's one of the oldest discussions in nude photography. For me it has everything to do with how your put the action in the picture... Absolutely everything is possible but the difference is where you put the attention. I have shot cocks, erections, hard action, guys fucking and guys giving head but I don't see any of those pictures as pornography. It's really a matter of how the observer sees it. You can look at the picture as a whole and appreciate the composition, the lights, the story it wants to tell, or you can focus on the action or single out only the model. It's like a foot fetishist, they would only look at that specific part of the model in the picture I guess... In my living room I have a picture by the great American snapshot photographer Larry Clark. It shows the image of a young firl giving her boyfriend a hand job, while he's touching her intimately. For some of my friends and family it's straight pornography for me it's a great piece of art...

Now in 2006 you were featured in an impressive collection, the "Visions" compendium of modern male photography. I mean, here you are amongst the greatest names in the 20th and early 21st century photographers of the male form. How did you come to be a part of the collection?

First of all I am very proud to be in the Visions anthology! My works published amongst names as Bruce LaBruce... I remember buying a VHS of his movie No Skin Off My Ass back in 1999... And now seven years later my works are in the same compendium... just crazy!

Bruno Gmünder (the publisher in Berlin) had already contacted me in 2004, to express their interest in my photography, but a whole book wasnrt possible as my models don't look "American" enough and that's what they needed for the big oversees market.

And I can imagine this really opened doors for you. Have you had new experiences come about directly from the work in Visions?

Mostly indirectly, I guess. More people know my name and works now. Since the Anthology the hits on my webside did increase. In Belgium there were only one or two shops selling the book, nevertheless I got some attention by the Belgian press who were proud because I was the only Belgian photographer in there. And via that press attention I got some extra assignments. Outside Belgium mainly magazines in the US, France and Germany are contacting me to have my works published.

So what's next for you? Where does the Photoaddict go next?

I'm working on two projects for the moment. Some of the shoots from the first project will be published here in GAE magazine. The second project will be something completely different. Together with an artist i'm planning to re-invent Greek mythology and early Christian figures. But I can't reveal more at this time.

Do you ever see yourself someday putting down the camera, taking your massive royalty checks and just chilling out for the rest of your years? Or is this a lifetime love?

I'm afraid those massive royalty checks will only start arriving after I'm long dead and pushing up the daisies. Someday, maybe somehow somewhere...

selfportrait in antwerp studio
Selfportrait in Antwerp studio. 2020
at work in antwerp studio
At work in Antwerp studio. 2020