Lieve Blancquaert

Multiple babies lie swaddled in patterned fabrics, on a small hospital bed.

Canon Ambassador Lieve Blancquaert's image of babies in Pumwani Maternity Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya is from her project Birth Day. The hospital is in the heart of Kibera, the city's largest slum, and more than 100 children are born there each day. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark II (now succeeded by the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV) with a Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM lens at 1/100 sec, f/4.5 and ISO640. © Lieve Blancquaert

Canon Ambassador Lieve Blancquaert is a social documentary photographer who has gained recognition for her sensitive and engaging approach to difficult subjects.

Lieve is a Belgian photographer whose work has taken her around the world. She attended the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Ghent, where she studied art, taking a particular interest in film and photography. She looked up to the likes of war photographer Tim Page and, after graduating, she started working freelance for various publications in Belgium, including De Morgen and Knack.

With every successive year, Lieve has honed her documentary style and has never been afraid of tackling difficult subjects. Her portfolio includes work on AIDS in Africa, women living without men after the Rwanda genocide, breast cancer, and maternal mortality in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. She has also been involved in interesting collaborations with journalist and friend Annemie Struyf - they have worked on A La Limite, a project about love and death, and My Status Is Positive, a book about living with HIV. The two subsequently joined forces to set up the Hope For Girls Foundation in 2005, with the aim of building a refuge for vulnerable girls in Kenya. The project has since expanded to Europe, and Lieve and Annemie's achievements were honoured with a European Citizenship Award in 2017.

Lieve has also collaborated with Dutch-language Belgian author and poet Erwin Mortier, illustrating both a collection of his poetry and providing images for a book on encounters with underage refugees living in shelters in Brussels.

Canon Ambassador Lieve Blancquaert.

Location: Ghent, Belgium
Specialist area: Documentary
Favourite kit:
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV
Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM
Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM
An older Japanese woman looks at the camera, wearing dark pink lipstick and with a red piece of fabric tied around her hair.

Eighty-one-year-old Kimi is from Okinawa, Japan. "I strongly believe that we all have a child inside of us, regardless of our age and how deep it is hidden," says Lieve. "And if you look really carefully, you can sometimes see that child unexpectedly – in your mind, your smile, your reflection." Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X (now succeeded by the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III) with a Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM lens at 1/250 sec, f/7.1 and ISO100. © Lieve Blancquaert

An older Japanese man looks at the camera, wearing a white shirt in front of a white background.

Shoko, age 95, also from Okinawa, Japan. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X with a Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM lens at 1/160 sec, f/8 and ISO100. © Lieve Blancquaert

In addition to joining forces with writers and journalists, Lieve has formed long-term relationships with humanitarian NGOs such as Oxfam and Memisa; the latter is a Belgian organisation that focuses on reducing maternal and child mortality. Lieve grew close ties with Memisa during her time in DR Congo.

A triptych of projects entitled Birth Day, Wedding Day and Last Days shed light on how people around the world mark the landmark events in a person's life, from births to funerals. The success of the projects led to them being turned into TV documentaries. Now finally completed, the three projects have been brought together in an exhibition and book called Circle of Life.

An older man looks directly at the camera. His greying hair is neatly combed and he wears a pinstripe shirt.

Eighty-six-year-old Rojelio from Havana, Cuba. "I made a series of portraits of older people during my travels," says Lieve. "Looking for the boy or girl that was still hiding inside of them. I took these photos in a very simple way. On the street, or in their home. I would stick white paper on the wall and quickly build a mini studio with a small umbrella and a flash. And then I would have them pose for me." Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III (now succeeded by the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV) with a Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM lens at 1/160 sec, f/8 and ISO100. © Lieve Blancquaert

A woman is turned away from the camera, showing the back of her white and brown hair, which is held in a clip. She wears a grey top and a colourful scarf.

Zaraida, age 75, also from Havana, Cuba. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with a Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM lens at 1/200 sec, f/9 and ISO100. © Lieve Blancquaert

Lieve has held a number of exhibitions of her work in Belgium, and images from Birth Day have been exhibited at the World Bank in Washington in support of its early years agenda. To mark International Women's Day 2017, she received a Gender Award at the Senate of Belgium in recognition of the inspiring way she has promoted gender equality. Further acclaim for her work has come in the shape of a Gold Award at the 2016 WorldMediaFestival in Hamburg for Wedding Day, and a nomination for the same project in the International Current Affairs Documentary category of the prestigious AIB International Media Excellence Awards.

You have a formal education in art. How has that influenced your approach to making photographs?
"Education offers a good playground and the luxury of time to find out what kind of photography you want to do. But, to be totally honest, life experiences have had a stronger influence on my approach."

What kind of photographer are you?
"Fast and as precise as possible. I hate it when I have to work hard on a picture after taking it."

What basic skills do you think are required by someone who wants to embark on a journalistic or documentary photography career?
"To be open to all stories. But most of all to have an open mind. We all have our prejudices, and that is the biggest enemy in this job."

When you begin to plan a project, do you start to pre-visualise specific pictures and the style of image you want to create, or do you just focus on the story and see what develops?
"Both I believe. You can think in pictures but I learnt that you have to open your eyes for all other pictures that you don't have in your mind."

Do you ever switch off from photography, or is it something that's always on your mind?
"I can easily switch off my camera. It must be horrible to live with somebody who never stops."

One thing I know

Lieve Blancquaert

"Always be open to ideas. Sometimes my work feels like a relay, with one story leading to the next one. For instance, when I worked in the Democratic Republic of the Congo on a documentary about maternal mortality, there I decided to start my Birth Day project. So, I travelled to 14 different places in the world to see how children are born. While I was doing that project, I met a father in India who told me about his terrible position because his wife has delivered him only daughters. There I decided to focus on Wedding Day and Last Days, projects about how people connect and how we die in this world."

Facebook: Lieve Blancquaert
Instagram: @lieve_blancquaert

Lieve Blancquaert's kitbag

The key kit that the pros use to take their photographs

The cameras and lenses in Lieve Blancquaert's kitbag.


Canon EOS 5D Mark IV

Trusted by the pros, tough and yet relatively light, the 5D Mark IV is ideal for stills or video – making it great for reportage. "This full-frame camera allows you to take full advantage of EF lenses," says Lieve.

Canon EOS R

A pioneering full-frame mirrorless camera that sets new standards for photographers and filmmakers. It offers the ultimate shooting experience to take your storytelling further.


Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM

This fast aperture wide-angle lens eliminates distortion and aberrations for exceptional results. "A lens that allows you to include more of the environment and is a good option for tight spaces," says Lieve.

Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM

Natural perspective, excellent low-light capability and extraordinary optical performance make this lens ideal for portraits and dramatic lighting. "The best focal lengths for portraits are typically between 35mm and 85mm, and 35mm is one of my favourites," Lieve says.

Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM

Precision-made for low-light shooting and giving an extremely shallow depth of field where required, this lens is perfect for creative portraiture and low-lighting situations. "The combination of large maximum aperture and longer focal length delivers beautiful pictures," says Lieve.


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