When I visit Gent in the weekends, the boot-sale near St Jacobs is a must. One hour shooting with my camera on 600 square meters, where dealers sell their art and kitsch.
The market has existed for years, every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, early in the morning till noon, and a motley crew of inhabitants of Gent can always be found there.
Since 2012 I visited the market about 5 times, and each time it seems that my camera attracts images. I always leave with a number of images that can stand the test of criticism.
Well…, photography is of course subjective…
Not only the pictures
It are not just the photos to take home with me, but also the encounters, usually only briefly, but sometimes it takes longer. To me they are all unknown people that I make contact with. Some of them want to know where I come from, what I do in their country, if I’m on holiday or at work, where I live and what I do for a living.
Usually I can answer a few of those questions and then they start telling me their story, where they come from, about the market, the region, the city, and often also about very private things – that better should be kept private, I think.
Perhaps they see an opportunity to tell their story and here is somebody that is willing to listen.
The walking stick that I need to walk is partly substituted for a walker now and I roam the market with it, I can sit on it when needed, which is every now and then, and then I observe everything.
Black in mouth
So I noticed this rather big man, sitting in a sort of wheelchair and I thought to sit next to him to oversee the market together.
We looked upon each other and he nodded kindly to me, he offered his hand and said with a heavy foreign accent:
“Willem”, I answered
“You is from here?”
“O, me Bulgar. You sick?”
“Ah, a bit of a problem with walking. And you?”, I asked Michael.
“Me cancer, many many year”, Michael told me.
“O”, I said, “Fortunately you are still here! What kind of cancer, if I may ask?”
“In mouth! Pain in ear, go doctor, he look and say “you must stay here in sickhouse, operate you, else you die!””
“O … that sounds serious Michael”, I responded.
“I been very sick, nothing better, years now.“
“Then what did they find?”, I asked him, “Something in your ear?”
“No, black in mouth.“
“Black in your mouth?”
“Yes on photo black place there!” (he pointed to his palate).
“Everything gone there, drink is hard”
“After surgery?”, I asked Michael, “or can you still not drink?”
“No, after operate everything came from nose run. Then doctor what make in the mouth. I plastic have.”
Again he pointed at his mouth, than wiped his fingers on his rather dirty trousers and put them in his mouth, kept his head back and popped out a plastic palate together with lots of slime and green stuff, ready to be cleaned in bleach for at least a week.
“Better put it back”, I said.
Michael waited a moment to do so, he got a rag out of his pocket, cleaned the plastic palate with it and then it fitted as before.
“That´s quite something! Does that hurt?”, I asked.
“Yes! I pain”.
Clot of salve
Then he rolled up the right leg of his trousers and a gaping wound, clotted with salve was showed.
“Better cover it up Michael”, I said, “the sun will do your leg no good”.
“I many pain there“.
“Where do you live?”, I asked him, “Do you have a wife? Children?”
“Wife dead in Bulgar, 21 years, belly not good”, (he pointed at his abdomen).
“How did you end up in Belgium, Michael?”
“Kids Willem, 4 kids. Sons, 2 in Germany, 2 live here. One son wife not good“.
“Is she sick?”
“No … evil woman….
“You see them often?”
“No, only for ask papa money“, (he made a dismissive gesture with his hand).
“Where do you live?, I asked.
“There.” He pointed in a direction, “Social house in sickhouse street”
“Ok”, I said, “everything close by when something happens. You live alone?”
“Yes”, Michael answered, “2 room for living and sleeping and bathroom with toilet”.
“What do you do every day Michael?”
“I here watch and television. Go to pharmacy, medicines for sickness.”
“Yes, you will need a few…“
“I was in sickhouse not long ago.”
“For the mouth? Or the leg?”, I asked.
“No, for here”, (he grabbed his crotch) “prostate cancer.”
“Djzee man, everything really was dumped on you … not easy for you.“
He nodded a few times in the affirmative.
You photo make?
“You photo make?”
“Today, yes. A few on the market here, people.“
“Can I see?” and he pointed at my small G5 Panasonic.
“Of course you can. This is what I did so far.”
For a while he looked at the photos on the screen. A bit too fast for him.
“Again? You can.”
“Is good so”, he said, “is beautiful colours the people”
“Yes it is. May I make a photo of you?”
It was okay. He turned a bit in his chair, some spit in his hand to style his hair.
I shot the photo and Michael wanted to see the result immediately.
He took his time to look at himself.
“Nice?” I asked him.
“You good man and good heart…“
“Well Michael, I have to go.“
“You must go”, he said and grabbed my hand, “until again…“
“Yes, see you too Michael…“