Brussels-based visual artist, Alex Verhalle, combines his cool, sophisticated aesthetic vision with his deep love for techno to produce these energising stop-motion images. Black, white and slick in style, his work captures intimate moments of mid-rave joy and shows the underground techno scene at its most raw and real. Verhalle speaks to us about his journey from rookie student photographer with a passion for music to the internationally known artist that he is today. He also shares his process, a new approach to stop-motion animation. Check out his work for a momentary experience of dark pleasure and a (sweet) taste of techno.
Could you tell us a bit about yourself and what you do?
I am a visual artist living and working near Brussels. My work involves photography, graphic/web design and artwork for selected clients both national and international. To work as a photographer on an international level is a dream coming true.
How did you get into photography? Have you always had a creative instinct?
After I graduated from high school, I was not entirely sure what I wanted to do next. I studied law at university but I quickly discovered that I was suited to more creative work. So, I started studying to become a web designer.
For my graduation project, I created my own photographic content. That was the moment I came in touch with 'professional' photography for the very first time. Yes, it was as a graduation project but it was for a real client. After graduating as a web-designer, I started at university in Brussels, studying photography. From there, I experienced, discovered and eventually deployed myself to the photographer I am today.
What about your relationship with techno music, how did that come about? And what is it about it that you love?
Music has always been in my life. I started to learn and play the piano as a kid. I’m still extremely happy to 'lose' myself and forget everything for a moment while playing the piano. My musical universe is immense: from all kind of classical music (opera, violin…) to electronic music like techno.
My love for techno came only a few years ago, while I was in my second year at university, at a major festival, Dour, in Belgium. A few months before that festival, I had quit drinking alcohol (for no particular reason) and that festival was the first time I really had access to techno. I paid more attention to the music, crowd and atmosphere on the dance-floor and ended up only going to techno stages for the rest of that festival.
Even when I was alone on the dance-floor, I experienced what techno is all about for me personally: free, raw, emotional, dark, energised… It’s hard to say what I like specifically about techno but I can say I am always feeling motivated, concentrated, creative and of course delighted when I am surrounded by techno music.
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Could you tell us about the first time you decided to combine your passions for music and photography? What was that night like?
After the discovery of my love for techno music at Dour, I was certain of a new goal in my life at that moment: becoming a photographer in the techno scene. As I was fresh in the world of techno, I had absolutely no contacts or friends who were active in the Belgian techno scene. I had no idea how to start.
So, as an absolute rookie, a 21-year-old university student but an extremely motivated photographer with this passion for music, I started sending messages around to clubs and events that I had hardly heard of before. My very first event was in Fuse, Brussels where I discovered the more technical difficulties of being a nightlife photographer. I think all my talented fellow-photographers can confirm, photography and dark spaces do not go very well together. You have to master the basic skills of photography to achieve basic results.
But the next event was at Kompass in Ghent in 2017 and probably had the biggest impact on my career. I had never worked for twelve hours in a row before that, but I managed to have good results. The headliner of that night, Amelie Lens, contacted me to congratulate me on the photos which gave me in instant motivation boost. She helped me to get some more opportunities as a photographer in her residency club, Labyrinth Club.
How would you describe your style?
That is a very hard question as I will have to talk about personal work. I consider my style as dark, emotional, aesthetic, raw and all the other characteristics of techno. I use black and white photography because I do not really need the colour dimension to visually explain what’s going on at a rave. I want to tell it through aesthetic forms and shadows. This is a personal decision that has evolved over the years I’ve been active in the scene. Which is not very long actually. This is not something I created in one night but is the result of a (un)whole process as an artist that took years.
What’s the significance behind how you edit your work?
I love aesthetics and I’m able to apply this via my framing. I try to frame as sophisticatedly as possible and to select only the images without disturbing visible objects like drinks, phones, other people. I feel I’m able to document a scene in a way that is far from commercial and also extremely personal. This makes me happy.
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When you're at a rave or an event, taking photographs, what are you looking out for?
