There is an obscurity in the work of Sébastien Van Malleghem. For years, the Belgian photographer has turned his camera on the harsh social realities – his previous books have dealt with the police, the prison system and funeral rites. But each time, the austere, dark, black and white images have served to show the common humanity of its protagonists.
This time, he chose to turn away from his fellows. During the pandemic, forced to self-isolate for health reasons, Van Malleghem combed through four years of archives with one goal in mind: to show the power of nature – its darkness too. “As a photographer, I have visited some pretty wild places,” he said. “I wanted to face them. I was tired of humans, always and everywhere. I was tired of this constant noise. So I tried to go and meet nature.
The result is the book “Allfather”, which Van Malleghem funds through a crowdsourcing campaign. He mixes photos from the Arctic, the Everglades in Florida, the North of France and even his own garden. The association is a tribute to the wonders of nature but also to its undeniable strength. “I photograph extreme things,” he says. “In my images, there always appears a struggle for survival, a form of rage, a possible threat that emerges from nothing, where peace appears mainly in the form of death.
With each image, Van Malleghem tries to convey the awesome power of nature, which he associates with our ancestors’ relationship with her. “I have often wondered how men must have felt when they had no knowledge of the world,” he said. “Our gods were born because humans looked up and saw the Northern Lights. Elsewhere, they saw alligators, these powerful, majestic but also terrifying creatures.
In fact, the rare times human figures appear in “Allfather” they are framed by the power of nature, like a photo of a figure sitting on a rope placed between two cliffs. “That’s what ‘Allfather’ means,” said Van Malleghem, “that indescribable form of energy, which takes shape in nature in a fragile and powerful way.”
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