Interview with Colin Huizing, curator of the Stedelijk Museum Schiedam
Gerco de Ruijter (Vianen, the Netherlands, 1961) is a photographer of landscapes. He takes his photos from 30 to 300 ft above the earth. A recent series is called “Baumschule” and portrays tree nurseries. These photos are composed geomatrically; the picture adjustment and the distance from the subject help to create the impression of abstract geometric paintings.
This was the Stedelijk Museum Schiedam’s motivation for inviting Gerco de Ruijter to show his work in combination with a selection of works from the museum’s collection. The exhibition’s name, “Permanent Quadrant”, is the description used in botany of an area marked by stakes and rope to periodically check on the development of specific vegetation.
Do you appreciate the comparison of your work with abstract geometrical paintings?
In large measure, yes. What is similar in my work and that of abstract geometrical painters is foremost that we do not dish up a story or a deeper meaning. The viewer sees nothing but the image itself. With many abstract painters I share the preference of the formal qualities of an image, whether a painting or a photo. Nevertheless, my work is based on the visual reality. My best photos are those in which recognizable reality meets abstraction.
Your photographs are taken by a camera hanging high up from a kite’s line or, sometimes, from a long rod. Do you have any idea what you are shooting?
I make decisions. I select the location and the light, then let my camera’s lens “catch” the area from above. The results are stored on negatives. Later, I adjust the framing of each image in such a way that I achieve the best composition, often the golden section, the extreme ratio. For some photos I deliberately select a symmetrical composition. Whatever I do to rationalize my choices, in most images the structures, lines, and fields surprisingly show irregularities, because they are there in reality. In one image it is the absence of one tree in a series of trees planted in great regularity, in another image it may be the color of one plant or tree that deviates from the rest. My photography is highly democratic. Everything in the image has the same importance, the formal structures no more than the “invading” details of, for instance, a piece of barbed wire or a leaf fallen to the ground. My observation from high up in the air levels out everything that is visible. It is the great equalizer.
Work by dutch minimalist Ad Dekkers was selected to be shown with your work.
Both Dekkers and I create images that not immediately point out a visual reality. Our work is influenced by the circumstances, especially light. The geometrical compositions and orderly arrangements that characterize all of Dekkers’ works can also be found in my “Baumschule” series. In my images the trees themselves are hardly visible; their forms, though, show up thanks to light and shadows. Dekkers carefully arranges the presentation of his subjects. He is in full control and doesn’t allow any invading details. To the contrary in my work these irregularities, these incidents, play a very important role.
Does this mean that your work is closer to that of dutch artist herman de vries?
The biologist and botanic de vries is fascinated by system and coincident. In the beginning, his visualizations were rational, almost mathematical. Later, he began to create images of natural phenomenon by using elements from nature itself, such as leaves or earth applied to paper. He collects from all over the world, he is an almost pathological gatherer. I am one myself. I, too, take what is offered by nature and find an application for it. And just as de vries I use the location’s topsoil to create a sample sheet, a library, of what the earth has to offer.
The painter Koen Vermeule works in a similar way. If I had continued my art studies to become a painter and not a photographer, my paintings would have been as Vermeule’s are, with extreme attention for the texture of the materials on display. In his paintings he manages to suggest the slow passage from foreground to background. One of his paintings of a dune landscape is geographically recognizable, yet a perfect abstract composition. This is what defines my work as well.
Why did you decide to not become a painter?
Photography initially was a means to paint as an abstract expressionist. I was searching for “something” from the real world. I noticed abstract elements in nature, took pictures of these forms to translate them into paintings. Ultimately, after several experiments, I reached the conclusion that my photography had enough quality to exist for itself as an art form and that I did not need to exercise the translation into a painting.