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Sébastien Van Malleghem


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Brussels, Nivelles, Belgium, 2008 – 2010

For more than 3 years, I followed Belgian cops in their cars, during their missions, everywhere. I discovered the violence of life seen on the face of citizens, the loneliness and the stories of those who try to speak but can’t, who try to get out of the night, but can’t.

What reality can be seen from the back seat of a police car, when we are neither a suspect nor a policeman ourselves?

Though sometimes sordid, I saw the everyday lives of men and women who work, day and night, for the safety of their fellow citizens. I uncovered the unfamiliarity in the heart of the routine, the vibration of a job that seems, at first sight, lacking of emotion.

Since elections in June 2010, Belgium has had no government, which is obviously detrimental for public services like the police force. According to some sources, up to ten percent of the population suffers from alcoholism, and sixty five percent of young people try or take drugs. But the Belgian police are undeniably effective, despite a drastic lack of resources. The night shift of Brussels west zone is only staffed with 8 teams- 16 policemen for 182,000 residents. When a night becomes heated to the point of needing reinforcements, the only solution is to call in police officers from neighboring zones, who then leave their own perimeter uncovered.

However, even an increase in the resources available for the police force will not be able to stop urban insecurity and the saturation of the prisons. The lack of space in Belgian prisons leads to reduced time spent in jail for “light judgements,” and law enforcement frequently bears the burden of people they must deal with again and again.

Though the police are conscious of the difficulties they face, they continue to watch over sleepy Belgian towns with the hope that the State will support them.

How will you sleep when their hope fades away?


Sébastien Van Malleghem, 24, is based in Belgium. He studied in Brussels at the superior art school “le75”. During his studies he interned with Tomas Van Houtryve.

After finishing school he went to America and participated in the Eddie Adams Workshop. Last June he joined the Belgian Collective “Caravane”.

Sebastien is currently looking for an editor for a book on his reportage about the police while continuing this project exploring justice. He recently began working in Belgian prisons.

Born in Belgium, Sebastien is trying to understand his continent by photographing in Europe.

Related links

Sébastian Van Malleghem

Collective “Caravane”

21 thoughts on “sebastien van malleghem – police”

  1. This is so powerful and Sebastian really knows how to dig in deep.
    Long live BW!
    Yes another country in the EU in trouble!
    Well at least will keep on Rockin´ no BURNing!

  2. Great reportage! it is interesting to see such photographs of a place I used to live not too far from and a reality I hardly know nothing about. Thanks Sébastien. bravo!

  3. Now, this is excellent photojournalism. I’d only exclude two or three pictures (in my opinion, 30 is too many anyway) but this is a very good work. If Sébastien is doing this at 24, it’s scary what he will be able to do!!!


  4. Stunning essay. Brilliant. I did feel a little badly for the old man drunk in the ambulance (#22) to be nearing the final stages of his life and to have this moment so brutally exposed to the world as the defining moment of whatever his life has been – but, it is life, life needs to be understood to the degree possible and grappled with to the max and you have done so very well.

  5. i am really really surprised this essay did not receive more comments…it is a very fine essay referencing the work of others in style as Mr Vink said, and yet being on its own as well…particularly nice work Sebastien…i look forward to seeing more from you in the future

  6. Pingback: Sébastien Van Malleghem – Police | BURN magazine « the selected

  7. Sebastien!

    so sorry i missed this the first time around….when was this published??….maybe when I was away with my eye problem…

    this is STRONG, intelligent work. It reminds me of both Wegee (obvious) and some stuff by Richards. I love the use of flash and the strong, overwhelming use of shadows to conjure not so much the ‘menace’ of the crime but the emotions and desperation that the officers must feel being so understaffed….i loved too the humanity of the faces, that both the police and those arrested to cared for seem to bonded by the same affliction: a lack of help and services…..

    The ONLY criticism I have is that I didn’t like the last image…it didn’t register with me as powerful enough (visually/emotionally) to end the essay….it seems more like a first image, an establishing shot (so to speak) ….but, maybe that is the kind of loose, open ended final image you want…since the problem is still unresolved…

    again, strong, potent work, that both humanizes this world and also allows me inside it….

    congratulations Sebastien!


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