© Joris Casaer
Olympe Tits (Marseille, 1992) is an autodidact photographer, dancer and choreographer residing in Brussels, Belgium.
Olympe started her education to become a professional dancer at the Royal Balletschool of Antwerp at the age of 8 and graduated there at the age of 18. After those studies she developed as a contemporary dancer at the Royal conservatory for contemporary dance in Antwerp and got her teachers degree after that. She danced in different dance projects and made her own choreographies that have been presented on different theaterfestivals. As she has always been very interested in making art with different media such as dance, music, writing and video she decided to self taught herself photography at the age of 19. Her conceptual work has been exhibited in different galleries in Belgium and abroad. In 2016 she won the National Belgium award at the Sony awards in London. In 2017 she ended 2nd on the TV show Master of Photography that has been broadcast on Sky Arts in different countries. Her work has been published in different magazine and newspapers such as Focus Vif, Shoot, City Zine, De Morgen, De Standaard, New Gup and on different online magazines over the world. Beside her conceptual work she makes photographs for theatre and dance compagnies. She's regularly asked to provide the image of a campaign and portraits of artists.
Olympe Tits's photography, opposites complement each other. Contrasting
colors draw figures by marking out areas in space. The soft texture of a skirt winds down on a stone floor. Divergent elements enter into a dialogue caused by contrast. Like opposites, they play a continual game of attraction and repulsion.
We see frail bodies, as well as graceful and slender figures. They often appear in uncomfortable positions, while simultaneously acquiring a new form. These characters invite you to watch them. In return, they don't look back.
Form and content coincide in Olympe Tits's work, which is an organic result from her own life experiences. Since childhood, she had always been attracted to her mother's analogue camera. She portrayed herself amidst flowerpots and other found items with a digital camera she got her hands on. This resulted in her first childlike self-portraits.
Later on, Olympe took dance courses, moving on to Belgium's most renown schools to delve headfirst into the art of dance. Subsequently, she graduated as a dancer at the conservatory of Antwerp, where she could expand on her knack for choreography as well. It was an injury that invited the photographer in Olympe Tits to twist again. Initially, she documented the dance courses she had to miss, after which she started shooting the dancers outside of the studio environment as well.
You can sense a state of before and after in each photo. The movement from back then to later on is silenced in the now. Even though each character is overwhelmingly present, it longs to escape this now. At times, it literally accepts the situation. Often, it becomes entwined in the decor.
At this point, humour finds its way into the pictures as well. The absurd humour of out-of-control nonsense becomes an image, documented in the never-ending now. The world in which these characters reside is filled with bright colors. This brightness is often reinforced by textures, making each color almost tangible. This way, the vibrant tones become an important part of this universe. Everyday spaces are saved from their banality. Materials transform into sensitive lines, meeting the body, like in a pas-de-deux with their opposites. The character is there, in that one place. Deafeningly, it silences us.
INTERVIEW BY NICO KOS
How did you start with photography?
My grandfather was the only one in my family who did something with photography. He made the most beautiful family portraits. He lived in France but we lived in Belgium at the time so we didn't had the
chance to see each other that often. My mother started to document all important moments so we could send that to him, like this he could have a glimpse of our life in Belgium. Because of this, photography and video were very present in our lives.
When I was six, I was given a yellow 35mm camera. I was obsessed by it (of course the colour had something to do with it), and so I started to take pictures of my family. I was always so curious of the results that I always asked to go get the developed photos in the store by myself.
When I joined the Royal Ballet Academy in Antwerp at the age of 8, photography ended up in the background for a while. It’s difficult to combine this demanding education with anything else. But visual
art kept seducing me, and photography stayed in the back of my mind. In the weekends at home I started to take pictures of myself in the garden. Mostly I used all I could find in the garden as props. But I didn't really use those pictures for anything, I was just making fun.
My passion was reignited when I got injured while studying Contemporary Dance at the Conservatory of Antwerp. I was forced to sit out the classes for 3 months due to an injury, so I suggested my dance teachers to take photographs of the dance classes and performances. They started as a documentation, but I quickly started experimenting. I felt I wanted to “make", rather than document. It feels more natural to me, since I have an urge to create. I would also rather make choreographies than to dance someone else’s. I started to think about concepts after school, with my fellow dance students as models. I see this period as the birth of me as an artist. I loved to share what I created, felt that need for acknowledgment.
