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Jean Ruiter Photoworks
by Drs. Dorothe Kurvers

Jean Ruiter doesn’t consider himself to be a photographer in thetraditional sense of the word. He isn’t interested in documentary photography that is no more than the camera’s registration of what the photographer encounters. He records what he makes: an image he has himself constructed.By building a set out of images of reality, staged images, human figures, objects and so forth, he removes the items used from their original contexts. He adds signs and symbols, but also consciously allows room for the element of chance. “I accept chance as an essential part of our existence. Chance doesn’t really exist of course; seen in a greater context, everything has its place. But because we don’t know enough about things, we call it chance.” Ruiter gets his inspiration from his travels. He used to travel without any particular goal in mind. But (literally) as he went, he became increasingly interested in other cultures and was inspired by the landscapes, their inhabitants and their way of life. Travelling roused his curiosity or roused something more akin to spiritual desire and set all kinds of processes in motion in his mind. Ever since travelling through Turkey in 1983 where for the first time he constructed his own images on location, Ruiter travels with a more or less worked-out concept for a project. Travelling, discovering, assembling a set and taking photographs are inextricably combined. Little by little everything has come to be geared toward travel: a handy camera, a portable changing bag and light, developing photographs in the bathroom. And a portable computer with a fax modem, for communication is important to him and inspiring. Each project consists of a series of works having to do with one specific subject a cycle of ten to twenty photoworks which also include three-dimensional works augmented with audio and light components. Usually short, the cycles “sketch the spirit of the age” and in so doing connect together the authentic culture of a place, the present way of life there, its history and other cultures present there. Ruiter doesn’t remain a detached onlooker in this. His social consciousness moves him to comment, as he commented on humans in a metropolis in “Urban Opera”, on the destruction of Mexican culture in “Maya, Aztecs and the Rainforest”, and on a land caught between Eastern tradition and Western consumer society in the series “Japan II”.

Ruiter makes use of features in a landscape, characteristics typical of a culture, its traditions and rites, changes or adaptations brought about by the influence of the “modern” Western world, and stories, personal or otherwise. Yet although he adopts a critical stance in regard to the hypocrisy of (Western) man, his images are not didactic.

His language is that of metaphor, association and (black) humor, allowing him to represent a complex matter with a wry smile. The final image can be seen as a substitute reality, more like a document, through which he makes a strong appeal to the viewer’s consciousness, his knowledge and memories.

Ruiter investigates what photography, with all its different techniques and materials, lends itself for. This is for him the best language in which to express his thoughts, the development of his mental process, and his feelings. Ruiter is more like an artist who ultimately makes his images visible through the medium of photography. “The art of painting really belongs to a century gone by. The time is ripe for new media techniques and photography is integral to them.” Yet while an artist can cerebrally shape images in his studio, Ruiter must go to his subject. “... and that works out quite nicely as I was already on my way.”

Although Ruiter seeks out a new location time and again, he feels particularly drawn to America’s West Coast. There he has a second home base. “In Europe everything is well-ordered, is over-organized, but we’ve forgotten the dimension of emotion. That’s fatal for an artist; differentiation disappears and dullness sets in. Even now Europe views photography as a second-rate art, unlike America and certainly unlike the West Coast. Americans are much more open; it’s easier for them to adapt new forms. While in Europe photography used to be considered a rival of traditional visual art, whole generations grew up with it in America. This resulted in an enormous body of knowledge.”

Even though his roots are in the Netherlands, it’s an oppressive environment for him to be in. The cultural climate is suffocating and the Dutch mentality is much too moralizing. For although Ruiter offers his own commentary through his work, he doesn’t feel the need to impose his opinions on others. “If I started to know everything, I’d be on a dead-end street.”

Complemented and Opposed
1989-1990, Nine Photoworks

This cycle of photoworks is based on the phenomenon of opposite colors in the visible spectrum. It is a formal investigation of the negative and positive sides of the visible world. For this, Ruiter photographed nine different leaves with nine different background colors. Physical intervention, however, has caused a part of each leaf and its background to be exchanged for their negative color counterpart. Each leaf remains a whole and maintains its own identity its Latin name, its own shape and texture. In this way it’s as though all of the leaf’s characteristics are revealed.

Maya, Aztecs
1990-1991, Nine Photoworks

In 1990 Ruiter came into contact with then aged Gertrude Blom, a journalist who had spent a great deal of her life fighting for the conservation of the rain forest and its inhabitants, the Maya. She was to have a great influence on Ruiter. He made a cycle about what had happened in the area, its religion, its history, the place itself and the destructive influence of Western colonialism on this Mexican culture.
To do this he visited many Indian sites, temples and ruins. He collected images and handed-down myths and stories, and constructed his own image. The depictions generally refer back to ritual meanings.
This is the case for example with the image of a figure all bandaged up by a pitcher of water and a bowl of bread. The Maya believe that man has two souls; one lives in himself and the other in the rain forest.
Once a year they must do something for that other soul. They wrap themselves completely up in order to release themselves from their own identity, put on a mask of their rainforest spirit, and remove themselves to a cellar to meditate. The food and drink is for the spirit.

