PROFILE

Lieve Blancquaert

Multiple babies lie swaddled in patterned fabrics, on a small old bed. Taken by Lieve Blancquaert on a Canon EOS 5D Mark II.
Canon Ambassador Lieve Blancquaert's image of babies in Pumwani Maternity Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya is from her project Birth Day. The hospital is in the heart of Kibera, the city's largest slum, and more than 100 children are born there each day. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark II (now succeeded by the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV) with a Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM lens at 1/100 sec, f/4.5 and ISO640. © Lieve Blancquaert

Canon Ambassador Lieve Blancquaert is a social documentary photographer who has gained recognition for her sensitive and engaging approach to difficult subjects.

Lieve is a Belgian photographer whose work has taken her around the world. She attended the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Ghent, where she studied art, taking a particular interest in film and photography. She looked up to the likes of war photographer Tim Page and, after graduating, she started working freelance for various publications in Belgium, including De Morgen and Knack.

Canon Ambassador Lieve Blancquaert.

Location: Ghent, Belgium

Specialist areas: Documentary

Favourite kit:

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV
Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM
Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM

With every successive year, Lieve has honed her documentary style and has never been afraid of tackling difficult subjects. Her portfolio includes work on AIDS in Africa, women living without men after the Rwanda genocide, breast cancer, and maternal mortality in the Democratic Republic of Congo. She has also been involved in interesting collaborations, with journalist and friend Annemie Struyf, for A La Limite, a project about love and death, and My Status Is Positive, a book about living with HIV. The two subsequently joined forces to set up the Hope For Girls Foundation in 2005, with the aim of building a refuge for vulnerable girls in Kenya. The project has since expanded to Europe, and Lieve and Annemie's achievements were honoured with a European Citizenship Award in 2017.

Lieve has also collaborated with Dutch-language Belgian author and poet, Erwin Mortier, illustrating both a collection of his poetry and providing images for a book on encounters with underage refugees living in shelters in Brussels.

A young Kenyan woman poses with her eyes closed in front of the camera, taken by Lieve Blancquaert on a Canon EOS R.
Lieve used portraiture and interviews with subjects such as 19-year-old Margret in Kuria, Kenya to explore stories around female circumcision. For the Kuria tribes that occupy Kenya and Tanzania, circumcision of both men and women is a rite of passage, even though in both countries, the genital mutilation of girls is prohibited by law. Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon RF 35mm F1.8 Macro IS STM lens at 1/60 sec, f/3.5 and ISO100. © Lieve Blancquaert
An 95-year-old Kenyan lady leans on a walking stick while gazing into the distance, taken by Lieve Blancquaert on a Canon EOS R.
Whilst exact numbers are difficult to estimate, approximately 30% of young Kuria women now avoid being circumcised. "I only want to tell you something about my circumcision, if you can promise that it will stop," 95-year-old Elizabeth in Kuria, Kenya says. "My day was a very long time ago, it must have been somewhere during the Second World War." Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon RF 35mm F1.8 IS Macro STM lens at 1/60 sec, f/6.3 and ISO100. © Lieve Blancquaert

In addition to joining forces with writers and journalists, Lieve has formed long-term relationships with humanitarian NGOs such as Oxfam and Memisa; the latter is a Belgian organisation that focuses on reducing maternal and child mortality. Lieve grew close ties with Memisa during her time in DR Congo.

A triptych of projects entitled Birth Day, Wedding Day and Last Days shed light on how people around the world mark the landmark events in a person's life, from births to funerals. The success of the projects led to them being turned into TV documentaries. Now finally completed, the three projects have been brought together in an exhibition and book called Circle of Life.

Lieve has held a number of exhibitions of her work in Belgium, and images from Birth Day have been exhibited at the World Bank in Washington in support of its early years agenda. To mark International Women's Day 2017, she received a Gender Award at the Senate of Belgium in recognition of the inspiring way she has promoted gender equality. Further acclaim for her work has come in the shape of a Gold Award at the 2016 WorldMediaFestival in Hamburg for Wedding Day and a nomination for the same project in the International Current Affairs Documentary category of the prestigious AIB International Media Excellence Awards.

Raghav, a young Indian man, stands in his wedding car, as photographed by Lieve Blancquaert on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III.
From Lieve's series Wedding Day, which explores wedding traditions around the world, groom Raghav is seen on the way to his wedding in Delhi, India. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with a Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM lens at 1/400 sec, f/4.5 and ISO1600. © Lieve Blancquaert

You have a formal education in art. How has that influenced your approach to making photographs?

"Education offers a good playground and the luxury of time to find out what kind of photography you want to do. But, to be totally honest, life experiences have had a stronger influence on my approach."


What kind of photographer are you?

"Fast and as precise as possible. I hate it when I have to work hard on a picture after taking it."


What basic skills do you think are required by someone who wants to embark on a journalistic or documentary photography career?

"To be open to all stories. But most of all to have an open mind. We all have our prejudices, and that is the biggest enemy in this job."


When you begin to plan a project, do you start to pre-visualise specific pictures and the style of image you want to create, or do you just focus on the story and see what develops?

"Both I believe. You can think in pictures but I learnt that you have to open your eyes for all other pictures that you don't have in your mind."


Do you ever switch off from photography, or is it something that's always on your mind?

"I can easily switch off my camera. It must be horrible to live with somebody who never stops."

One thing I know
Lieve Blancquaert

"Always be open to ideas. Sometimes my work feels like a relay, with one story leading to the next one. For instance, when I worked in the Democratic Republic of the Congo on a documentary about maternal mortality, there I decided to start my Birth Day project. So, I travelled to 14 different places in the world to see how children are born. While I was doing that project, I met a father in India who told me about his terrible position because his wife has delivered him only daughters. There I decided to focus on Wedding Day and Last Days, projects about how people connect and how we die in this world."

Lieve Blancquaert's kitbag

The key kit that the pros use to take their photographs

The cameras, lenses and photo accessories in Lieve Blancquaert's kitbag.

Cameras

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV

Trusted by the pros, tough and yet relatively light, the 5D Mark IV is ideal for stills or video – making it great for reportage. "This full-frame camera allows you to take full advantage of EF lenses," says Lieve.

Canon EOS R

Designed to deliver the ultimate in DSLR image quality, with 50.6-megapixel resolution and a low-pass cancellation filter that maximises the sharpness of the camera’s sensor.

Lenses

Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM

This fast aperture wide-angle lenses eliminate distortion and aberrations for exceptional results. Lieve says it's "A lens that allows you to include more of the environment and is a good option for tight spaces."

Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM

Natural perspective, excellent low-light capability and extraordinary optical performance make this lens ideal for portraits and dramatic lighting. "The best focal lengths for portraits are typically between 35mm and 85mm, and 35mm is one of my favourites," Lieve says.

Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM

Precision-made for low-light shooting and giving an extremely shallow depth of field where required, this lens is perfect for creative portraiture and low-lighting situations. "The combination of large maximum aperture and longer focal length delivers beautiful pictures," says Lieve.

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