Ruud van Empel

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Ruud van Empel (b. 1958) is one of the most innovative contemporary photographers working today. Van Empel’s pioneering techniques have completely changed the face of digital photography. Using a vast library of digital body parts, fabrics and foliage, van Empel creates dream-like photographic utopias, where nothing is exactly as it seems. Ruud van Empel is represented in the United Kingdom by Huxley-Parlour Gallery.

All works are available for purchase – please click on an image for further information.

Works

Mood #1, 2015

Ruud van Empel

Mood #2, 2015

Ruud van Empel

Mood #3, 2015

Ruud van Empel

Mood #4, 2015

Ruud van Empel

Mood #5, 2016

Ruud van Empel

Mood #6, 2016

Ruud van Empel

Mood #7, 2016

Ruud van Empel

Mood #8, 2016

Ruud van Empel

Mood #9, 2016

Ruud van Empel

Mood #10, 2016

Ruud van Empel

Mood #11, 2016

Ruud van Empel

Moon #2, 2005

Ruud van Empel

Moon #3, 2006

Ruud van Empel

Moon #4, 2007

Ruud van Empel

Moon #5, 2007

Ruud van Empel

Moon #6, 2008

Ruud van Empel

Moon #7, 2008

Ruud van Empel

Identity #1, 2014

Ruud van Empel

Identity #2, 2014

Ruud van Empel

Identity #3, 2014

Ruud van Empel

Identity #4, 2015

Ruud van Empel

Identity #5, 2015

Ruud van Empel

Brothers & Sisters, #1, 2010

Ruud van Empel

Brothers & Sisters, #2, 2010

Ruud van Empel

Brothers & Sisters, #3, 2010

Ruud van Empel

Brothers & Sisters, #4, 2010

Ruud van Empel

Sunday #2, 2012

Ruud van Empel

Sunday #3, 2017

Ruud van Empel

Sunday #4, 2012

Ruud van Empel

Sunday #5, 2012

Ruud van Empel

Sunday #6, 2017

Ruud van Empel

Sunday #7, 2017

Ruud van Empel

Sunday #8, 2017

Ruud van Empel

Dawn #1, 2008

Ruud van Empel

Dawn #2, 2008

Ruud van Empel

Dawn #3, 2008

Ruud van Empel

Dawn #4, 2008

Ruud van Empel

Dawn #5, 2008

Ruud van Empel

Dawn #6, 2008

Ruud van Empel

Venus #1, 2006

Ruud van Empel

Venus #2, 2008

Ruud van Empel

Venus #3, 2007

Ruud van Empel

Venus #4, 2007

Ruud van Empel

Theatre #1, 2010

Ruud van Empel

Theatre #2, 2010

Ruud van Empel

Theatre #3, 2010

Ruud van Empel

Theatre #4, 2011

Ruud van Empel

Theatre #5, 2010

Ruud van Empel

Theatre #6, 2011

Ruud van Empel

Theatre #7, 2012

Ruud van Empel

Theatre #8, 2014

Ruud van Empel

Theatre #9, 2013

Ruud van Empel

Voyage Pittoresque #1, 2016

Ruud van Empel

Voyage Pittoresque #6, 2017

Ruud van Empel

Voyage Pittoresque #7, 2017

Ruud van Empel

Voyage Pittoresque #8, 2017

Ruud van Empel

Collage #2, 2017

Ruud van Empel

Collage #3, 2017

Ruud van Empel

Collage #4, 2017

Ruud van Empel

Collage #5, 2017

Ruud van Empel

Collage #6, 2017

Ruud van Empel

Collage #7, 2017

Ruud van Empel

Collage #8, 2017

Ruud van Empel

Floresta Negra #1, 2018

Ruud van Empel

Floresta Negra #2, 2018

Ruud van Empel

Floresta Negra #5, 2018

Ruud van Empel

Floresta Negra #6, 2018

Ruud van Empel

Analogy #1, 2016

Ruud van Empel

Boy, 2014

Ruud van Empel

Figure, 2014

Ruud van Empel

Wonder, 2010

Ruud van Empel

Perception, 2014

Ruud van Empel

Floresta #2, 2018

Ruud van Empel

Floresta #4, 2018

Ruud van Empel

Study in Green #18, 2004

Ruud van Empel

Early Years

Ruud van Empel was born in Breda, The Netherlands, in 1958. After graduating in graphic design from the Academie St. Joost, van Empel worked briefly as a designer and later as a creative designer specialising in theatre décor. In 1995 van Empel began to work on his first photographic project entitled The Office. This series of digitally constructed portraits showing individuals in imagined workplaces initiated the digital collage work for which he would later become known.