Women, Sacrificed and Desired
1992-1993, Eleven Photoworks

A series focussing on women. Ruiter calls attention to women, who on the one hand are glorified and are at the center of everything, but on the other hand are condemned to second place and have their bodies exploited as sex objects not only in the past, but today as well.
Ruiter photographed the feminine body in eleven different traditional, that is to say erotic, poses. Then he altered the photographs using real fur, velvet, or copies of well-known images from the history of art. These treatments refer to previous centuries or to the present day, and lend a new meaning to the works. With wry humor, the cycle deals with the hypocrisy of men and society as to women and their image.
In one case he “stabs” a woman’s torso in the back with a knife made of papal velvet with a golden edge. In another he places the Tower of Babel between the spread legs of his model.

Japan II
1993, Seven Photoworks

Japanese culture is deeply embedded in its traditions. Yet at the same time the Japanese adore and adopt Western culture, which they see as modern. The fact that two totally different cultures can exist side-by-side in this Buddhistic country fascinated Ruiter so that he devoted a second cycle to Japan. This time he made a computer-operated “orchestra”. “No strange montages, just computer-directed shots.”
Ruiter combined typically Japanese traditions, such as the masks of the No theater, with adopted Western characteristics, for example Disney characters. In one case this led to the image of a No actor with a mask upon which Mickey Mouse is projected.
Yet the contact between the modern West and Japan is also rooted in history. Hiroshima. Ruiter symbolizes it in a photograph of a “survivor”: a Browny camera, completely deformed by the scorching heat of the atomic bomb. “It’s as though this camera, made to record and caught in the throes of death, still wanted to register the events of that moment. But it saw too much and was no longer able to tell it further.” Ruiter printed the texts “truth” and “lie” on it in Japanese characters.

1993 (ongoing)

Our twentieth century is characterized by construction. Construction in all different areas, but especially visible in architecture and graphic design. “But it’s also great to deconstruct, of course; ‘I like that idea’. Man constructs something, gives it a particular rhythm, and I deconstruct it. In its new situation it’s gained a whole different rhythm. A different landscape has come into being.”
Ruiter’s chosen objects we can all recognize. We continue to be able to recognize them after his intervention. Rietveld’s chair is still clearly Rietveld’s chair, but in a different sequence.

Chaotic Messages, Solid Images
1995, Six Photoworks

A day’s experience is a chain of fragments: you turn on the radio, you turn on the TV, you look outside, etc.. A chaos of fragments of sound, sight and movement which have nothing to do with each other and are of no apparent consequence. I think that this kind of a chaos of details is very special; gradually it becomes a part of your life.” Chaos doesn’t really exist according to Ruiter. “Chaos is no more and no less than the point at which our ability to comprehend fails us, and this point can be shifted forward.”
Ruiter has used his camera to collect information from the newspaper, TV and the streets, and has combined this in collages. The details, once constructed and recorded, start to interact. The grids these images are mounted on suggest a possible interconnection one that isn’t there, however. This shows what human beings are capable of, how we can deal with all those fragments of information. We viewers construct a relationship, even if it can’t be maintained. On account of this, these images will capture our attention again and again.

The Photoworks of Jean Ruiter by Jonathan Green, Previous Director UCR/California Museum of Photography
Jean Ruiter Photoworks by Drs. Dorothé Kurvers
Introduction by Cees Straus
Jean Ruiter Photoworks by Adriaan Monshouwer, consultant on Photography
The works of Jean Ruiter by Edward W. Earle, Curator, Collections, International Center of Photography, New York
The works of Jean Ruiter by Robbert Roos (Dutch)
Het is een luxe om altijd te kunnen reizen by Nell Westerlaken (Dutch)
Imaginary Journeys Appendix by Jean Ruiter, Jonathan Green, Adriaan Monshauer and drs.Mirjam Westbroek
The Imaginary Journeys by Jean Ruiter
The Emotional Mathematics by Jean Ruiter
Chaos and Order by Jörg Zimmermann, Germany
It is tricky to understand but "ce n´est pas une pipe" by Jörg Zimmermann
The Tokyo Blind Paths by Jean Ruiter
Single Works 2000-2001, Desperate SuicideTeen by Dorothé Kurvers
The New American Landscapes by Jeroen Hendriks
Pollymer Constructions by Jean Ruiter
The Kyoto Zen Gardens by drs. Marcel Feil, curator at Foam, fotografiemuseum Amsterdam
Newspaper Series by Jean Ruiter
Walking the silent Path by Jean Ruiter
Dante Revisited by Drs. Josien in ‘t Hof (in Dutch)
Minds of Consciousness by drs. Marcel Feil, curator at Foam, fotografiemuseum Amsterdam (in Dutch)
The Nudes of Hattonville by Dorothé Kurvers
Jean Ruiter: A Multifaceted Explorer by Merel Ligtelijn (Dutch)
The Transparent Truth by Cees Straus
Visual Ersatz (Charcoals) by A.D. Coleman, Photography critic, New York
Jean Ruiter's "Corpus Constructed" by A. D. Coleman, Photography critic, New York
Cathedrals in the Desert by Edward Earle, Curator, Collections, International Center of Photography, New York
Cathedrals in the Desert by Jonathan Green, Previous Director UCR/California Museum of Photography
Urban Opera by Cees Straus (in Dutch)
Maya and Aztecs by Dr. Reinhold Miszelbeck
Terra Cultura by Robert Lunsingh Scheurleer
Jean Ruiter PhotoWorks Japan by Herman Hoeneveld