Image © Ruth Van Beek.
Ruth van Beek has been selected as one of BJP's 20 photographers to watch in 2013
Author: British Journal of Photography
14 Jan 2013 Tags: Ones to watch
From cute bunnies folded into weird, anamorphic creatures, to houseplants covered in crudely cut out snow formations, Ruth van Beek’s work covers a wide range of subjects, but is united by the common medium of collage. Taking images from old newspapers, photo albums and books, her work is concerned with “the photograph as an object”.
Born in the Netherlands in 1977, van Beek graduated from the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam 25 years later, and in the decade since has completed nearly 50 series of work, most based on vernacular imagery. “I take out the images and free them from their original context, but their origin is still important to me,” she says. “What really attracted me was that their stories had disappeared; the pictures had become anonymous, and therefore totally free for me to use in my own stories. But besides that, the similarity in the albums is striking – all those boring parties and lovely grannies formed the perfect scenery for my own stories.
“The newspaper archive is kind of the opposite of this intimate family life. I collected disaster photos for a long time, especially pictures of plane wrecks. I was always fascinated by the look of a crashed plane, like a huge whale stranded on the beach. Later I began collecting old books and cut them apart. People used to love books, now second-hand shops are full of them because we have the internet, and all this information is always there, at the ready. Books became superfluous. Books on travelling, wildlife, adventures, and instructional books on cooking, gardening and housekeeping – what I like about them is that they are meant to teach stuff to people, instruct them on how to live a good life.”
She thinks of her entire oeuvre as “a big encyclopedic series showing a hidden world within existing photography”; the images reproduced here are taken from a new series called the arrangement, which was made on commission for the Amsterdam Academic Hospital. Given a huge vitrine for which she could make whatever she wanted, van Beek “immediately thought about doing something with flowers, since it is a tradition to bring flowers to a sick person”. The images come from 1950s flower-arranging guides and Japanese Ikebana books, which were popular in The Netherlands in the 1970s, but van Beek has covered parts of the image in painted paper to subvert these stiff bouquets and invent her own kind of still life arrangement. “The more I worked on this, the more they started to become animated,” she continues. “The arrangements became like small beings – for me they are very much alive, they’re there to give comfort.”
Image © Ruth Van Beek.
As with many of her previous projects, van Beek aims to make the series into a book, which will be published this summer by RVB Books in Paris. She’s also working on a more ambitious, long-term project, “which will function as a kind of manual for my work and archive”. It will take the form of a series of publications, the first of which van Beek will publish herself soon.
Books are an essential part of her practice. She’s previously made limited edition, handmade books, and something more conventional, The Hibernators, published with RVB Books. “A book can be about information as well as stories and fiction. I like to make books that have the suggestion of function and archive, but make no sense and thereby become unfamiliar and mysterious. A book is like a house for a photograph, and the small-edition books are little experiments,” she says. “Most of the images I use in my work come from books – I cut them apart and the books disappear, so I like to give the images back in a new book.”
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