Connecting grief with hope through photography

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With her new book Sunflowers for Spring, she connects grief with hope. Liza François is a Ghent-based photographer who looks at her surroundings with care and takes nothing for granted. Trust, warmth and intimacy are some of her keywords. We had an inspiring conversation over tea and matcha.

Hi Liza! You graduated as a photographer last year, but you first took another path. Am I correct?

I graduated as a nurse first. I have always practised photography, but I saw it more as a hobby. Yet after graduating, photography was still on my mind, so I applied for an education at Narafi in Brussels. In my third year, I went to Portland (USA), where I experimented with different media. It inspired me to dig deeper, I wanted to say something with my images. So I applied for a master’s degree in photography at KASK & Conservatorium. I graduated with my project Sunflowers for Spring, being able to work on it for a long time was a gift because the project itself revolves around time as well. I'm currently still working on this project too.

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Have you ever had the feeling that you have 'lost' time?

No, studying nursing has shaped me into who I am today. Photography and nursing have similarities in my opinion. As a nurse, you care for others. I feel the same care when I am taking photographs. There is a continuous interaction in giving and taking, in a beautiful way.

As a nurse, you care for others. I feel the same care when I am taking photographs

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Who are your role models in photography?

The artist who made me realise that anything is possible in photography is Lara Gasparotto. She mainly photographs her surroundings. In her work, I saw for the first time that there should be no limits in any art medium. She goes to the flea market looking for paper to print on and presents her work in a very intuitive way. Lara has been a great inspiration for my own practice. I also appreciate artists like Michel François, Wolfgang Tillmans and Francis Alÿs.

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How did you find your own voice as a photographer?

I experimented with all kinds of things. For a long time, I thought I would do fashion photography, but COVID-19 interrupted that plan. I was a very different kind of photographer back then, I wanted to see quick results. During the lockdown, I started taking images of my surroundings without a plan. It was difficult at first to adapt to this slow, unplanned process, but it eventually resulted in my first photo book, Warme Regen. This slow, intimate way of working has formed the basis of my work ever since.

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What was your master's project about?

It focuses on the taboo surrounding grief and mental suffering. The title, Sunflowers for Spring, refers to the first day of spring and the day my father took his life ten years ago. A few years ago I asked his friends to send me something: a photo, a sentence, a memory. I was so impressed by the response that I wanted to give something back, something hopeful. I started putting sunflower seeds in their mailboxes and photographed the process, with no goal in mind. During the summer, people sent me messages proudly showing their sunflowers. I went to see them, talked to them and took pictures. Ultimately, this whole process became the project. Quite by chance, a few months before I graduated, I found my father's old videocassettes. In one of the videos, I am drawing sunflowers with my sisters. I had never seen those videos before. Everything came together at that moment and made sense to me. Moreover, my parents used to have a gallery in Ghent, Casa Argentaurum, where I am currently exhibiting the project. The circle is complete [smiles].

The title, Sunflowers for Spring, refers to the first day of spring and the day my father took his life ten years ago

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What would you say to people who struggle with artistic doubts?

Do what you feel comfortable with. Creating a work doesn't just take a few months, give yourself time and trust the process. Definitely never throw things away! You never know what will come out of it. Stay close to yourself. The comfort and recognition I find in certain artworks, I also try to achieve in my own work. It motivates me to continue.

The comfort and recognition I find in certain artworks, I also try to achieve in my own work. It motivates me to continue

<img class="editorial-image-50-left" src="https://cdn.prod.website-files.com/61eebcc683107b99137f4423/664db69de9c4a187c250330f__LarsDuchateau_DifferentClass_LizaF-5.webp"/>

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Do you ever see yourself returning to nursing?

I mostly combine my passion for photography with my passion for wine. It feels good to alter photographic work with a job as a sommelier. Every two weeks, I also help a woman with ALS with morning care. It is very rewarding and it feels good not to have my camera with me for once. But photography and healthcare can definitely come together. Last week I photographed a home birth. The woman did the whole birth by herself, it was so powerful. I literally lay next to her on the couch taking images. It’s fantastic where photography has already taken me, and I am incredibly grateful for that.

<div class="editorial-banner"> <div class=“editorial-credits”> @lizafrancois <br/>Different Class and KASK & Conservatorium are teaming up for a series of artist portraits, featuring some of the interesting alumni and student profiles. The school is organising their GRADUATION festival until 30.06.2024 <br/> schoolofartsgent.be </div></div>

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