Belgian photographer Gert Jochems’s provocative photography has been displayed throughout Europe and North America. His most recent project captures average people enjoying themselves in kinky sex costumes, orgies and drag. A showcase of Jochems’s work, titled Les Autres, is currently on display at La Petite Mort Gallery.
Xtra caught up with the man behind the lens to learn more about his views on sex and art.
As an artist, why do you believe self-expression is important?
Gert Jochems: It should be said that I see myself much more as a photographer than as an artist. Art is important; however, there are certainly many better ways to change or understand the world. I believe science does better in this sense. Art is a way to react to reality, to communicate with it and things like that. But photography is something very down to earth, which I like, because I know how to understand it. Art is something else, more complex, more ambiguous, much harder to understand, more this and that.
The sexual nature of your work has been met with mixed reviews. What drew you to this particular project?
I think that the work I show in Ottawa is more about personal secrets than sexual fantasies. On a more general level, the word secret inspires me more than anything that has to do with sex. It interests me to work, in photographic terms, with that level of human nature. But the question remains, How does one make photographs that rise above that situation? In the end, any image is intended to be a little bit universal.
What inspired this project?
My photographs are made in the documentary tradition of photography about certain subjects, but, like a documentary photographer, I am not entirely committed to that subject. I work as an outsider, which is very common in documentary-style work. Of course, I am not completely indifferent to my subject, but I do try to maintain a neutral attitude. My inspiration to make a series of images does not so much come from the subject itself as it does from my personal interest in the formal dimensions in which a good photo is made.
Do people ever make assumptions about you after viewing your work?
People who see my work easily assume that I do this or that in my private life, which is not automatically true. A person’s motivation to take photographs can be whatever and in my case is the want to photograph the “night side” of life. Night versus day, where night stands for the personal, private side and day stands for the public organization of life in general.
Why do you believe it is necessary to be so honest about sexuality?
A consequence of my work (remaining an observer) is that I’m not very verbal about sexuality, certainly not more than any other person. Actually, this attitude seems quite normal to me. I don’t know if it’s true that people should necessarily be forthright about their sexuality. I mean, it was certainly the case during the production of this project; I met many people who had a very honest “coming out” of their sexual feelings. This was an attitude that I saw brought happiness into their lives, because they could share these feelings with a partner, a soul mate. Even as I say this I realize the importance of a man or a woman sharing their honest sexual feelings or fantasies with one or more other people, because this is simply a way to bring love into somebody’s life. But this doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be honest about your personal sexual feelings on a bigger scale. On the contrary, having secrets in your life can be very interesting.