Gerco de Ruijter / On Baumschule (en)
How abstract can a landscape become while remaining a landscape? I tried to find the answer to this question during extended travels, by searching for a fully natural landscape, not manmade, and lacking any cultural presence. I found these “natural-born” sites in New Mexico – deserts formed by rocks and sand and all forms of erosion. A barren landscape, too, with scarce vegetation.
In White Sands I created a triptych in which I believe I reached the ultimate abstract landscape. With no “things” to see, and no vegetation to indicate any scale, what is visible is just the soft incline created by gypsum. Not the landscape is subject of the photo – daylight is.
This natural desert landscape is in strong contrast with the Dutch culturally defined landscape. The Dutch landscape was efficiently drawn with functionality in mind on the drawing boards of urban and rural planners. Tulip fields, hothouses, land worked by farmers on tractors with their GPS handy. Not just one, no, uncountable “little things” form precisely lined rows.
Between 2001 and 2003, I took photos of poplars and willows in Vlaardingen’s Broekpolder. This polder was raised with silt taken from Rotterdam Harbor. The plan was to build homes. But after proof was delivered that the soil was contaminated with cadmium and mercury, no homes were constructed, and trees were planted.Thus was created a splendid “green town”. The basic plan for the urbanization was executed after all, yet with lanes and paths for streets and trees planted in a clear grid instead of houses.
After 2008, I took photos of tree farms in Boskoop and Kesteren. A patchwork quilt of very different, neighboring agribusinesses separated only by a narrow road or a ditch. Here a bald, recently plowed field; there a piece of land full of holes dug for future trees.
I found an enormous variety of visual elements. They show up not just because of the different seasons, but also through the stratification of the land. Trees, soil, holes. The combination of a tight grid and the camera’s central perspective results in a distinct depth, while on a cloudy day foreground and background may slide into each other.
The landtract’s and the trees’ small scale (trees vary between 3' and 12' high) allowed me to adjust my technique. Instead of a kite I used a long fishing rod on some occasions. On top of this rod is a 2,5" x 2,5" camera with a wide-angle lense. A self-timer is adjusted to give me enough time to telescope the rod and manoeuver the camera above the subject. The frame of the image begins in front of my own shoes and measures roughly 30' x 30'.
I am now finding I get more control of the ultimate image.
In the well-defined organization of the tree farm I can choose to enter just one irregularity in the image. Or, I can set the frame exactly parallel to rows of trees.
While working on this new series, I learn to understand more about the functions of shadow and light; the relationships of fore and background, and of the trees and the land where they are planted.
Even though this series “Baumschule” deals with an extremely defined cultural landscape, it are the abnormalities that jump into view. The presence of all of these objects arranged to form rows creates a new form of abstraction, not because of the image’s emptiness but, to the contrary, because of the presence of so many “things”, and their patterns and rhythms.
Funny, the irregularities in the patterns cause the viewer to once again notice nature...