New book and new exhibition form 19th of February on

In recent years I have had the privilege of working with photographer Eddy Van Gestel on several occasions. I can safely say that a photo shoot with him in no way resembles a shoot with any other photographer. Not so much because I had never posed nude before, but because of the way in which he manages to involve us models in his art project. Like no other, he succeeds in drawing you into the world he wants to create, making me feel not just a model, but rather the protagonist in a story that goes far beyond a collection of exceptional photographs. Ebony is such a story. The women in this book are not anonymous passers-by, but people of flesh and blood. The fact that the models, both professional and nonprofessional, look at the lens and pose so genuinely and self-confidently, is entirely due to the fact that they, like myself, felt valued, knew the context beforehand and believed in the ultimate goal of the concept. To me, Ebony feels like a flight from the grey, the ordinary, the everyday. Half dream, half reality, where there is no dominance and where past and present meet and merge effortlessly and credibly; where the world lies at our feet, us African women. A world where we can be women in the purest sense of the word. Beautiful, sensual, elegant, proud of our black skin. Where we are valued, because let us be honest, at the moment this is unfortunately still more of an illusion than reality. A world in which we are allowed to be naked and vulnerable, and in which it feels natural not to have to hide this, in which we can show our beauty to the full and not be afraid of being misunderstood or worse. Controlling such an atmosphere is a bit like walking a tightrope, balancing between ‘cheap’ and ‘elevated’. As thin a line as you will ever find. If there is one thing I learned during my photo sessions with Eddy, it is that a serene and harmonious image can quickly become vulgar by looking at the camera with not quite the right expression, striking a pose that is just a little too challenging, and that a pose that deviates slightly from the set-up can give the picture an unnecessary sexual connotation. Something Eddy strives to avoid. In that respect, his guidelines during the shoots feel comfortably strict. The fact that he guards the boundaries of this project gives you a feeling of security and seriousness and it fills me with pride to have worked on it. I know that Eddy Van Gestel’s work is purely about art, and that it is not his intention to take an ideological stand, yet I dare to hope that this art, as is sometimes claimed, can indeed save the world, and that the beauty of his work makes people all over the world see black people in general and black women in particular in a different light.

Angelina Adhel Bol.

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