One must hasten to photograph man, for he is not immortal
Is film photography anachronistic? Even more so for photojournalism ?
Thomas de Wouters uses it for this very purpose, a Nikon FM3A modified 24x24mm on each shoulder, camera lenses 35mm and 105mm. Never a telephoto lens but a fixed focal length and proximity with his subject in order to obtain a social photographic writing, with full diaphragm aperture and short focus.
At the age of 24, he leaves for a worldwide trip of almost two years non-stop, he thus learns to have a dialogue with the people he meets through the lens of his Nikon. For him it is another way of speaking man’s language, by picturing his daily life.
In 1996, a planned UN mission in Mali fails to take place, so finally he remains in his country, marries and has four children, thus becoming head of a family and head of his own company.
Almost fifteen years later, a trip to Lebanon faces him with the reality of his instinct and leads him once again, inevitably, to apprehend the world around him by means of his camera. It is with his Hasselblad, bought in the meantime, that follow on, one after another, films of his trips to Algeria and to Morocco, together with those taken in Brussels and Paris during mass demonstrations or protesters’ meetings, or during simple street scenes. From his trip to Cuba in 2013, he brings back a photo-report filmed with a Nikon FM3A, as always looking out for the “hazard objective” focused on the human person.
However, it is mainly Maïdan’s revolutionary engagement, in February 2014, which leads him to his first real reportage, a first step towards professionalism of his work, where he will live in the tent of these anonymous heroes. With his two Nikons around his neck, he brings back a testimony of Ukrainian life jammed between different social ideals where Berkouts and Revolutionary forces face each other on either side of human and political barricades. A publication and three exhibitions of this work will be organized between April and September 2014, in Genval, Brussels and Paris.
In September of the same year, at the VISA festival in Perpignan, Thomas de Wouters discovers the professional world of photojournalism. His meeting with the Magnum Agency and with the big international names in photography, as also the sudden and unexpected displaying of five of his prints on Maïdan, reinforced the obviousness of his photographic choice: the street is captured in its brilliant or destructive truth, man is seized in his everyday life, offered gross to public look, for what he is without frills added, without touching up or cropping, this man “of the street” who constructs Thomas de Wouters’ reports in his admitted assurance of his photographic look devoid of any interpretation of the surrounding world.
While a second trip to Ukraine comes to his mind a serious brain operation in January 2015 stops his preparing of “The Forgotten” report, a report which he finally makes later on, in April, at Luhansk, not far from the Russian border. Realizing that life could be short, he decides, alongside his company, to devote more of his time to his photographic work. Here the photographer’s look has become more refined, making evidently even clearer his frank and direct shooting. The sincerity of his photographic commitment finds its echo in the truth of the emotion captured in the shots, which show the hardness of life yet with a respectful sensibility for these men and women well-drawn in front of his two lenses. The instantaneousness of the picture plunges the public into the reality of the social outcasts of the Ukrainian system, families doomed by the conflict to manage as they can, mad people even more uneasy than before, orphans without a future and elderly people without appeasement in their old age. Sometimes showing unbearable misery and ruin, Thomas de Wouters’ shots bear witness of life in distress forgotten in the West, which no other journalist has brought to us.
Awarded at the VISA Festival 2015, where five of his shots are once again exposed as “Coups de Coeur” of the ANI, “The Forgotten” seduces the New York Times which devotes an article in its Lens Blog edition dated 23rd of September. One of the photos is also displayed within the framework of the collective exhibition organized by the Fournier-Majoie Foundation at the Bozar of Brussels in October of this same year, together with Magnum photographers Max Pinckers and John Vinck.
In 2016 a personal exhibition is organized by the Devillez gallery in Brussels, while the third report of Thomas, a trilogy on migration conducted between December 2015 and April 2016, is published by the Washington Post and Dysturb. The British magazine Life Force asks him again to publish. A new photography festival opens in Brussels: Thomas is selected to take part at the inaugural festival organized by Hangar H18 alongside works of Sebastião Salgado and Patrick Zachman.
Thomas realized in 2017 in DRC a new work called “New Congo” which is published in the New York Times. A large exhibition takes place at the Korean Cultural Center.
In 2018 "New Congo" is published by the Tages Anzeiger in Switzerland, 9Lives and many others. This work is also presented to VISA Perpignan and Bozar Brussels in September and get two exhibitions in Flanders and a solo exhibition in Paris. In October Thomas takes part at a large exhibition on migration at Musee L.
That same year a recurrence of his brain tumor is announced. The energy and strength are lacking to undertake new reporting. Thomas focuses on his reconstruction and new publications of his latest work (Le Courrier International, Reporters without Borders, Eye of Photography, 9Lives, Les Echos, Gentlemen).
2020, after nearly 3 years he takes his camera back during confinement. A new work called "Intimate" on the relationship our society does have with death.
Today, Middle-east issues question him, watermarked with his work on migration in 2015 and 2016. His last work ‘Lebanon, despite hopelessness…” doesn’t provide answers, just a glimpse of humanity in the lives of his subjects.