Selecting snippets from a database of over 100,000 of his own photographs, Ruud van Empel carefully constructs an array of alluring digital photomontages. Compiled from fragments of the photographer’s own images, each scene van Empel creates blurs the boundary between reality and artificiality. In his own words, the artist explains that the ‘photomontage process is an intervention in reality, and that always brings frictions, creating a tension in the image’. The tensions that the artist cites arise in his perfectly idealised compositions, found in the mysteriously captivating balance between the natural and the surreal. Van Empel’s process involves capturing photographs of different environments, attentively selecting desirable elements, and combining these aspects to create a digital collage. Highly contrived and vividly coloured, van Empel’s photographs evoke the theatrical and uncanny, mirroring scenes we recognise with a disturbing, dreamlike quality.
Created during 2016 and 2017, van Empel’s series Voyage Pittoresque explores the foliage, forests, and flora of our natural world. Unlike many of his other pieces, humans do not populate the Voyage Pittoresque compositions. Glistening with a jewel-like colour palette, Voyage Pittoresque #1 presents a collection of lush green plants opening onto a body of water. Multicoloured insects spread themselves languidly over plants formed like gaping saucers, their mouths wide open as if drinking in the sun. Indeed, the fertile flowers create a scene of idyll, a paradisiacal backdrop seemingly plucked from Lewis Carroll’s very own Alice in Wonderland. The scene, however, emits an air of unease typical of van Empel’s style. The bright light illuminating the plants appears to emanate from multiple sources, cloaking areas of the image in uneven shadows. The disparate splashes of light and dark transform the photograph into a stage set, as if lit by powerful spotlights. Additionally, the tropical bird sitting in the bottom left of the composition appears minuscule in comparison to the gargantuan plants towering beside it; the mismatched scale welcoming a sense of distorted perspective to the image.
Van Empel’s highly contrived images initially present as convincing depictions of reality until, upon closer inspection, the brightly coloured photomontages reveal a fabricated existence. The artist expertly creates his own tranquil, interrupted only by an uncanny sense of disquiet
(By Eleanor Lerman)