I want to tell an aesthetic visual story about a night filled with dark pleasures and techno music in order to have good documentation of that specific event. I am never specifically looking for something. For me, it does not work when I plan my whole night and focus on the results. Instead, I wander through the wild crowd and photograph whatever catches my eye. From dancers to artists to venue-details. Employers offer me freedom in what I do and that is the greatest gift I can imagine as an artist.
What made you decide to start creating stop-motion videos?
After photographing a few techno events, I didn’t feel 100% satisfied with the stories I would tell if I made an album. I had tried to photograph more dynamic images but even then, my work did not feel complete. I was also regretting not working with the music itself.
So, I wanted to combine them somehow. I also wanted to distinguish myself as a photographer by making something unique in the techno scene. I consider this kind of presentation 'imperfect,' which links to the low frame rate of the videos. In combination with my black & white and raw style I think it reflects the techno scene at its best. But then again, this is just a personal belief.
Could you tell us about the process behind a stop-motion video?
Stop-motion is an old animation technique where you actually create frame by frame. In every frame, the object is staged or moved in another way. In the end, all the frames are assembled and put into a sequence or a 'fluent' film. My technique is based on this but I cannot move the objects myself. I inspect the dance floor for moments of joy which I will capture frame by frame or in sequence. At home, I process all the images so they fit my style. Then I create the sequences and start narrowing my selection until I’m 200% satisfied.
I only select music to which I can literally listen for hours, days, weeks or years. It is hard to explain what I like in music but I just know when it feels right. I always start from scratch with almost no idea of how I want it to look like. I just start and work for hours or days for the perfect result. I prefer to make them over several days as each day I see different parts that need perfection and sophistication. It’s hard to say as the creator and I do not want to brag, but I like to rewatch my results on loop. It makes me happy and secretly proud that I can achieve what I never expected to.
You’re also involved in graphic design and architecture photography. How does this feed into your work?
My love for aesthetics and sophistication led me to other arts such as graphic design and other worlds of photography. That love is something I can connect to my nightlife work. It helped me to achieve a unique and sophisticated style. I maintain the same workflow in two very different worlds. One night I find myself in the middle of a wild crowd, and the next day I find myself in an architectural or design project.
It’s your first rave post-pandemic. If you could create your perfect set, who would be playing?
That’s a hard question. I adore both melodic and very hard techno music. I’m no expert but these are few artists I’ve been able to photograph and definitely want to see again. Yes, these nights could go on until the end of time. Some musicians I would be playing are: I Hate Models, Wacky Kid, Tale Of Us, Jan Blomqvist, Nico Moreno...
Your work has already taken you all around the world. Where would you like to go next? Literally or figuratively.
One of the main dreams I had was to go to Tbilisi (Georgia). I have heard so many good things about the scene there and I was able to witness it in person in May 2019 at KHIDI. That night was unforgettable. I think almost every country has its own special techno scene but some new places I would like to visit as a photographer are South America, United States, Russia, Latvia, Estonia, Sweden and Switzerland. Actually, every country in the world. I’m still a young photographer with a lot of motivation to fulfil all of my dreams.
Of course, I find myself at the very start of my 'career,' if you can call it this). There is a lot to come for me as a photographer after the pandemic and I can’t (like everybody) wait to be back on the dance floor with my camera hidden under my arm and be surrounded by techno and people. Maybe a photo book and complimentary exposition are among my dreams but my imagination has no limits. And neither does my perseverance.
As I have only been working in the scene for a little more than 2 years now. Those 2 years were far from 'full time' travelling but I considered it as a personal milestone. I never could imagine travelling on an international level to work with my passion. My work is considered unique by others and assignments are given to me as a result.
I needed to build up a portfolio and discover the difficult parts of low-light photography during events where everyone is moving. I will not go too deep into the technical side of being a nightlife photographer but I think all my talented fellow-photographers can confirm the technical struggles of moving objects in low-light situations.
You’ve been said to capture the raw and imperfect side of the underground world. What does that mean to you?
I want to show what I 'saw' that night. So this is related to my personal vision of techno-music and raves. As I try to create aesthetic art, this will stand in huge contrast with my vision of techno (raw and imperfect). I keep evolving but I aim for a complete portfolio as an artist. Both content and style, are close to my soul and to the scene of techno, I document. Again, this is all personal and objective.
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