Teach 'Em Kids
Vanessa Coquelle, Photographer, Belgium
Vanessa or, according to her own words Jeff Buckley impersonator with a camera, transforms the ordinary everyday into an extraordinary everyday exuding life.
Fabrik: Hi Vanessa! Tell us a little bit more about yourself and your work.
Vanessa Coquelle: My name is Vanessa Coquelle. I teach, I write and I shoot. I left France and started teaching in 2012 right after my mother passed away. I’m a language teacher in Schaerbeek, one of Brussels' most multicultural neighbourhoods. I had no idea what to expect when I got that teaching job, but the sense of warmth my students gave me exceeded all my expectations - to the point where, contrary to most of my colleagues, I feel safer in my classroom with them than in the staff room. It was supposed to be a substitute job. I never left.
I started shooting photography at the very beginning of 2015. Before that, I was the annoying person who would take pictures at shows with her cellphone. I’ve always been into shows, full front stage, diving deep in the sound. Most of the time, there were live photographers around. I used to envy them and their alleged ease to convey whatever was going on in there, compared to a girl who would spend hours writing about music on her way back home.
When I bought my first camera, the first thing I did was carry it along to a show. It was a Triptykon concert. There was a guy playing the guitar called V. Santura who was wearing some kind of corpse paint that was so well done it looked like a freaking Kardashian contouring. I was blown away. But as far as photography goes, I felt nothing special. Nothing at all.
That night, it was clear live photography wasn’t meant to be. I never felt comfortable with the position it puts me in. I’m much more into people, portraits, candids. People I can feel close to. I got myself a very small camera, no zoom, no flash. All I wanted was to feel close to the people who caught my eye. I don’t think I ever took photography seriously. People took it seriously for me, and it just freaked me out.
Fabrik:I would like to go a little bit behind the scenes regarding your series 'Teach ’Em Kids'. What was the inspiration behind that? Tell us a bit more about the process.
Vanessa Coquelle: ”Teach ’em kids” is the result of a 4-year long constant diary of a two-way trust between my students and me. It’s a series I edited at the very end of a burn out, right before going back to work - only to share it a year later. Long story short, I needed to remember why I loved my teaching job so much. It’s a dozen pictures among many more - thousands, maybe, I stopped counting.
”Teach ’em kids” was shot between classes, choir sessions, field trips, football games and other tiny bits of life outside school. There’s the one who asked me what the Pride was about and ended up bringing half a class with her for support. There’s the one who went to the woods for the first time of his life at the age of 14. There’s the one I went to the dentist’s with as a joke when she decided to take her braces off. There’s the one who organized a whole surprise birthday party for me. There’s the one who came to kick my ass when I was on medical leave so I could go back to work and kick some more asses.
There’s something really peculiar about the relationship I have with them. I couldn’t teach the way I teach in France, and I couldn’t teach the way I teach anywhere else in Brussels, with other kids. Sometimes they call me ”Coach”, sometimes they even call me by my name, I don’t care - because calling you ”Miss” isn’t always how respect works. I’d rather have them develop their own curiosity than giving them detention for a forgotten homework. I call them my human tiramisu, because they always lift my spirit, and here’s what I learned from them: teaching is a two-way street.