This article originally appeared on VICE Netherlands
Belgian photographer Alexander Deprez is married to Nathalie Nijs, who is 24 years his senior and the mother of his best friend. His project NN is a series of analog photos of their daily lives together. I spoke to Alexander about love, taboos and honesty.
VICE: When did you meet Nathalie?
Alexander Deprez: About three years ago, I spent a whole summer with my best friend Niels in Ghent. Me and my ex had just broken up and I felt like a prisoner in Kuurne, the place where I lived at the time. Ghent was much more fun. Nathalie is Niels’ mum, so we where living under the same roof and I remember we would sit on the balcony together a lot – just talking and smoking.
From the moment we met, there was no denying we shared a connection but we didn’t do anything about it for a while. She was the mother of my friend and we were very conscious of the age difference too. That is until we ended up sleeping together after her birthday party that year.
How did your best friend react to your relationship?
There were lots of people in the room when we started kissing – the party was still going. Some people were quite shocked and you could hear the "whoops" and "Wows" in the room, but everybody also laughed about it. Niels as well. We were all quite drunk.
He did seem to have a tough time, once me and his mother started dating officially. At times, he felt like he was the third wheeling – I was the guy interfering in his family. But in the end, it all worked out and I believe we are okay now.
Do you get a lot of judgemental reactions when people see you two together?
Not that much. There are some comments here and there, but they always come from people we don’t know that well. It happens that some girls my age totally ignore Nathalie when she’s around. And there are guys her age who act competitive around me. They seem to feel the urge to brag about what they did when they were younger or about how many women they could have had.
I do feel that a lot of people don’t take this relationship seriously. I guess they think that, sooner or later, I’ll want to be with somebody my own age. But we don’t care about what everyone else thinks. Nathalie and I prefer to laugh about it, instead of getting frustrated. Actually, I quite enjoy seeing those confused faces when we kiss in public.
You’ve been taking photos of Nathalie from the moment you were together but why did you decide to publish them? Does that have anything to do with breaking taboos?
I think we’re already breaking taboos by being together. With this series I want to address something else, something that’s very common in Flanders, maybe specifically in West-Flanders. People here care way too much about what other people think. We’re too used to wearing masks. When you’re in trouble or something’s wrong, you’re not allowed to show it. Everyone knows each other’s problems, but they don’t talk about any of it. Naturally, that can lead to breakdowns when people just can't take all this pressure by themselves. I think it’s a very oppressive culture.
In these pictures I’m very honest about myself, my life and the environment I live in because I think that the world would be a much easier place to exist in if we were all a little more open. Sometimes people think that I only do this to shock, but that’s not true. It’s just that I’m not afraid to show who I am even though my life involves things that are considered taboos – like sex, parties and drugs.
What do you love most about Nathalie?
I really like how confident she is. That brings a lot of stability and trust in our relationship. Young people are often too busy trying to claim their own space, in relationships as well as in society, and that can cause jealousy and suspicion.
She allows me to photograph her even in the most unflattering situations. She pretty much agrees with almost everything. Some people are very strict about the way they want to be portrayed, but she doesn’t care that much. She knows who she is and that's enough. Being with her, has really helped me develop my own style. It's not that she determines it for me, more that she teaches me to really be myself.
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