Sunday, 19 August 2007


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Willem Vermandere is a famous Belgian Artist.

He is a sculptor, singer songwriter, musician, writer, poet and painter, but also a wonderful philosopher and raconteur. His style is a quiet sobriety, he writes his texts from the heart and his deep beliefs and convictions and humanity.

I have followed his career over the years, been to some of his concerts, my boys grew up with his music, he sings mostly in Flemish which they loved. They were used to hearing French, Dutch and English, but thought it hilarious that someone was singing in our dialect, using our pithy language in such a juicy and story telling way.

As a professional photographer, it had always been a dream to photograph him, but somehow the wish was strong but the courage weak to even try and approach him. Except for this time...

A couple of months ago I heard an interview on the radio, and I suddenly felt: It is NOW or NEVER!!

This man has no internet I was not surprised to hear!

Without too much hope, I pleaded my case, I obviously found the right words. I had a great understanding and respect for the fact that Artists and 'well-known' people have an absolute right to their privacy.

I was not insistent (opdringerig), I'm still surprised today that we got permission!

It is not something he'd often agree to ...

Now, I know that Willem only has time, in his very busy schedule, for recognised media professionals like us.

A one off, that we still cherish.

A date was set, we could go around. I had written that I did not want a 'set-up' portrait, that I would photograph him at whatever he was doing.

It turned out above anything I'd hoped for.

He lives in a small lovely and typical village in Flanders.

As we parked our car, he arrived pushing a wheelbarrow.

He put it down and came to us, pointing his finger, ‘AAAhhh Groot Britannie!’

I could see he was ‘dressed’ for sculpting, the blue cloth cap and pants streaked with the white dust of exotic stone.

He told us to follow him, we walked the side path of his house, it was a lovely day, the sparrows chirping away in the warm loamy soil. Round the back, he showed the piece he was working on, he returned with a pneumatic chisel and whilst talking above the infernal noise, he was roughly chipping away. I smiled tongue in cheek and told him how disappointed I was, he turned and came back with the hammer and ‘proper’ chisel, went to the hands he was sculpting, the finer details…

Next he took us to a piece of beautiful granite, which was in a further stage of finish.

He showed his wooden sculptures, his hands caressing as he stopped or passed, he pointed out materials, walking through, we arrived in his studio, where he kept all his paintings and lithographs, one after one he proudly exhibited them in front of us. Having also painted, we conversed about different techniques and pigments and papers.

I looked at his hands, no callouses I noticed, a few knicks... being a musician, he told me he has to take care of them!

We moved on back outside, he was just back from a few days in Burgundy, where he had visited the quarries and handpicked new stones, he showed us some of the smaller ones, the larger ones would come…

A tall structure he was also working on, 3 tons it weighed. A pick axe he lifted, which at the moment he wasn’t happy with, it was too blunt. Another chisel, another stone, it was like he had been starved and needed to chop, the stone chunks and chips were flying everywhere, a big one hit me on the chest, we all stepped back as the possessed artist hammered away.

Of course I was worried for my lens!

We returned and entered the coolness of his house, he talked about his instruments, his music... and played and sang for us, the bit he had composed that morning, whilst he was waiting for us to arrive.

By that time, since we were in such close one on one conversation most o the time, I had lost the nerve to lift my camera and stick it into his face, I’d nodded at Paul, like so often, he understood, we work so well together. He was going to do the reportage!

Here is Willem, surrounded by some of his collection, his clarinet on the table; it was the instrument of his father who taught him. In the bg you see some of his smaller wood carvings.

My granddaughter walked into my shot, she was mesmerized by his mastery on the different guitars and string instruments, an accomplished musician.

He picked up what I think was a more recent acquirement of which he was very proud, the bass clarinet. The sound of it is still beautifully vibrating in my bones, deep and rich, but played in a hauntingly nostalgic way with a tone heard in Hebrew music. An unusual instrument that he uses on his latest CD, stories and songs all about the GREAT WAR... people who survived it and that he used to know and listen to... I can recommend it, but it IS IN FLEMISH...

Here is a poet who can bring the pearls of tears from the depth of my soul.

We reminisced about being born, as I call it, ‘in the shadows of the poppies!’

He took his house keys and informed us (and his wife, probably in the kitchen) that we were off for a pint to the corner pub, well, the village only had one, I told him, ‘our treat’, ‘then I’ll have two’ he laughed.

It was visible that he was well known and liked there amongst his people.

Sitting around the table, he concentrated on Paul when he realised by the accent in the Flemish that hey, here was something… yes he was born in Cape Town, no his mother tongue was English. He stroked and scratched his beard, well well, of all the… you know what, a South African lecturer and storyteller asked my permission to translate some of my texts, he’s done some of Jacques Brel.

He insisted we accompany him back so that he could photocopy the texts for Paul.

It was the midday, the heat of the day, cool in the house, I spotted his wife, she always kept outside of his public life.

Not often have I seen such kindness in a face. We had a wonderful moment together, so this was his muse, she rayed with a confident intelligence, one of those people, tell them half a word… they know the rest…

We left each other somewhat reluctantly, feeling good and close, it was clear we had all enjoyed the experience.

Me, that day I met the 'MENS' Vermandere!

His website:

ANOTHER (later) STORY 2009:

All the best, thanx, M, (*_*)


rune lundø said...

Hello Magda, allways good too see other photoblogs :)

mine's here:


Copenhagen, Denmark

maleentjeh said...

Niet alleen prachtige foto's, maar ook prachtig geschreven 'from the heart'.


David Toyne said...

Hallo Magda, Mijn vriend!

Proficiat! Blog is zeer goed.
(Unlike my flemish...Mijn nederlands is niet zo goed.
Ik leer nederlands nu al een uur)

Zeg “hallo” tegen Paul voor mij.

Ik zie je later!


(Now if I have gone horribly wrong with my Flemish attempts at least I can be secure in the thought it could never be as bad as my attempt at Norwegian...)

Magda Indigo said...

Hallo David, van harte bedankt, ik ben blij det je er hebt van genoten, tot spoedig, Lolove, MMMMMMMMM (*_*)

Silke said...

Thanks for sending me to this, Magda.
You write very well and this is a matter close to your heart and the source of great joy -- and it shows.
You know, of course, that I will miss you on TL, but I am hoping that you will avoid coming back to see what certain people have written. Let them stew in their own juices.
Keep laughing and singing -- make music and more music.
hugs to you and Paul

Jan said...

Mooie foto's : je hebt inderdaad " de mens " weergegeven.
Zoals je hem beschrijft in je tekst staat ie recht in z'n schoenen en recht in het leven.
Een speciale man !


roy said...

Mooi verhaal van een veelzijdig man,Ook de foto's van de andere post over de vissers zijn prachtig

Di said...

This is lovely ... dank u wel for saving this Antwerpen-based New Zealander who still needs English to read when she discovers beautiful Flemish music. I was in despair about how little was written about him in English, then i found you.

I spend a lot of time on the Westhoek, photographing the commemorations there and was delighted to find that someone who might have just become my favourite Belgian singer, lives there too.