Glimpses of the Haunted Heights – An Interview with Belgian Film Photographer Célia Schouteden


For Belgian film photographer Célia Schouteden (@hauntedheights), film photography is a way to represent her state of mind and reality in images. Inspired by classical art and literature, as well as movies evoking melancholy and eeriness, her photos, which include self-portraits, reveal haunted emotions underneath a dreamy, unearthly surface.

Also integral to her art and approach to creativity is her own experience with autism and the Ehlers Danlos syndrome. In this interview, we talked to her about her journey with film photography, her inspirations, how she sees her art and the world, and more.

Credits: hauntedheights

Hi, Célia! Welcome to the magazine. First, can you tell us about yourself? How did you discover film photography?

My name is Célia Schouteden. I’m (soon-to-be) 31 years old, and I live a rather introverted life with my partner and our two cats (an opposite-attracts kind of duo). I often think that with any luck at all I could have been born a crow or not at all, but I have had to be content with what I had, so here I am! An autistic artist, bookseller apprentice and storyteller, with two left feet and an obvious lack of social skills, from and currently based in Belgium.

I like literature and cinematography, cemeteries, and endlessly exploring the past (mine and others). I also fall in love with fictional characters on a daily basis, but we don’t talk about that too much.

I discovered film photography through an ex whose dad was a photographer, but I didn’t actually take it ‘seriously’ until my partner gave me my current camera (a Nikon FM2n) and encouraged me to pursue it. It has been in my life since then–it’s been 8 years or so.

Credits: hauntedheights

What's your reason for shooting on film?

Film makes the process of creating easier, and it’s more poetic in my opinion. It is still challenging, of course, but I’ve tried shooting with a digital camera and it just sucked the life out of my creativity so fast… I hated having too many options and having to spend hours and hours editing in post-production.

Film photography helps me focus on what’s important and meaningful to me–I don’t have unlimited resources when I shoot on film, it’s expensive and restricted to 8, 12 or 36 frames. I have to think things through, balance them and make it worth it all–I cannot afford to let my brain misbehave like it usually does when without any constraint (thank you, ADHD).

Digital allowed me to shoot more but I lost direction and couldn’t find myself and what I wanted to say in that dense forest of frames–it just echoed without making sense. So now I have an agreement with myself–create less often but more intentionally.

Credits: hauntedheights

What are the inspirations behind the themes in your images? How did you develop an interest in Pre-Raphaelite art, romanticism, and classic literature?

I have many inspirations–I’m constantly consuming content in many forms–but I’d say that what inspires me the most is literature. Words. The complexity of feelings attached to them.

Recently, I have read incredible books (two novels and a biography) and it has sparked something in me–those being O Caledonia by Elspeth Barker, We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson and A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin.

Reading makes me realize my own state of mind, and leads me down a path that fits my current mood when it comes to creating art. I don’t usually pick just any book. I notice patterns between them–understanding why this one or that one can spark my creativity more than anything else. Movies work the same way for me. You can usually guess a few of my next moves by paying attention to what I read or watch.

My other inspirations that you referred to (pre-Raphaelite art, romanticism) most likely come from my love of books. After a while, looking for something, anything, that makes sense to you, you’re bound to eventually find something that does. I don’t remember exactly how I came across those interests but it was most likely from references in books or movies.

Credits: hauntedheights

A pivotal point in my creative journey, which sparked my interest in aesthetics, was my first time watching the movie The Others (2001)–for example, there is this scene in the movie where the little girl is playing in a dark room, dressed in an all white gown, a veil over her face, and it just clicked in my brain. Another scene, you see Nicole Kidman’s character in front of the manor’s gates, dressed in a long dark coat. The color palette of that movie, the costumes, the eeriness of it all... it just hit me.

Those inspirations I found for myself have a lot in common, that’s why they’re my special interests, they serve a common purpose. They make me feel seen, validated, and heard. They’re so close to my heart that I wish I could be a tiny part of them somehow too – to echo them. I guess that is partly why my art reflects them.

Credits: hauntedheights

Which cameras and film stocks do you usually use to create your images?

I usually shoot with my Nikon FM2n and a basic 50 mm 1.8, my Polaroid sx-70 (using polaroid originals films), and recently I’ve started using a medium format camera (an Arax).

