TEN DAYS OF NIGHTS

This series documents the Ghent Festival, an annual music and theatre festival in my hometown, Ghent, Belgium. First organised in 1843, it is one of the largest cultural festivals in Europe. On top nights, more than 250,000 people are crammed into an area of about 4.5km², and the city where I live, where I ride my bike to work each day, is transformed into a sea of people from all over the world, all looking to experience what makes these ten days so unique. What that is, is hard to pinpoint and is different for everyone. But to me, it’s ten days of release for young and old alike, a kind of catharsis through joy and art, ten days in which the whole city just presses the pause button. I work at Ghent University and I’m never sure when I can take a day off but the ten days of the Ghent Festival are a fixed holiday. So for ten days, work and obligations simply don’t exist. There’s no such thing as responsibility or moderation. No one’s a stranger and everyone’s a potential best friend, a brother, a sister. We laugh and cry together, we fight and make up. We fall in love and feel lonely in the crowd, all at the same time. I met the love of my life one night at the Ghent Festival, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

For more than ten years, I’ve been to every single edition. I attended the concerts, watched the street acts, listened to some opera here, some metal or rock there. I hugged people I’d never met at 5AM, watched the sun rise over the cobblestones and ordered another Irish coffee along with everyone else.

When I started documenting the Ghent Festival in 2014, I began to see it through new eyes. From then on, there were always a few nights when I went to bed early, set my alarm at 3 or 4AM and took my camera straight to the last square still open. Other nights I just did what I did every year, only this time I took photos of what moved me and tried to capture what makes these ten days so unique.

In 2020, the first year of the pandemic, the festival was cancelled for the first time in 101 years. It was recently announced that there won’t be a 2021 edition either. This series was not supposed to be finished but maybe it is. Only time will tell.

This series was featured on Eyeshot Magazine.