The lost Village
” Doel” a small Belgian village along the banks of the river “De Schelde” doomed since 1997. The village and its 1300 citizens needed to make space for a new sea dock “Deurganckdok”. Slowly the village ran empty and was finally abandoned ready to be swallowed and scoped away by the diggers and bulldozers.
Unclear political decisions and legal blunders delayed the implementation of the dock. Action groups and protesters have tried for years to revert the decision. Till today it remains unclear what the future will bring. One thing is clear; it is a great place to shoot pictures.
Only a few people remained in the village, the current count is 18, however the real figure is considerable higher as homeless street people and Out-Law’s occupy the abandoned houses and streets.
Doel became the Wild West of Belgium, a village where Law and order did not apply. The ideal places for illegal practices of all sorts. By the end of 2006 the state applied the “zero tolerance” policy. The Police arrested the illegal occupants and cleared the streets. It made the streets of “Doel” a safer place, at least during the daytime. However nighttime remained very dangerous ,dominated by gangs, low live and criminals. Even today , it is not recommend to wander around in the empty streets after sunset.
Yet, I decided to visit the place armed with my Nikon D800. Homeless people, drug addicts and Out-Law’s occupy the central village square. In the middle an open fire, high flames nourished by an abundance of wood, stolen from the interiors of the houses and surrounded with an array of left behind furniture. Every so often a car pulls up, windows roll down and a quick photograph is taken. As fast as the car came as fast as the car disappears after been bombarded with stones and pieces of wood. There I was, only a few meters away from the out-law’s, the same people that throw rocks and other debris to the occasional photographer. Not a good sign. Never the less, I placed my camera out of sight and moved forward with a steady and decisive pace. I expected immediate aggression. Instead, I was asked to sit down. So I did for about 2 hours, listening to their stories. Every so often interrupted with a photographer bashing. Very strange, since I was a photographer as well and yet I felt kind of safe as long as I did not make a move to take a picture.
We talked about the weirdest things, from people of outer space to the art of creating a totem pole. Finally I asked if I could take a few shots of the Out-Law’s and the village. A long silence followed terminated with a short and sturdy “WTF why not”. As soon as I pulled my camera they all turned their faces away .
Except “ the men and his dog ”. I tried once to aim at the others, they were not amused and yelled, “ we are not an attraction, we are people “. In such a situation there is not much you can do then just paying respect and hoping that you will not be beaten-up. Scarlett my youngest daughter was with me and must have had the fair of here live.
The day progressed very quickly, the “men and his dog” was working on a totem pole for the camp and insisted that I would take some pictures on what he called “his creation” . It would cast a spell on those who wanted to destroy their empire.
Several pictures later I was offered the peace pipe stuffed with weed. Meanwhile the sun was sinking into the horizon and more sinister characters showed up. Time for me to leave.
If you are in Belgium, try to visit the place, take your time, seek contact and you might be able to take some pictures and leave in one piece.
Thanks for reading,