For this unique book, photographer Servaas Van Belle scouted every corner of Belgium to find just the right kind of shed, always photographing them in the same perfect lighting conditions. And for Van Belle ‘perfect’ means in a haze of fog. Livestock shelters in meadows and fields are so common in the Belgian landscape and culture that nobody ever pays them any attention. Nonetheless, the countryside offers quite a range of architectural gems. These sheds and barns are the product of man and nature, quietly radiating a poignant if decaying beauty. They come in many shapes and sizes, are constructed from motley materials (often recycled) and exhibit a varied colour palette. Clearly showing the ravages of time, they tell wordless stories.
"A photograph of a weather-beaten shed is an allegory for our lives: we all muddle on, we try our best, we keep our wits about us, we field some blows along the way, we carry the scars, and we all die on the horizontal in the end. Humans harbour a deep longing for shelter, warmth and security. That’s what makes these wondrous little structures so human. They shine with lack, miscalculations, flaws and shabbiness."
A MASTERLY MASH-UP
It took me a while to notice it.
More than a shelter for animals I did not see.
Further than the word stable I did not look.
Overcoming banality takes time.
Fascinating colors and the most diverse structures, built from a mishmash of materials such as corrugated iron, wood scraps, garage doors, tree trunks, bricks or concrete slabs with cracks, tears, dents and bumps. Unpretentious but functional. Sometimes held up like a patchwork using moss, ivy, iron wires and rusty nails. Slowly they seem to be crumpled or stand as if rheumatism-stricken bent in the plain, panting after years of service. A whiff of wind as a shot of grace may suffice to molest these fragile compositions. Cubes, prisms, beams, pyramids and cylinders that manage to keep each other in balance just as wonderfully wait patiently.
A game of lines and planes. An accumulation of primitive forms.
Autonomous sculptures that became my prey.
I hunted for the skin of shed caterpillars and unstable skeletons, passed twisted bodies and slender structures whose layers look like tree rings. Along the side of the road I found an iconic car wreck, centenarians and execution posts. Half-digested buildings and wilted trailers alternated. Deep in the fields appeared gallows and secret ceremonial sites of some sect or poles wriggling out of the ground like a nest of worms.
Here and there only a suggestive imprint as a silent witness. A witness to what was once someone's hiding place.
For those who want to see it, it is movingly beautiful.
Out of the fog my prey slowly looms. Nothing else.
A tête-à-tête in an arena of barbed wire.
Servaas Van Belle
STAL - VERNACULAR ANIMAL SHEDS
Published by Hannibal Books
Size 24 x 32 cm / 192 pages