Filip Blommaert

Belgium

Mirror Mirror - print on aluminun dibond 50 x 50 cm
Kirby more Mermaid - print on aluminun dibond 50 x 70 cm
Ice Diving print on aluminum dibond 50 x 70 cm

About

Lemurvision: Combining Underwater Model Photography, a Special Forces Mindset, and the Breathtaking Beauty of Kyrgyzstan

Born on September 26, 1970, I emerged into the world as the second son of Jean Blommaert and Gerda Feyten. Growing up in an artistic atmosphere of drawing, painting, and classical music set the tone from the beginning. Combined with a father who dared to tackle the 42km of a marathon, the possibilities were laid out on the table. And I eagerly seized them.

I wasn’t exemplary in school, preferring drawing and crafting over studying. However, this didn’t lead to academic achievements, not even at an art school like St. Lucas Brussels.

The first major milestone came at the end of May 1983 when, as a 12-year-old, I set a time of 1 hour and 43 minutes at the Brussels 20km . This achievement significantly boosted my self-worth. Over the following years, I continued to sharpen this record, reaching a personal best of 1 hour and 18 minutes.

After another failure at school, there was little else to do but to start working and fulfill my mandatory military service. Through devouring books like ‘The Guinness Book of Records’ and ‘Ninjas’, I saw the Paratrooper and commando training as a challenge. Within Defense, it was one of those superlatives. But what, where, and how to proceed, I had no clue. So, it was a leap into the unknown. In late April 1991, I earned the coveted red beret and was stationed at the 3rd Parachutist Battalion in Tielen.

On September 24 of that year, unrest broke out in the then Zaire under Mobutu, and before I knew it, I found myself amidst the chaos in Kinshasa.

Alongside my military career, I also began leadership roles in the Scouts of St Brixius Rode. To enhance some activities, I started making short video clips. With a High-8 camera from a fellow leader, basic equipment, and a storyboard, the first images were edited. Later, during a mission in Kosovo in 2000, I bought my first video camera with mini-DV tapes. The clips kept coming.

Meanwhile, I pursued training in specialized domains such as Military Team Medic, Commando Instructor, and Military Mountain Guide. The latter, particularly out of love for the mountains.

As if Paracommando wasn’t challenging enough, it turned out there was a step higher, Special Forces. So, without further ado, I applied, began, and completed the Special Forces Operator training. Similar to the skepticism encountered during Paracommando training, there was little belief in my success in these courses. “1m60, 60kg? Come on, Filip, be serious!” But I came, saw, and conquered the selection. I underwent additional training as a diver, hence the continuation of the story in the hyperbaric realm. The purchase of an underwater housing for my video camera was, therefore, a natural decision.

During a mission in Kabul, Afghanistan, I discovered Kyrgyzstan. A country and region to which I have returned many times and still wish to return. Kyrgyzstan, mountains, mountains, and more mountains. A true paradise, where I have also taken up the challenge of learning the local language. In addition to providing travel advice, I also lead individual and group trips and am engaged in mapping the mountain ranges of this Central Asian region.

During a mission in Chad in 2009, I began experimenting with a colleague’s photo camera. As a result, after the mission, I bought a camera and tried it out on my first winter trip to the mountain paradise of Kyrgyzstan. It would remain a combination of photo and video work for the years to come. During many military missions and trainings, but also on our world trip with our Iltis Bombardier overland from Belgium to Japan, Expedition Rice Grain, in 2011.

Inspired by photography and lacking formal training, I began teaching photography within the Special Forces Group. This was on a rather technical level in the context of unit observation tasks. Surfing the net in 2014, I came across a photo of a guy in a suit, wearing sunglasses and smoking a cigarette, posing on the fuselage of an underwater plane. A shoot commissioned by photographer Marc Hillesheim for Playboy. This shot stuck with me and was my motivation to eventually delve into underwater model photography. I tried to find the photo years later, but without success, until… April 2023.

In the meantime, I had also become a member of the Professional Photographers Association in Belgium. It was through this platform that I began working with models, prompted by a call from a new clothing brand. The idea had been brewing for some time, but it needed a trigger, which in my case, came through this opportunity.

My first model shoot had nothing to do with the clothing brand. Inspired and with some ideas simmering for a while, I made my first call for a nude shoot. The shoot was planned in an old fortress and was called ‘The White Lady’. Another concept that had lingered in my mind for many years, ‘The White Lady’. A mythical figure from the books ‘The Gnomes’ by Rien Poortvliet. I visualized the image of a young woman in a translucent white gown wading through a half-flooded tunnel somewhere in one of the old forts around Namur. This shoot took place on August 13, 2019, with model Philien Verhofstadt and Make-Up-Artist (MUA) Kaat Buelens. An epic shoot, I must say.

There were several other model shoots, partly for the clothing brand (which never materialized). Until Covid halted everything for a while.

As I resumed model shooting, I was about to embark on a mission to Burundi. An assignment that would last seven and a half months and provide me with the financial means to finally purchase the necessary underwater equipment. Upon my return, everything was ordered, and I could immediately get to work.

And so, my first underwater model shoot took place on September 13, 2021, at V-Wellness, Mechelen. The model for this shoot was Philien, and MUA was Sarah Degraef. For all three of us, this was our first underwater shoot. And many more are yet to come. After this epic shoot, there followed projects like “Kirby’s encounter with mermaids,” a three-part fur coat shoot, “Mirror Mirror,” and “The White Wedding.”

To take it a step further, in March 2023, I asked to participate as a photographer in a freedive event under the ice. Something that the ice bears gladly welcomed.

On the Special Forces front, I also entered the TV world as ‘Chef Blom’ in the TV series ‘Who Dares Wins, Special Forces’ on VTM. The recordings for season 2 are currently underway. After much experimentation with light, makeup, locations, and backgrounds, I have now reached a point where I feel I have worked towards. With the design and construction of sets, the possibilities are endless. And with a head full of ideas like a fizzing tablet, the future looks promising.