I’d say that my favorite films so far are the Kodak Portra (400 and 800) and LomoChrome Purple (for the medium format especially).

Credits: hauntedheights

Can you also talk a bit more about how you organize a shoot? How do you choose your locations and models?

I usually start with a vague concept based on my feelings or body sensations (past or present), something that’s familiar to me, but, like I said, usually it sparks from something I’ve read or watched (recently re-watched Ammonite, Stoker), or a piece of music (alien observer by Grouper, hard times by Ethel Cain).

It has to be something that is intensely felt and personal, or else it won’t come out good at all (or not without lots of time and effort, and meltdowns and tears). Nowadays, I’d say that my art tends to be focused on my experience as a disabled person (I’m autistic and have Ehlers-Danlos), on the eeriness of love and grief, nostalgia and melancholia.

Credits: hauntedheights

For my personal projects, I often take self portraits or photograph close friends–my friend Lis being my main model at the moment– and I tend to go back to specific locations I’ve already been to and which are of comfort to me. As an autistic person, it can be difficult to find places where I feel safe and comfortable shooting at or to connect with most people; I get easily overwhelmed and my anxiety can take over quite rapidly.

There is this burden of a mask to wear in most places and with most people–I cannot wear it and create something vulnerable at the same time. I think that’s partly why I’ve been shooting at cemeteries or in nature, isolated from the rest of the world, more than anything else. It’s more peaceful that way. It’s a luxury I still allow myself–being alone and content. And vulnerable.

Credits: hauntedheights

Talking about the LomoChrome Purple, what was your motivation for trying it and how was your experience with it?

I remember finding out about the LomoChrome Purple and thinking, oh I must have it this instant! It’s such a poetic film. (Plus, purple being one of my favorite colors, it was quite an obvious choice for me.) It reminds me of being a kid and painting, a beautiful reality unfolding itself as you add the colors–it makes me nostalgic of the endless possibilities of life growing up. I get a bit of it back when using LomoChrome Purple.

I think this film has the ability to create poetic images effortlessly and I love it especially for portraits in nature–green sceneries transformed into magical paintings by the click of a button. I cannot NOT be a bit in love with that. I feel like a magician using it sometimes.

Credits: hauntedheights

What do you wish to achieve through your style and your photos?

If I’m honest, I am not so sure anymore (but I’m working on it). I used to think that I wanted to feel understood, above all to be accepted and seen for who I truly am, and to let others know that they are too. But, nowadays, with the world the way it is (a lot of its parts crashing and burning), I find it to be not nearly enough.

I am currently at a crossroad and my art is evolving. I’ve been posting less and reflecting longer. Allowing myself to learn new techniques (cyanotype printing being one of them) and getting out of my comfort zone, of what I know. To be ok with learning and unlearning.

What I hope to achieve is to reach some sort of level of authenticity and meaning that I admire in others–to only give you one example of an artist that I follow and admire deeply: Ellen Rogers.

Shooting the way I do comes so naturally to me now that I don’t often think about it anymore; it’s just the way that it is because my brain connects things that way. I see those pictures unfolding before my eyes, and I could be anywhere in the world and see them create themselves, like scenes from a film. Sometimes I can’t sleep until they unfold clearly enough that I’m satisfied, and I can let myself slip away, reassured that I will have a purpose the next day when I wake. I guess I need to keep on creating to achieve some sort of peace of mind, too.

Credits: hauntedheights

Do you have a dream project you'd like to share with us?

I would love to learn how to process my own films, how to print my own art with alternative methods (like photo etching for example), and to publish an art book in the future, if and when life allows it.

I dream of shooting behind the scenes photos on film for a historical drama or independent movie or tv show.

We'd like to thank Célia for sharing her insights and art with us! To view more of her work, visit her LomoHome, Instagram Page, or website.

written by sylvann on 2024-05-08 #gear #people #art #experimental #literature #lomochrome-purple

Lomography Lomochrome Purple XR 100-400 (120)

Try the trippiest analogue emulsion out there — this color negative 120 film works with any medium format camera, to shift up the color spectrum and tint your world in psychedelic tones.

One Comment

  1. hauntedheights
    hauntedheights ·

    Thank you so much, AJ @sylvann -- I had a lovely time answering your questions!! :))

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