On social media my photography was picked up by people and I received my first commissions. International art centre De Singel asked me to make the artwork for Bouge B Dance Festival. It was surreal to see my photography on immense banners all over Antwerp. I felt like a real artist for the first time in that moment. It became serious from that point, and I remember thinking that if people ask me to make specific work for them, my own conceptual work has to be as good or even better. That drive
developed my visual language.
Did you find your subjects early on?
When I started creating my work, I immediately knew I wanted to work with female dancers, people that understand their body well enough to take awkward positions. I was not interested in faces but more in
the form that a body can make. My photographs are anonymous, I don't want their identity to be the focus. Very quickly I knew which elements I wanted to photograph and what I definitely didn’t want to.
To make a good picture different elements are important for me. I focus on the right location that are mostly in public spaces but places that people would not immediately recognize afterwards. The models I
work with have to be able to understand and feel the mood of the work. I always ask them to take a look at my previous work. They have to understand what my work is about. Mostly I've already seen them
move before so I know their movement language and capabilities which creates a synergy with the subject and the artwork. The outfit will always be colourful and timeless, and the movement has to fit precisely all the other elements. With these elements I can start working on an image. That always happens before the shoot. Sometimes I’ll start with thinking about the character on one shoot or with the location for the next one. There’s no pattern. I can start from a piece of clothing I found, or from a colour. Anything can spark my inspiration. For example: I can have a blue looking image in my head, so I go searching for blue environments, locations. Or when I’m dancing at home, I can discover an interesting
movement, and create the image from that. It’s important that the artwork has personality and that all the elements are strongly colliding together.
I feel my work is one big series, or rather my blueprint. I don’t want to tell one story. I want to work visually, telling very different small stories within every image I make. I don’t want to define those stories
either, telling what they are about. I want the viewer to make their own story. Some may think an image is scary, others find it to be funny. It’s great to receive different responses. But I do have a theme: my photography always features figures that find themselves in certain places,
who are not aware that they’re there, thus almost dissolve in the scenery. I see my pictures as still choreographies, you can feel there's a before and after, but the characters are frozen in their movement.
Because they try to be as discrete as possible, they start to stand out again.
What makes your work so personal?
My photography reflects who I am. The way I stand in life. My work reflects the world I grew up in. The harshness of the dance world. My mother wanted me to be a dancer. I didn’t want to be the “Prima
Ballerina”. I didn’t like the high expectations and working to the extreme. But in hindsight everything I learned in my dance educations brought me where I am as a photographer. There are small elements in my work in which I can find myself, how I felt or feel. My work also reflects
my upbringing. When I was a child the spotlight was directed at me because the expectations were immense, but I was not always capable in handling it. In my work I’m hiding the characters. If they don’t see me, I can avoid the responsibilities. At a school where they expect the world from you I had this longing to hide myself, to create in silence, to be just me. I still struggle with that.
Writing is also something I’ve always done. It’s like therapy for me. I found an outlet in my texts, which are filled with humor. And humor is so important in my work and life. In real life I don’t put things easily
into perspective. But in my writing I can do that. It feels only natural to combine that with my photography.
Your art is full of joy and especially full of colour.
Yes! I really love vivid colours in everyday life. And I know exactly where the influence for colour comes from. When I was 8, going for the first time to boarding school my mother used to make combinations of
outfits I had to wear. They were awful! Pink and yellow, blue and green combinations. I used to get mocked for my clothing. I never forgot about those colour combinations, and subconsciously they slipped into my work.
Do you see your work evolving?
I do feel an evolution. Definitely composition wise I feel I can establish my work better. When I just started I learned all facets of photography myself. In the beginning everything was very impulsive. I didn’t
always understand everything technically, while now I know what I'm doing. The process of making a picture became more smoothly and I'm completely in the moment while shooting, I feel more than I think.
I understand my work much better so I recognize it much more when everything collides. I do understand now that my experience as a dancer and choreographer helped my photography work to
stand out more. It feels like I've found a balance between dance and photography. They met and never let go of each other.