by Dieter Debruyne

© Sébastien Cuvelier form the series 'Eunma Town' 

Tell us about your approach to photography. How would you describe your personal research in general?

Sébastien Cuvelier (SC): I approach photography mostly through documentaries, in a broad sense. I like to show a certain reality butfrom my own perspective, to tell stories. I'm particularly attracted to topics which have a social aspect to them, a sense of community.

How did your research evolve over time? Starting from your first shots to your present oeuvre? How did your interest in photography start out?

SC: In the nineties, I started taking pictures while travelling, much like anyone I guess. Since then, I've never really been able to dissociate my photography approach from travelling. Photography has helped me in my travels as much as travels have helped me in my photography. It allowed me to talk to people more openly, to look for the unexpected, to practice patience. I took travel pictures for over 10 years before I decided to backpack through Asia for a year. When I came back in 2010, I decided to become a bit more serious about photography and started my first big project: Gypsy Queens, which became my first book three years later.

© Sébastien Cuvelier form the series 'Eunma Town'

© Sébastien Cuvelier form the series 'Eunma Town'

Tell us about your latest project 'Eunma Town'?

SC: 'Eunma Town' is a metaphor for the story of modern Korea and how the dreams of an entire nation have helped transform a country. Eunma Town is the name of an apartment complex in the heart of Seoul: 28 buildings built in 1979, when Korea was on the verge of development. It served as a magnet to attract families from the countryside who were in search of a new life in the city. Today, Korea is a major economical power but Eunma Town is still there, one of the few buildings from that era still standing. Just looking at it may make you wonder why it hasn't been demolished yet, but what is even more incredible is that it's still one of the most expensive places to live in Korea today. This is because it is situated in the education district of Seoul, where thousands of upper middle-class families want to live. Education has become an obsession in modern-day Korea. I wanted to show how the dreams of two generations of people have helped shape Korea into the country it is today.And not to mention, look at the dreams of the third generation, kids who are pressured to perform like no other kid on earth today. The common link between all of this is Eunma Town.  

© Sébastien Cuvelier form the series 'Eunma Town'

When you start a project, do you already have an idea where you’re going, or do you let yourself be guided by experimentation, by the process itself?

SC: The most important part of the process for me is the initial idea: what do I want to show and what's the scope of my project. Then the project may evolve depending on the circumstances, the people I meet, the constraints I face,... I may have to refocus on a specific partor experiment a little, so I'd say it's 50-50. I'm not a control freak and I like to wait for things to happen, but at the same time I have a quite clear idea of what I want.

What do you think about photography in the era of digital and social networking?

SC: The sheer notion of photography has evolved greatly over the past 20-30 years, it's undeniable. Everyone has a camera in their pocket now, and there's never been as many pictures taken as today. The difficulty in all of this is to make sense of these millions of images posted on social media daily, and that's why we need people like you to filter. I'm just wondering what photography will mean in a generation or two. What will be the appeal to buy a camera when you already have a pretty good camera in your smartphone? What will make kids want to publish pictures? Will video take over for good? I'd like to think that storytelling is the answer, the differentiator, something that can never be replaced and will continue to speak to people. But really, I have no clue.

© Sébastien Cuvelier form the series 'Eunma Town'

© Sébastien Cuvelier form the series 'Eunma Town'

Is there any contemporary artist or photographer, even if young and emerging, who influenced you in some way? 

SC: On a technical point of view, I've been influenced by a lot of photographers, mostly travel photographers. But all these pretty images started to really make sense to me when I discovered people like Alex Webb, Martin Parr and Alec Soth. They intrigued me and pushed me to look for more than just a pretty picture. Cinema has been a big influence too. The frames used in the Tarantino or Boyle movies are incredible, and are linked directly to storytelling, which is the essence of a movie.

Three books of photography that you recommend?

SC: In the last few years, two of my favourite books have been 'The Fourth Wall' by Max Pinckers and 'Hidden Islam' by Nicoló Degiorgis. Both were very original and very creative. Last summer in Arles, I discovered a photographer called Yann Gross who won the Dummy Book Award with 'The Jungle Book', which was already a very elaborate dummy and I think it will become a great book.

Is there any show you’ve seen recently that you find inspiring?

SC: I saw 'The Enclave' by Richard Mosse at the Fotomuseum in Antwerp at the end of 2014 and it was breathtaking. Definitely one of my favourite shows ever. More recently, I saw 'Via PanAm' from Kadir van Lohuizen at the Centre national de l'audiovisuel at Dudelange (Luxembourg), near where I live, and the installation was quite spectacular too. In both of these exhibitions, the viewer was surrounded by pictures, which really fit the theme of each work and allowed to view these images in a very different way.

Projects that you are working on now and plans for the future?

SC: Right now my main objective is to exhibit 'Eunma Town' in Korea so I can close the loop. The next project I've had in mind for a while has to do with a trip to Iran my uncle did 40 years ago, for which he wrote a manuscript but didn't take many pictures. I'm not ready to start the project yet but I'm currently gathering information, reading and exploring opportunities to help me scope the project a bit better.

© Sébastien Cuvelier form the series 'Eunma Town'

How do you see the future of photography in general evolve? And where do you place yourself in this future?

SC: As said earlier, I have no clue how photography will evolve, but as for me, I just want to pursue personal projects and tell stories I care about. I don't have great ambitions, there are a lot of very talented photographers out there. I just want to make sure I complete my projects in the best way I can so that people find it interesting to look at them.


Sébastien Cuvelier