Tharoul is a small village in Belgium, in the province of Condroz. It's deep Belgium, a rural area full of wheat, swedes and cows. There are not too many big towns in Condroz, but lots of small hamlets and villages filled with cottages, farmhouses, churches and chateaus that, at their oldest, date back to Norman and pre-millenium times.
I went there for three days last week. I was part of a project called Three Days in Tharoul (watch the video here). It's a creative project masterminded by Fabrice Wagner that takes place in a beautiful 18th century farmhouse owned by Philippe Malcorps. It's a beautiful farmhouse in which the minimal, austere 18th century features have been given an overlay of 21st century comfort.
For Three Days in Tharoul, Fabrice invites a photographer, a writer, a bookmaker and others to the house. Last year the photographer was Pino Musi and the writer was Remi Coignet. This year I was the writer, the photographer was Paul Gaffney, the bookmaker was Pierre Liebaert, and the delightful Jacky Lecouturier did the printing.
The central idea is that you have three days to make a book, that you collaborate together on, you produce one book that will become part of the house, that will add to the layers of history upon which it is built and create different perspectives of the house, the people, the land. It's a kind of architecture in which the spirit of creativity revitalises a place, gives it energy and life. It's a beautiful idea. It's not really about the book at all. It's about the spirit of togetherness, about creation. It's a pagan ideal. You felt it there.
And it fits perfectly because when you visit Philippe's house in Tharoul that pagan sense of place is ever present. Paul Gaffney was the perfect photographer for the project this year because nobody has that sense of being and place quite like he does. He is unique. I followed him around the fields and the forests around the farm, talked to him about philosophy, photography and life as he shot and felt the instincts taking shape.
It was a challenging situation to work in; Three Days in Tharoul for Paul really meant One Day in Tharoul. He did a couple of shoots, started an edit, did a couple more, did another edit and then did a final one and continued to edit as Fabrice put together the book for printing. The book evolved.
As Paul shot, I wrote. As I wrote, Philippe spoke to Paul and created a signature stamp (made in his forge - a beautiful touch) that would form a central motif to mark on the book. And as Philippe made his stamp, Pierre and Fabrice spoke to Paul and they planned out the mechanics of the book; the paper, the cover, the design. We all chipped in and an energy came to life, a story emerged.
And in between, the flames roared in the incredible fire place, the finest wines available to humanity were brought out of the cellar, there was Belgian beer and an endless supply of meat with an accompaniment of deep classical music both recorded and live via Philippe's incredible hurdy-gurdy (no, I didn't know either) performances. In the kitchen he played for me for 15 minutes. He could have played for 2 hours. I was transported.
It was hard work and challenging with troubles along the way, but somehow all came out good in the end. We made a book. Just one book, a precious beautifully-made book that we all watched Pierre painstakingly create. It was a remarkable fetish. We opened the book at the end of the three days, on the Saturday night before we left Tharoul.
The book stays in Tharoul and becomes part of a place. It was made in a location and it stays in that location. It adds to the embryonic library that was started the previous year, a collection that will build up year on year. It's a mix of slow photography, fast photography and creative dynamism merged with a specific idea of place and very special people; people who were gentle, generous, thoughtful, sensitive and creative. I think the book might be a bit precious in some ways, but I'm happy that it was precious, that there was a huge sense of occasion to its creation.
Last year's book (left) and this year's book (right) from Three Days in Tharoul
It was precious but really the book is only a very small part of that. The book crystallizes all that came before; it was the creation that mattered, the Three Days in Tharoul that enriched and enlivened everyone who was there. Three Days that I will never forget as long as I live.