Eyes wide open in L’Epicerie with Stephen Papandropoulos

It is no surprise that the artist’s discerning eye focuses on the world at large as well as his or her own creative world.  The sensory imagery that feeds the incorporeal spirit also nourishes the corporeal body.   If it is a colour, form or mood that inspires a photographer to capture an image, what is it that tempts and satisfies the photographer’s appetite?  I was curious to know more…where would the photographer choose to meet the writer…. what would it tell me about the person whose camera eye discloses the poetic and evocative in the quotidian world?  How would my perception shift when sharing a slice of the artist’s world through their eyes and senses?

A photographer constantly views, searches and edits the visual world.  Unerringly, Stephen’s eye sought out from amongst the repeated bluestone facades of a Brussels’s street, the singular realm of Mongkhon Tangton’s L’Epicerie, a universe where during lunchtime the mind, mood and body can be replenished, recalibrated and restored.  First discovered when Stephen’s studio shared the same street; L’Epicerie became part of the daily ritual that endures even now that his studio has relocated.  No mere habit, the pilgrimage to L’Epicerie is clearly sustenance and enrichment in every sense.  Greeting Stephen with a warm embrace and beatific smile, Mong welcomed an old and a new friend into his serene domain.

“Watch the faces”, advised Stephen.  “Do you see how everyone starts to smile when they come in, their shoulders relax, and they slow down”?  He was right – the door opened, the windswept, harried, hungry customer stepped through the portal, still for a moment, exhaled the breath of the outer-world and inhaling the scent of lemongrass and ginger, began to smile.   Ears that had been filled with the noise of sirens and traffic took in the music playing from the 33rpm disc on the turntable; eyes that had been fixed on computer screens ranged over the Tibetan prayer flags, books, sculptures, photographs and produce; noses that had been assaulted with traffic fumes perceived the complex warmth and tang of Asian herbs and spices.

Time expands in the world of L’Epicerie.  The pressures that dominate and demand in the outside world melt away.  To wait becomes a pleasure and an opportunity to contemplate, absorb and reflect.  Mong finds time for everyone, and in so doing we discover that we too have time.  Simultaneously rapid and still, Mong manages single-handedly to cook, serve, talk, laugh, nourish and nurture.  With the generosity present in every aspect of L’Epicerie, Mong showed his treasured, stone-sharpened Japanese knives, disclosed his favourite source for his essential supplies of tender citronelle, galangal, coriander and garlic, and shared some secrets of his famed “boulets de poulet à la citronelle”.   As we talked, Stephen photographed Mong, capturing his modesty and humility in an unselfconscious portrait.   As if spirited from the kitchen, two earthenware bowls placed over warming candles appeared at our table.  We bent low over the lidded bowls and inhaled the steaming fragrance, removing the lid to reveal the delicate broth bathing coriander and chilli-studded boulets.

Do I now comprehend Stephen’s work in a different, richer, more complete way?  Did sharing lunch in one of Stephen’s favourite places tell me something about his preferences, taste, and expression?  In his photographs, Stephen shares his eye on the world, and in sharing his favourite place to eat, he shares the experience that goes to nourish his view of the world.  One feeds the other.  I learned the pleasure he takes in observation; I understood more the patient, solitary search for image and composition; I saw the “otherness” and “togetherness” that informs his clarity of observation yet allows immersion in experience.    Perhaps it is this very complex relationship between the creator and the world that attracts Stephen to the rich sensory yet calm world of L’Epicerie.  Stephen and Mong remind us to be still, to observe what is absent rather than to be dominated by what is present and to feel vibration of the senses.  As a photographer, Stephen is someone who can bring focus to the clamour that surrounds us and reveal the essence we did not know was within.

Kathryn Smith

Stephen Papandropoulos
Represented by Ampersand House and Gallery: http://www.ampersandhouse.com
30 Rue Tasson Snel, 1060, Brussels

L’Epicerie, Rue Keyenveld 56, 1050 Ixelles, Brussels. Tel: 02 513 7184
Open 10-15.00, Monday to Saturday; evenings by request.
Courses in Thai cuisine by request.
Photographs courtesy of Stephen Papandropoulos ©