We spoke to Gilles Geekk about his passion for art and how it’s taken him on a journey of self discovery. Inspired by his multicultural heritage, his photos have been praised even by a top figure of today’s artistic world. On the 19th of October, come join us at BrewDog to admire some of his work.
Gilles Geekk is from Cameroon, in West Africa. He moves to Belgium at the age of 10. Already passionate about art, he’s always drawing but his family prefer him to attend general schools, “which wasn’t his cup of tea.”
Art being his best subject at school, his parents reluctantly allow him to pursue his dream of entering the art world and send him to St Luc in Brussels. He spends three years there before dropping out, due to his lack of interest in theoretical classes. The art world is so vast, he isn’t sure which discipline he wants to take further. After dabbling in a few, he takes example of one of his father’s uncles who comes to Belgium to study film. Gilles starts looking into it, watching films and videos, and thinks: “I could see myself doing the same thing.“
After two years at the SAE institute he realises he prefers “learning on the field“. He leaves school for good and starts producing video clips to make some money. He has worked with the likes of L’Or du Commun, Jones Cruipy, Hamza, Seven, Jeanjass & Caballero, Boddhi Satva, Badi, Art Comes First and many, many more.
Through this and what he learnt at school, he familiarises with the idea that videos are just a series of still images, they are moving photographs. Photography suddenly sounds very appealing, and he wants to go deeper into what makes an image; the composition, the colours, and how to express yourself through a single image.
Airplane Mode: Do you remember the moment you knew photography was for you?
Gilles Geekk: I remember it very well. My first pictures were quite ugly, but I had edited them on Photoshop and they turned out ok. At the time, it was the early days of Facebook and I was really proud to share them with my friends. With my three photos online, I was already a photographer in my head. I contacted stylists asking for collaborations. To my surprise this guy replied and he organised a photo shoot. His name is David Giampiccolo and today he’s a good friend. A couple of months later, David sent me a screenshot. Beyoncé had written an article about him in which she praised my photos. This made me realise that the impact of what you do is immeasurable. All you can do is do things with a positive goal in mind. That’s when I realised photography was for me.
Airplane Mode: What do you like most in photography?
Gilles Geekk: The fact that you can show your heritage to the world, without them really seeing it. That through photography I am able to say a lot, and very loudly, but as a whisper, as a silence. When you see one of my photos, I see the infinite number of photos I could have taken instead of that one.
He states that we live in an era where the flow of information is constant. As a result, he denies himself too much exposure to this flow as a sort of protection, as he describes himself as very easily influenced. “Being yourself in this day and age is very difficult because we can be somebody else very quickly without even realising it. The real fight isn’t TO BE anymore, it is to be conscious that you are yourself and to know that what you do is not because you have seen someone else do it before. We are influenced more than we are not, and it’s important to come to terms with that too.”
Gilles states that he is more into aesthetics than into scenarios; he is not a storyteller. For his videos, the architecture, the staging and fashion inspire him. He tries to produce images that “work you from the inside and make you reassess yourself and the world around you.“
The inspiration for his photography comes from his heritage. He explains that each photo he chooses to sign and show to the public make up his heritage. Be it African or Occidental. He is part of the Bamileke tribe in Cameroon, and consequently their vision of the world inspires him too. They are very into elephants, as well as eyes. Gilles is himself intrigued by this, but he clearly states that he “hasn’t mastered it yet and it remains very raw and broad” in him.
He regards the images in his photos as being generated by his memories. They are the images he tries to create, in other words, what he materialises are “cultural accidents.” Therefore, what he takes a picture of is not really the physical subject, but the idea behind it.
The urban scene also inspires him. In Africa, just like here, he was always confronted with the idea of the “streets”, which he finds very appealing. His video clips are mostly for rap music, which is heavily influenced by the streets. He reiterates that the streets in Belgium are nothing like the streets in Africa, and that is exactly the point. The idea of urbanism stays there even though it doesn’t mean the same thing for everyone.
