Flos Wildschut / Zweven in een stille wereld


Watching the landscapes by Rotterdam photographer Gerco de Ruijter (Vianen, 1961) I am gliding above the earth. The dark surf´s cloudy line subtly merges with the sand´ soft curves. A line of dots is visible with crystal clarity: footsteps, ending in a person´s long shadow. Gerco de Ruijter shoots from the sky but always with both feet on the ground. He chooses a good position, checks which way the wind is blowing and prepares to fly his kite with a camera attached to it. Controlled from the ground it takes pictures of creeks, soil patterns, meadows and tree plants. De Ruijter himself doesn´t feel the need to fly above the earth in this "silent world" as he calls it. The earthly domain is where he finds adventure. Even now that he has become totally familiar with his kite and knows which areas he wishes to explore with his camera, he is time and again surprised when he develops his rolls. Did he remote-control the camera at the right moment? Or has this random exposure turned out to be one of the best? He is not one of those photographers that insists on looking through the viewer. De Ruijter even sees it as a limitation: "The camera limits your field of vision. Sometimes you can get so focused on the thing you wish to record that you tend to overlook other things, only to have them revealed at the printing stage."

I can´t understand why he doesn´t wish to glide, as I do. To see the world from the sky is a fascination I have had ever since I was a little girl and was taken on my first flight into the air. I flew over the spectacular chimneys of the DSM chemical plant, with its eternal flame that sometimes would be big enough to paint the skies red. Over the Bunder woods where I would build huts with my play friends when school was out. Over my village, my house, looking for the things that I could recognize and that would completely change character because of this new perspective. To this day, whenever I am in a plane, I hope that the cloud cover will split and show me a glimpse of the world underneath. I scan the earth for landmarks such as the Alps, the Rhône river, the Delta dykes, Amsterdam, the IJ. Maybe it is because of these experiences that I find Gerco de Ruijter´s landscapes so impressive. They fascinate me even more than the landscapes I see from an aeroplane.

The framing and quadrangle format deprive us of all grip. There is no horizon for orientation and a quadrangle just does not have a top or bottom side. There are no points of reference, nothing to hold on to. The earth itself is reduced to a variety of textures; a dark area of craquelé contrasted with a soft, velvety green layer and spongy shapes. On closer inspection they turn out to be the sea, a meadow and some trees, photographed from the air, from a much lower position than that of a plane, some twenty metres above ground level. In these photos taken from the air there is a remarkable paradoxical effect: by taking distance it seems as though their subjects were photographed from very nearby. Macro cosmos becomes micro cosmos. De Ruijter is playing with scale levels. Twenty metres are within reach. Tree tops become soft brushes you would like to touch. Bushes seem to be moss-like carpets. These tactile photos are reminiscent of abstract paintings where paint has been applied in grand gestures, mixed with grains of sand or bits of sponge.

Gerco de Ruijter enjoyed a brief spell as a painter. Five years after graduating from the School of Photography in The Hague, he decided, in 1988, to study at the Visual Arts Academy of Rotterdam. He wanted to learn painting, abstract structures without a premeditated plan. He would start with a line of paint and then keep rotating the canvas. There was no top or bottom, no horizon, no reference. At the Rotterdam art academy, De Ruijter rediscovered photography, now as a foundation for his painting. He wanted to relate his abstract painting to reality. While experimenting with elevated viewpoints he discovered he could mount a camera on a kite. In 1993, De Ruijter graduated from the Department of Drawing and Painting with a series of black-and-white photographs that won him the Drempel Prize of the City of Rotterdam.

These photos were printed in a small format (12 x 12 cm) and within their abstract landscapes small events take place. Yet, however small they are, they immediately draw our attention, thus negating the abstract character of the photo. Someone is sunbathing, a swan settles in a meadow. Shadows are larger than the objects. These tiny reference points immediately give away the scale of the scene and direct our gaze. De Ruijter´s current work is mostly abstract and devoid of any reference points. He defines the landscape as a juxtaposition of textures, where every visual element has the same importance, without a hint of hierarchy. Every once in a while Gerco de Ruijter will hang a film camera from his kite instead of a photo camera. He is fascinated by movement, something he can only hint at in his photos. In his films the surf is continuously breaking on the beach and the tree tops are swaying in the breeze. But the camera doesn´t always take to the air.

Sometimes he has chosen for the opposite view: upwards, to the clouds, chasing the white stripes of an aeroplane across the sky. These are moving patterns, where the camera is indeed the extension of his eye for a while and the kite is left at home for the day. Gerco de Ruijter is the second artist to show work at Cargo, with current work that illustrates the new stage he has embarked upon. He no longer confines himself to the imperative format of the quadrangle but uses upright, man-high panoramas that allow for much more freedom. The combination of chosen format and wide-angle lens creates an illusion of a concave form in the photos. The images seem to reflect the curvature of the Earth. In these works concepts like far away and close up touch upon each other like never before, making the poplar plants transcend their earthy domain. The tight grid in which the poplars were planted is occasionally broken by an empty space where a tree has refused to take root. Nature has defiantly broken the might of mankind.

Flos Wildschut curator Dutch Photo Institute (NFI), Rotterdam