Photographic Career

Using a vast library of digital body parts, fabrics and foliage, van Empel creates a range of dream-like photographic utopias, where nothing is exactly as it seems. Each of his figures is a hybrid, resulting from his painstaking synthesis of hundreds of diverse fragments taken from his own photography: eyes, noses and lips are collaged together to create the entirely new human forms that inhabit his images. The process is painstaking, as a single work can take up to three months to complete. The results are often an uncanny synthesis of the alluring and the unsettling. His methods engage with questions of identity, truth and artificiality in an age where digital simulation is ubiquitous.

Van Empel’s initial experimentation with photography was a project of passion, rather than a self-conscious foray into fine art. His first series, The Office (1995-2001), revised traditional methods of photographic editing – manually altering analogue film in a dark room – in exchange for a new, digital approach. This project bore the restraints of technology at the time. Largely black and white, it was made using a computer that ‘crashed every five minutes’.

Prompted by a desire for a more minimalist aesthetic, at the turn of the century van Empel began experimenting with Photoshop. He began a series entitled Study for Women (1999-2002), exploring the female form and the domestic interior. Here, van Empel photographed mannequins from shops and rendered them more life-like with the addition photographs of real eyes and skin. The result is uncanny. As Ruud Schenk, curator of the Groninger Museum, writes: ‘As a spectator you feel that there is something not quite right about the depiction of these women … This generates a certain discomfort.’

In 2009 van Empel went on to present three bodies of work as part of the touring exhibition, Picturing Eden, curated by Deborah Klochko of George Eastman House: Venus, Moon and World. These three series of digitally constructed portraits of children have since become van Empel’s most exhibited and recognisable works.

Van Empel’s work mediates on the themes of innocence and vulnerability through the presence of adolescents: wide-eyed and enrobed in their ‘Sunday best’, their simulated presence explores the notions of childhood, memory and nostalgia. In particular, his series Dawn (2008), which places twenty first century children amongst Edenic foliage, jarringly juxtaposes mythological archetypes of genesis with modern computer technology. Another salient motif in van Empel’s work is the presence of black children. Although not intentionally political, van Empel has commented on the portrayal of black children in Dutch media as ‘poor’ or ‘suffering’. He has said, ‘I received some positive responses from black audiences, who said they liked the way my work portrays black children in a respectful and beautiful way, rather than as a victim.’

Van Empel has gone on to produce several more bodies of work, including the Still Life (2014) series, in which he constructs vast assemblages from photographs of individual objects, and the Floresta (2018) series, in which artificial forest-scapes are created. Here, van Empel probes the aesthetics of beauty and the trope of the pastoral through his use of composite imagery.

Exhibitions and Awards

Ruud van Empel’s work has been exhibited extensively: his work is held in the collections of several major galleries and museums throughout the world, including MoPA Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego, the Rijks Museum, Amsterdam and the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Israel. He has also been the recipient of numerous awards including the Municipality of Breda Oeuvre Prize in 2013 and the Artist of the Year Award from American Friends of Museum, New York in 2017. The artist lives and works in Amsterdam.

Ruud van Empel's Working Practice

Transcript

RVE: The idea was to construct a photograph that would look like an ordinary photo but was actually made up. Everything was placed where I wanted it. If I’d taken a photo of someone facing the camera directly I thought the proportions weren’t quite satisfying, so you start to work on them, to adjust them. Before you’ve realised, you’re adjusting everything.

Nature is paradisiacal, you could say, but it is in fact a jungle. It’s a whole world in itself in which all these creatures live and move around and eat each other up. It is one big struggle, one big fight really. And that’s Paradise.