On the 19th of October, come and get lost in Gilles’ world. At the BrewDog, he will be exposing fragments of his memories to you in picture form. Two of these pictures are entitled “Les Jumelles” (The Twins), even though “they are not twins at all.” The subject matter is the same, but with completely different attitudes. “One is soft, the other more stoic.” He works a lot with body language “which is perhaps reminiscent of the expression you find in traditional dances, and over here in the streets for example in drug dealers.” That is the contrast he tries to portray in his pieces. “Les Jumelles” with the same subject in the same clothing and in the same set, will be very contrasted with each other. “They don’t look like they come from the same artist.”
Airplane Mode: You do a lot of fashion photography. Is fashion another passion of yours?
Gilles Geekk: As a boy, my mother was in the business of selling clothes. Therefore, I was always surrounded with beautiful clothing, like the Congolese traditional dress. In Africa they like to be well dressed, to have items that are interesting to look at. Lots of colours and patterns. Everyone wants to know where someone got a nice piece of clothing from. They are born bargain-hunters! (Laughing) What I like is the unusual and the uniqueness, anything that will attract your attention. I am passionate about fashion, without being a consumer of it.
As for a favourite subject matter for his photos, he says he doesn’t have one. He is an observer of the world and considers his influence to come from many artists. To name a few, “Barron Claiborne, Marc Lagrange, Irving Penn, David LaChapelle… These are photographers who have atypical aesthetics. Claiborne concentrates on black skin. Lagrange plays with sensuality and the fantasy of the woman in the context of luxury, and LaChapelle creates almost dream-like images. I am still trying to figure out what it is exactly I bring to the world of image. I have an idea, but I can’t tell you otherwise I will be obliged to do it! (Laughing)”. He gives us some hints: very urban, and to quote Damso “très noir”, as best he can describe it.
Airplane Mode: Do you have any future projects?
Gilles Geekk: You should know that I’ve never taken photos in my native country. The first 10 years of my life I spent there are what inspire me today. I’m still feeding off the leftovers. Next year I’ve planned to go to Cameroon twice and I will take some photos. The first time will be for a job and the second to visit family. I would have liked it to be the other way around so I could have gone to observe before taking photos. It’s important to look before taking photos. I don’t want to fall into the cliché of being the guy that goes to Africa to take pictures of safaris, you can forget that. I don’t want to act like a tourist, I want to engage people.”
Gilles’ current project is called Or Noir (Black Gold). He’s been interested in petrol “not because it is black, but because it’s very present in our daily lives and nearly irreplaceable, yet we abuse it so much.” He works towards creating a series of images that illustrate the opposition between the or noir in the capitalist world, and his definition of it as his heritage. “What is Or Noir to me? Melanin.”
After 7 years of taking photos, Gilles still doesn’t like to call himself a photographer. He feels there are yet more things he needs to awaken within himself: “I will be a photographer when I will be conscious of those things 100%. When my pictures will no longer be fragments of accidental thoughts, but the incarnation of clear images in my mind. I’m still experimenting a lot.”
The study of image has taught him that we all have eyes but we don’t all see in the same way. He claims that image is the key to almost everything, and is a dangerous thing:
“I wanted to experiment with this. I purposely composed images that would evoke the idea of Africa in the viewers. Today, as a black man, it is hard to evolve in the artistic domain and to produce work which is objective and that isn’t taken as pro-black work. I made sure no one knew I was the artist, and I went to talk to people at my show. Without seeing Africa, they thought of Africa. They all responded exactly how I had predicted and in a way, imposed. I don’t do that anymore though because it’s dangerous. It’s like subliminal manipulation; you are in people’s subconscious. People in advertising know this, they are aware the images they show have repercussions. It’s quite an unhealthy power.”
That concluded our meeting with Gilles Geekk, our visual artist who will be exhibited on the 19th October at the BrewDog in Brussels. Finally, he leaves us with the secret to his work process: the idea is not to transcribe the image that you see in your mind, but the feelings you feel when you see it.