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Photographic representations of Brussels at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries: from documentation to artistic expression

Notes de la rédaction

This is the press release related to the article from Danielle Leenaerts, published on March 5, 2012

The opportunities to take photographs have multiplied since digital cameras have become more affordable and integrated into many everyday objects (telephones, mp3 players, etc.). At the beginning of the 21st century, the number of photographs of Brussels is impressive: nearly 3,500,000 results via the general search engine Google, and more than 1,150,000 on Flickr, a website often used by professional photographers as well as enlightened amateurs for sharing photographs. These photographs are evidence of the state of the city and its evolution. Some of them are also a form of artistic expression, examining the city from an angle which goes well beyond descriptive representation.

The author of the 57th issue of Brussels Studies, Danielle Leenaerts (ULB and IHECS, doctor in art history), shows us that this duality in the photographic approach, between descriptive imagery and artistic perspective, appeared at the end of the 19th century. At the time, the pioneering photographers who witnessed the major transformations of the city during the reign of Leopold II, were followed by photography lovers who defended a Pictorialist artistic approach, modelling their work after painting and favouring timeless subjects. In a very didactic manner, the author uses a few well-chosen examples to present the prerequisites for understanding a major evolution in the practice of photography. This interpretation is still very relevant, and may easily be transposed to contemporary images of Brussels.

Leenaerts, Danielle, “Photographic representations of Brussels at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries: from documentation to artistic expression”, Brussels Studies [Online], General collection, No 57, 05 March 2012. URL:
Benjamin Wayens, Senior Editor: bwayens[at]

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