Bieke Depoorter

A tattooed woman named Agata stands in a pink bodysuit in a room which is also entirely pink. Taken by Canon Ambassador Bieke Depoorter on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV.
Canon Ambassador Bieke Depoorter is interested in collaborative portraiture, finding subjects that can work with her in telling a story. She met Agata at a club in Paris and the Polish woman agreed to become the subject of one of Bieke's ongoing projects. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 1/30 sec, f/4.5 and ISO3200. © Bieke Depoorter / Magnum Photos

In 2009, Belgian photographer and filmmaker Bieke Depoorter caused a sensation with Ou Menya, her book of candid photographs of strangers taken in the privacy of their own homes. It was a collection of atmospherically charged images – some light, others dark – featuring individuals she had encountered on her travels, who then agreed to let her spend the night in their homes.

Accidental encounters, and how these interactions develop, was a theme she would continue to explore as her career took off. Her work has appeared in four books and been exhibited across the globe, and she has amassed an impressive number of accolades, including the 2009 Magnum Expression Award, the Levallois 2017 Prize and the Larry Sultan Award in 2018.

Canon Ambassador Bieke Depoorter, taken by Sam Slater.

Location: Belgium
Specialist areas: Documentary
Favourite Kit:
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV
Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM

"The first time I asked a random person if I could spend a night in their home was in Russia. Initially, it was not a concept – I did it because I did not have money for hotels, and because in some of the places I stayed there often weren't any hotels," says Bieke. "I realised it was the first time I'd felt comfortable with photography; the first time I didn't feel that I was stealing photos of people. So I decided to continue. It's very interesting to me that in a very short time, you can get very close to people."

The results of her three-month solo trek across Russia in 2008 appeared in her first book Ou Menya (2012). She was then invited by the ImageSingulières festival of photography to capture the residents of the French seaside town of Sète. For the first time, she started to blur the lines between fact and fiction, resulting in Sète #15, a dream-like, atmospheric nocturnal version of the sleeping city. She repeated the concept for her second book, I Am About to Call It a Day (2014), for which she travelled to the United States. Again, Bieke asked the strangers that she encountered if she could spend the night at their homes and photograph them. She won their hearts by admitting to her own vulnerability. In turn, they confided in her.

"I think many of us use photography as a tool to try to understand the world, even though that's probably not possible. Photography guides me into the ways in which I can stay amazed," she says.

A group of people in Amarillo, Texas sit in a car near an American flag on a pole, surrounded by trees with filled with fairy lights. Taken by Canon Ambassador Bieke Depoorter on a Canon EOS 5D Mark II.
A family gazes at Christmas lights, seemingly oblivious to the photographer who they have only just met. For her second book, I Am About to Call It a Day, Bieke travelled to the United States, again spending the night at the homes of strangers she met on her travels. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark II (now succeeded by the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV) with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 1/25 sec, f/4 and ISO5000. © Bieke Depoorter / Magnum Photos

Bieke continued her exploration in As It May Be (2017). "Since the Egyptian revolution of 2011, during key moments in the uprising, I have regularly travelled to Egypt, trying to find trust in times of turmoil and suspicion," she says. "Women, their husbands and children shared their daily life, their food and even their beds with me. Nevertheless, the consciousness of my status as an outsider, both culturally and as a photographer, started to grow. I went back in 2017 with a dummy of the new book to open a dialogue with more Egyptians of all ages, opinions and religions – to give them a voice – and a fascinating conversation arose."

An image from Bieke's book, As It May Be. A woman lounges on cushions; quotes from her friends and family have been written over the image and are translated on the right.
An image from Bieke's book, As It May Be, of a woman sitting on her sofa. In 2017, Bieke revisited Egypt with a dummy copy of the book and invited people to write comments directly onto the photographs. The text is translated on the right. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III (now succeeded by the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV) with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 1/20 sec, f/2.8 and ISO5000. © Bieke Depoorter / Magnum Photos
An image from Bieke's book, As It May Be. A woman lounges on cushions; quotes from her friends and family have been written over the image and are translated on the right.

Bieke, who has been a full member of Magnum Photos since 2016, began studying photography aged 18 and completed a master's degree in photography at Ghent's Royal Academy of Fine Arts in 2009. "I grew up without understanding photography and art at all, but I was attracted to images, without knowing why exactly," she says. "When I started studying photography a whole new world opened. I never thought about having a career in photography, I simply followed my urge to do it."

She has also turned her attention to filmmaking, co-directing Dvalemodus, a short film that centres on the everlasting darkness of a small Norwegian village.

A film still showing a mountain range at nighttime from the short film Dvalemodus, shot by Bieke Depoorter and Mattias De Craene on a Canon EOS C100.
A still from Dvalemodus, a film by Bieke and Mattias De Craene. The short was created over a three-week timespan and portrays the people of Skaland, a small village on the coast of Norway. Filmed on a Canon EOS C100 with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens. © Bieke Depoorter / Magnum Photos

How would you explain your style to someone who has never seen your work?
"I don't have rules, so every image can be different. The most important thing for me is that the image is layered – not necessarily in composition, but layered in the way you can interpret it. I often do this by capturing an atmosphere."

Your projects can last for months, what do you pack?
"It all depends on the country I'm visiting, so I customise clothing with respect for the culture, and pack good shoes, two hard drives and my camera equipment. I will always double-check my camera equipment before leaving."

What are you looking for in the people you approach to photograph?
"I walk around a lot (hours and hours, kilometre after kilometre) to look for people I feel attracted to or fascinated by. I just need to 'feel' them; they need to make me curious about their lives by the way they walk, move, look, laugh, not laugh…"

Why do you photograph mostly at night?
"I don't really feel inspired by the day. It's the darkness and the light of the night that attracts me. At night, the atmosphere is different and people change a bit – the mask of the day falls off."

Is there anything you feel photographers new to the genre sometimes overlook?
"Do not look at the people you photograph as 'the other'. I find it important to create a relationship with the people I photograph – that relationship often defines my projects."

Facebook: @BiekeDepoorterPhotographer
Instagram: @biekedepoorter

One thing I know
Bieke Depoorter

"I don't like to put people and photographers in boxes. I never thought about the box I would fit in, and even now I am not sure what the definition of 'documentary photography' is. The most important thing is to stay true to yourself as a photographer. It's necessary for us, as photographers, to dare to question ourselves and our practice from time to time. To doubt ourselves, and then to try and find a solution."

Bieke Depoorter's kitbag

The key kit that the pros use to take their photographs

Bieke Depoorter's kitbag.


Canon EOS 5D Mark IV

Designed to perform in every situation, this camera is a beautifully engineered all-rounder, able to capture every nuance, every colour and every detail. "I like to travel light, and I don't like to change lenses, so the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM is the perfect combination," says Bieke.

Canon EOS C200

Super high 4K quality, combined with flexibility and ease-of-use by a single operator, make this a professional's must-have. "It's a small camera, easy to use on your own, and I can use it with the Canon 5D Mark IV's lenses," says Bieke.


Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM

A professional-quality standard zoom that offers outstanding image quality and a fast f/2.8 aperture throughout its zoom range. "I photograph most of my images around 35mm," says Bieke. "But I like to have the zoom for landscapes and unexpected moments."


SD card

"Because the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV creates big files, I have upgraded to a 128GB card," says Bieke. "I use it for both cameras."


"I sometimes use it for night landscapes. It's compact, light and easy to take with me on nightly hikes," says Bieke.

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