Brussels through the viewfinder of a young film student

We silently sit on the edge of the large fountain of Saint Catherine, basking in the long awaited first rays of sunshine, enjoying a warm cup of coffee. I am joined by my sister, Natalie Giakatis, -I asked her if I could interview her for a school project. Natalie (or simply Nat) is a student at LUCA School of  Arts in Brussels and has been living here for the past five years. Grown up in Greece and having both the Greek and Belgian nationality, I took it upon myself to try and understand how she, as a young filmmaker and film lover sees my much beloved city of Brussels.

©Nico Servaes

-Is Sainte Catherine a place you spend a lot of time at?

©Elina Giakatis

Nat pauses for a moment and looks around; “I think it’s the overall atmosphere that you can feel here that keeps on attracting me” she finally says. “How do you mean?” I ask, curious to hear more about her thoughts. “Well, I love the setting of the buildings, the square, how it all is shaped. It has so many different cafés and restaurants around here, they all have versatile characters and I love the sort of people that you can find there” I smile at her answer; that is exactly why I love this area too.

We get up, decide to move around a little bit. A group of five young adults loudly pass us by, talking in Flemish, laughing while badly singing a number of Balthazar. “I feel like Brussels is such an intricate little city”, she says. “People seem to be divided based on their native language. It’s as if the Flemish speaking part of Brussels concentrates itself around Saint Catherine or the Bourse and the French speaking part prefers areas like Ixelles. I don’t know if that is an actual fact or not, but at least it feel like that to me!” she sighs. “But then again Brussels has so many municipalities and they all feel like a different world of their own! Don’t even get me started about that, we’ll be talking for hours, and by the end of it, I will probably not make any sense!”, she says light-heartedly, tossing her hands up in the air.

We walk along the city for a while, in a very slow pace, accompanied by the distant sounds of people in bars and by the cold breeze that gently blows in our face. We observe the buildings all around us, they are bathed in a tint of purple by the sun that slowly sets away and withdraws.

-I notice you always carry your camera with you when going on walks in Brussels. Is there anything in particular that sparks your interest and that you find interesting to capture?

“I think that the unpredictability and versatility of Brussels are worth documenting. I mainly take pictures of buildings and strangers in the streets. I often find that there is no real pattern in the general image of Brussels. The architecture for instance is all over the place, some building are rich and detailed to the core and others are simple, dull even faded, like lifeless vessels left to be forgotten. I don’t necessarily believe that Brussels is a beautiful city, in fact, it’s quite an ugly first sight I dare say. Maybe that is the exact reason why I find it so fascinating, there’s this hidden beauty everywhere; you just have to look for it.”

“There’s hidden beauty everywhere; you just have to look for it.”

She stops every few minutes to capture her surroundings, so absurdly even at times that I keep walking without noticing her absence. She noticed a young man sitting by himself in a slumped position by the door of cinema Palace. Red and purple lights from the illuminated posters reflect on his platinum blonde hair and on his shiny silvery Dr. Martens. She shows me the picture and adds “I’ll just fix the lighting up a bit, that way it will bring out a sense of nostalgia and melancholy.” As we walk, she takes many pictures of passers-by. “People in this city are so caught up in their own little bubble. No one notices each other anymore. I find Brussels to be inspiring in quite a scrutinizing way; I find it so fascinating to observe people going on about their own business. In a way it’s sort of depressing to think about, they often seem like forlorn figures in a busy city but that captivates me for sure.”

By now, the sun has completely set, leaving us with a rich blue sky above our heads instead of that soft pink cloud-painted sky. We have arrived at Studio Baxton, a small photography studio opposite the Jaques Brel Museum, one of her favourite places in Brussels, and judging by the excitement in her eyes, maybe in the whole entire world.

“Bonsoir! Ton film est développé! ” the owner tells her with a surge of excitement as we enter the shop.

They exchange a word, talk about her vintage Canon camera she has inherited from our grandmother, which has impressed the owner, for as he states “is quite a unique, one of a kind camera not many people have the chance to work with”.

After talking with the owner, Nat shows me around the place.

©Natalie Giakatis

-They seem to really like you here! When did you discover this studio?

“I’ve been developing all my photographs here ever since moving to Brussels. I find it so important to have a studio that I can come to whenever I need it; I really trust the entire team here, and obviously after five years, I’ve come to be quite close to them too! They are masters in their expertise, incredibly creative and kind people, a real source of inspiration! Also, they have an incredible amount of fascinating cameras and types of films! It’s a brilliant place to introduce to photography lovers when they are in search of something new and challenging to pick up!”

Night has fallen, so we now head to Cobra Bar/Gallery, where Nat and her fellow friends, that all study cinematography at LUCA, often hang out.

-So tell me a little bit about this bar. You friends seem really keen on going here!

“Of course they are! Monthly whiskey for a cheap price, where else would we go?”, she says with an ironic malicious smirk. “Not solely for that reason of course! It’s a lovely compact bar, has sombre accents, a crowded bar with loads of different types of alcohol. There’s little space inside but that makes it cosy and pleasant; it’s heart-warming to see people close together having a good time. My friends and I spend our precious free time here when we are given the chance to do so! Conversations about cinema, music and art keep us going until we’ve had one too many drinks, which eventually leads us to late night strolls in the city till we reach our apartments. Not to reveal too much, but some of our best random pictures are taken during those incredibly fun times in the streets of Brussels!”

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