Birds of a Feather: Photography Reveals Joy Amid Addictions

The photograph served as a mediation tool, a passport to land inside each of the people represented. The folks at OpStap also took photos on their own and had a say in selecting the final images that appear in the book. Additionally, the creation of the text was led by Colin Pantall, who acted as moderator and conducted several interviews that explored the purpose of the publication. It was, in its intention and objectives, a collaborative project. In addition, thanks to Vincen’s typical working methods, which aim to increase the visibility of unrepresented and vulnerable communities, Birds of a feather turns out to be an honest insight into the complicated, harsh and often hidden world of drug addiction. Through an authentic look at people’s lives, Vincen creates a narrative that avoids drama and prevailing stereotypes when talking about people with addictions. Moreover, there is no agenda behind his practice, no forcing, no haughty expectations or ambitions. Vincen knows photography won’t drastically change people’s lives, but he understands that “while we collaborate, we invent ourselves, as German journalist and writer Mark Terkessidis put it. Therefore, giving these people the chance to experience moments of joy, to see themselves included in the telling of a story – including their own story, and, above all, to be heard will surely instill even what a small reflection on themselves. and who they may be.

Read my interview with Vincen Beeckman below, who shares his observations, challenges and pleasures in creating Birds of a feather.

How was Birds of a feather born?
The project started a year and a half ago and it is carried out with OpStap, an organization that helps people with addictions and people in recovery. They knew about my method of working with communities and other people in different ways, so they asked me if I could try to create something with their community. At first we didn’t have a clear idea about the final product, but we were open to getting started and seeing where the project would go.
I started by taking a lot of photographs; I met them once a week at the OpStap center and at times I also met the lonely people outside. There were times and days when we went to the beach with the band, or sometimes in nature in the south of Belgium. The idea was to organize workshops where everyone could be included in the project in different ways: some would make pictures, some would be in the picture themselves if they wanted to, some would make drawings, and Others would do texts, and we would try to compose a chronology of all these encounters in different ways.
We didn’t want to take pictures when they were feeling very bad or in difficult situations, such as when they were using drugs or sick. It would have produced a sort of image that you would have seen so many times. We tried to document something more like everyday life; we knew it was hard because all they can do is express the past, or times that haven’t been easy for them, or how they might try to recover somehow. ‘another.