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The works of Jean Ruiter
by Edward W. Earle, Curator, Collections, International Center of Photography, New York

'Terra Incognita'
The word "explore," is used in several very complementary ways: to travel to new physical locations, to delve into new scholarly subject matter, or to look into one's self. It is not coincidence that the academic study of psychology -- exploration of the self -- emerged in the late 19th century, at about the time that the known world was seemingly conquered — thoroughly explored. To many people in the early 20th century the only terra incognita left was in our soul and spirit. Photography has more often been associated with the first form of exploration -- depiction of the land itself. In the 19th century, photography was conscripted into service to support the colonial efforts of the European powers and the westward expansion of the United States. Ethnographic portraits were used to further depict a sense of the exotic among races that differed from the accepted Caucasian model. Photographers who joined expeditions to distant climes left their homeland for long periods of time but carried along cultural assumptions of superiority further instilled by their ability to control the photographic image. Photographers brought these images back to their home country like trophies or skins. The 19th century photographers shot the land and people without guns, but with equally serious consequences.
The notion prevails that a photograph is a "window on the world." The photograph's optical-chemical record of reflected light conspires with 500 years of linear perspective. The result is that we are seduced into accepting photographs as "truth" rather than just as information to be evaluated. It is the procedure of interpreting the photograph's pictorial information that is crucial. We also think we know what photographs should look like. Many photographs are easily categorized. Documentary photography, advertising work, and "art photography" too often base their images on stylistic conventions. They are successful, in differing degrees, because they convey what is already known and accepted. Like an early geographer, Ruiter explores new terrain. By doing so, he also challenges the nature of photography. The degree to which the work of Jean Ruiter departs from photographic convention encourage us to view the individual works more as entities, as artifacts or objects unto themselves.
They are not windows onto a known world but charts that employ known elements in order to steer a new, more personal course.

Unlike the expeditionary photographers who preceded him, Jean Ruiter does not work in the documentary tradition, however he does undertake extensive journeys. His travels take him to diverse cultural locales and into differing forms of photographic expression. Ruiter's photographic exploration plumbs both an exterior world of cultural differences and an interior world of personal responses.

"In Europe, man is scarcely conscious of the presence of nature. Here [in America] nature is scarcely conscious of the presence of man. Perhaps, indeed, on our Atlantic border, she is just waking to a sense that her rest is broken by the foot of the intruder. But in England [and Europe] nature has been quite subjugated."
"Contrasts Between English Scenery and Our Own," Atlantic Monthly, December 1874, p. 659.

Many of Jean Ruiter's works over the last 15 years have exhibited a tension between depiction of the landscape and what might be thought of as the "culturescape." A "landscape," whether a 18th century painting or a photographic image is ultimately just that -- an image, not the territory itself. Landscapes become the tableau upon which Ruiter posits a "culturescape" drawing on other fine art traditions: the portrait and the still-life. These components are often resolved in a fourth tradition, the collage. Ruiter's projects are as much about a departure from Europe, with its the tightly defined land and culture, as they are about entry into a new and different terrain and society.
As a photographer, Ruiter knows his craft well and uses photography's inherent artifice to create art. He sometimes employs artificial exterior elements to create images that explore deeper issues. Like a geographer looking for precious minerals, he uses the surface as clues to riches below the ground level. He often employs photography's power of creating illusion to subvert both the medium and the thing depicted in the image. False or illusionistic surfaces are coupled with another consistent device, that of fracturing or disassembling of the object or picture. The whole that was an image, object or icon is subject to radical reconfiguration.

In Terra Cultura, a series in response to Mediterranean culture, Ruiter takes the monuments of Greco-Roman culture and photographically breaks them down into component parts. Triumphal arches become suspended by wires, as though caught in a spider's web and subject to some external whim. In another work consisting of photographs with broken glass, the patrimony of western civilization is sardonically reduced to two phallices: a cold stone sculpted penis at one end, an obelisk commemorating long dead triumphs at the other extreme.
Within the assemblage of cultural shards is a depiction of hot sex which in itself, is only a picture further diminishing its value as only the false representation of real love.

