After initial confusion in organising the different timezones between Belgium and Australia, Louis and Ryan finally got together for The 88 podcast.
The conversation covered a wide range of topics including how Louis ended up chasing stories in Colombia, his transition into documentary photography and how important expensive equipment really is.
*This interview was transcribed from The 88’s podcast interview with Louis.
Consequently, the content has been edited where appropriate.
(i) What made you pursue your passion in documentary photography?
I started photography really recently – about a couple years ago when I was living in Colombia. I had moved there for my job with a renewable energy consultancy company. It’s a job that really gives me purpose in life.
So when I started in photography, it was purely for travel. However, after a couple of months I decided that if I was just taking photos for the sake of taking of photos, it wasn’t giving me fulfilment.
There was a need for more purpose.
Then I made the decision to leave a gift for Colombia; as a foreigner living there I wanted to use my photography to leave some sort of impact in the country. I decided to contact a number of agricultural organizations in Belgium as a lot of Belgian imports including bananas, coffee and palm oil come from Colombia.
And all I set out to do was share the stories of the people behind the process with those back home in Belgium.
(ii) What was the story that moved you most?
When I took a 7 hour bus ride from Bogota to the palm oil fields, I linked up with a Belgian organization that helps labour unions in developing countries.
Along the dusty roads are two things; a whole host of African palm tree plantations and small villages – theres nothing else. These villages exist for one reason, and one reason only – for the agriculture of palm oil.
Upon first glance, the warm sun and trees made it feel like I was on a holiday in France. However, the stories I heard – ones of tough manual labour in harsh conditions – shed light on the situation, with plenty of local frustration.
All the surrounding villages are owned by a single oil company. Therefore, if villagers opened up to talk to us, they would lose their job. If locals lost their jobs, they would end up in poverty.
People moved to these villages to build a future for themselves, and upon arriving the reality of the situation has not matched up with their expectations.
It is important to know the stories that exist behind the products we consume.
(iii) What is the most difficult part of being a documentary photographer?
When I was leaving a FARC reintegration camp in Colombia, I was looking for my fixer to take me back to the closest village. Instead, I was confronted by a local man who had an eye patch with a scarred face.
He’s quite sick and there is no medical assistance around; doctors who have passed through said they would come back to help him have not come back. And so this man says to me – “help me.”
And I’m not a doctor, so did only what I could do at that point – which was to take a picture.
I almost didn’t dare to ask, I felt half ashamed but half dedicated to do something for this man.
At that point I realised, I’m no longer telling stories – with the stories comes a responsibility far greater than that.
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Louis Lammertyn is a documentary photographer and sustainability consultant from Belgium.