The Visual Code of Photography: Books by Ruth van Beek

Ruth van Beek (born 1977) is a Dutch photographer, an artist living in the small town ‘Zaandijk’ on the Zaan river close to Amsterdam. She studied at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy where she has been teaching now, for many years. Her work has been shown worldwide in various solo and group exhibition.

Ruth says about her work:
Books and publications are an important part of my work. They are a platform in which my works come to life, with which they travel and are seen. My books are emphatically utensils. In contrast to the fragility and uniqueness of the collages, the book stands as a reproducible, affordable and usable object. I see the books as spaces in which I can play. The pages of a book give a new freedom. Where the collages in real life have a fixed format, in books very small collages can suddenly appear very large in a spread. I can also have the figures enter into a conversation, as it were, by placing them next to each other, or by combining them with other archive images. Figures play different roles and works from different times come together. In this way the books provide my collages with a new context, and they give the figures the right to exist.

I never see a book as the end point. Rather, the books are a kind of assignments to myself, they lead to new work. For example, the book How to do The Flowers is made up of hundreds of separate images from old instruction books, brought together they form a manual for new work. It thus tells something about how I make my work, the hands become my hands and so this absurd manual also becomes a self-portrait of me as a maker.

spread from the book Eldorado ©2020

In the beginning Ruth van Beek published several independent books in cooperation with the late designer Xavier Fernandez Fuentes (Centerfold Editions). Among the numerous artist books that followed are ‘The Arrangements’ (RVB Books, 2013) which was shortlisted for the Aperture Phonebook of the Year Award in 2014 and ‘How To Do The Flowers’ (APE & Daswood Books, 2018) to widespread acclaim. In her book Eldorado (Van Zoetendaal, 2020). Summarizing one can say that, Ruth uses the established visual codes of photography—a shadow, pedestal, dark backdrop, or gesture—to guide viewers into a belief in the incredible rarity or importance of the shown object, even when that object is unidentifiable.

Her latest publication The Oldest Thing (2023), published by Van Zoetendaal Publishers, will be one of the central eye-catchers of the work presented by Ruth van Beek in the exhibition of her work and work process, which originates in her ever-growing archive, The images, mainly from old books, become her tools, source material, and context. Van Beek physically intervenes in the pictures – folding, cutting, or adding pieces of painted paper – rearranging and manipulating the image long enough to reveal the universe that lies within. The Oldest Thing features numerous collages, archival images, and paintings in a dazzling show of roughly 250 double spreads in which her mother’s cooking also plays a role.

The Oldest Thing and other books by Ruth van Beek are part of Test Press #3 at KO-OP, Sofia / 12*-22 Oct 2023