The tension between new world and old is also a theme in his desert cathedrals series produced in the Southern California desert regions in 1993/94. These are Ruiter's most monumental works to date. They are cathedrals without congregations whose spires reach to a god paying homage to a consumer culture. In the desiccated land of Century plants and Joshua trees -- a landscape with biblical features -- edifices from another millennium arise. The cathedrals of Europe blossom in the Southern California desert. California, a land founded in mythologies with presumed riches, becomes the site for flying buttresses holding up only the shell of a previous civilization -- that very civilization which laid claim to California for crown and God. These cathedrals, like illusions in the mind of a modern-day Quixote, are born in a land known for its faults: moral, spiritual, and seismic. In Jean Ruiter's work, the same vengeful political and ecclesiastical authority that subjugated the indigenous people of the Americas is now enshrouded with the symbols of contemporary decadent American culture.
The signs of corporate mass production, of superficiality and of false gods adorn the structures. The constructions are very much like Hollywood film sets -- designed to be seen only from the camera's point of view. Once one moves a few degrees off the center, the persuasive perspective dissolves into mere artifice, vacant and empty. Jean Ruiter give us a world of decay and of greed but his structures remains elegant, poised on the desert floor reminding us that the realm of the spirit and of regeneration comes from land which was so important for both the poor catechumens of Medieval times and for the indigenous peoples of the Americas upon whom Christianity was imposed.

Unlike tourists who briefly encounter a new culture, Ruiter has lived for up to a year at a time in countries ranging from the Fertile Crescent through the "New World" and to the Pacific Rim. His explorations regularly bring him back to Asia, North America and parts of Europe to expand his continuing series of projects. His exploration of Japan through photographic constructions has undergone extensive changes over time. His first major series on Japan derived from a long stay in 1987. These photographs of constructions on the shore, or in bamboo groves are quiet, contemplative and in the spirit of Buddhist's peaceful acceptance of life. Their rural celebration distinctly differs from the results of a 1992 trip to Japan which confronted the urban contradictions of a country caught between its eastern traditions and western consumer driven aspirations.

Ruiter's journeys across many continents and diverse cultures often bring him back to recurring themes: the violent intrusion of modern consumer culture and the depiction of women as metaphors of desire, sacrifice and human resilience. His dark vision of a decaying western civilization, reaches a crescendo in his works made in New York City. Urban Opera, a series created when Ruiter lived in New York in 1991-92, presents the apotheosis of a city closer to Dante's vision of hell than urbane sophistication.
Again, superficiality and illusion is an element, this time within a theater of violence. Inflatable sex dolls play their assigned rolls as mediated through the raster lines of crude video. Fake lust amid false colors further diminish any semblance of humanity.
Another more recent series, Women, Sacrificed and Desired, employs the tradition of the nude in photography to subvert that male-determined definition of beauty.

Softly illuminated figures become alternatively enshrined amid religious symbols and details from Renaissance paintings, or enshrouded with faux fabrics physically attached to the print and its large black frame. In these works, women float between two extreme states: that of veneration and of violation. The photoworks become reliquaries of both the sacred and the profane. This series has less to do with Ruiter's journeys or explorations to different cultures than they do with a journey and exploration into his self.
Perhaps they represent a confrontation with his own quandary about the role of women in his peripatetic life? These works, like the historical paintings he embeds in his images, are allegories. Like the traditional notion of photography as a window on the world, these works provide narrow apertures into Ruiter's personal world.

Ruiter's journey's begin with logistical organization, with a range of justifications to sponsoring agencies, and with technical preparations. But the real work starts when a concept is brought to the new land and the exploration can begin. The journey takes Ruiter to new a physical location which becomes the site for the gestation of an idea. The art works arise from the confluence of streams of thought within a new cultural milieu. People are as important as place for Ruiter. His personal projects have recently been linked to his role as a curator as well. His work with Sonja Herst on four consecutive international photography festivals hosted in Breda, Netherlands, has further reinforced his own commitment to an exploration of new media.
This major exhibition and publication of Jean Ruiter's work over the past dozen years offers insight into the working methods of a photographic artist who continues to enlarge his pallet, generously encourage younger artists, and embraces new ideas and explorations with the spirit of a modern-day Magellan.
Texts

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