- I was waiting for my photography subject to arrive in the middle of a street in London. Suddenly, an exceptionally deep voice boomed from behind me: “STEFAN?” I flinched and turned around. COOL! In front of me stood – Dracula, Saruman, Scaramanga – Sir Christopher Lee.

This is one of the sea tales of Stefan de Batselier. The Belgium-born photographer has viewed just about every world-class star through the lens of a camera, including an assortment of rock history legends that can be encountered in the North Karelian Museum Hilma until early September.

Joensuu proudly presents: David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Yoko Ono, Johnny Cash, Eminem, Marilyn Manson, Marianne Faithfull, ZZ Top, David Lee Roth, Sinead O’Conner… The narrative penetrating the outer shells of the people in the photoshoots stirs up feelings and questions. What were these scenes about, why have these people in particular been chosen for the photos and most importantly – why did Stefan de Batselier become a citizen of Joensuu in 2009?

The first major turning point

De Batselier, born in Antwerp, thinks back to the moment he first viewed the world through a camera’s lens as a six-year old. Besides photography, the young boy soon committed his life to music.

– I remember having been twelve years old when I first listened to an album by Ian Anderson. It was a real turning point, my life changed in a flash, de Batselier says as he gestures at a photo of Anderson with his flute in the exhibition hall. The singer and songwriter of Jethro Tull is also known as a self-taught flautist.

De Batselier’s passion for music and photography later evolved into an international career. In 1990 he moved from Belgium to London and spent twenty years working as a music photographer for an international record label and music magazines.

Enough is enough

For decades Stefan de Batselier shuttled to and fro at the core of the international music world. The seasoned photographer describes how nervous, shy or downright anxious he has often been at the beginning of a photoshoot. However, the final product shows that the photographer managed to establish a connection between the photograph’s subject and himself and therefore achieve just the right results with each photoshoot.

– Photos that are too static, sharp or well-lit do not reflect reality. The risk of failure is always present when shooting without camera support, as it should be – perfection is not interesting.

It was fantastic! I knew that I wanted to live in Finland. I love Finland and Joensuu!

Despite spectacular success and life experiences, de Batselier’s life in London was not perfect either. In the end, the man was utterly burned out by the harshness of the music industry and the crowdedness of London. He also needed to distance himself from the feelings of panic that the metropolis evoked in him.

– Traffic in London is chaotic. When I had to take the films to the lab for development, I started driving after midnight – the traffic was somewhat tolerable around 3 a.m.

– Then I got divorced and had to give up my house and belongings. I guess it was the usual story in the end.

The second turning point

In 1997, Stefan de Batselier came to Finland for a business trip for the first time. He remembers taking the train from Turku to Helsinki. The photoshoot ended up in a snowy forest.

– It was fantastic! I knew that I wanted to live in Finland. I love Finland and Joensuu!

The dream about Finland came true in December 2009 and the photographer settled in the old school building in Joensuu’s Niittylahti. The house is heated with wood, and snow shovelling offers some incidental exercise. The traffic jams of London are in the past. The emptiness is luxury to the soul.

– My life is constantly feeling a bit complicated, though. My girlfriend lives in Belgium and wants me to move there. But I cannot imagine going back to Antwerp, which has become the battlefield of drug gangs.

The future

Stefan de Batselier’s exhibition in Joensuu’s Hilma has gained excellent reviews. Karjalainen, a regional newspaper, ranked the exhibition the star of Hilma’s summer, that leaves you thunderstruck. The photographer himself is visibly pleased with the result.

– I have worked with the museum before, when I photographed the museum artifacts for Hilma’s 100th anniversary publication. I enjoyed every single moment immensely!

In the future, the photographer would like to expand his angle in photography as well as his partner and client networks. His goal is to find commissions without having to leave his beloved Joensuu. One of his most important future goals is to gain good knowledge of the Finnish language.

– I intend to learn the language so that I can chat in Finnish fluently. I am downright embarrassed for not having a command of the language yet.

Text: Sirkka-Liisa Aaltonen/Viestintä-Ässä