Historic Landscapes Photography
Searching for my direction in photography
André Ruiter, 6 November 2021
I was about 16 years old when I bought my first camera, an analog Seagull DF-300 SLR with a 50mm lens. I studied books on photography and tried to master lighting and composition techniques. It was difficult and although my interest in photography never faded, the camera was used less and less.
Colesbukta, Spitsbergen, 2006
Things changed with the rising of digital photography. Being able to analyse the images (and my mistakes!) immediately meant that I started shooting more often and mastered the technique better. From 2005 I photographed a lot, mainly landscape and travel photography. It's striking that during my travels I had a preference for remote places and I always looked for historic sites or abandoned places. Somehow I didn't foresee at the time that this would be the key to my future photography life.
Photography had become a passion in 2009 but I lacked a clear direction and looked for inspiration. Just taking pictures became unsatisfactory and I stopped making progress. I decided to start a study at the School of Photography (Dutch: Fotovakschool), also with the idea of maybe working as a professional photographer and earn some money with my photography. My study experiences were mixed, but the modules Documentary photography and Photo projects put me on the right track. A passionate teacher encouraged me not to think in single images, but to create impressions based on a story or theme.
As a graduation assignment I decided to make an impression of the New Dutch Waterline. It was quite an impulsive choice, based on my interest for history and a book about the waterline that I got when I was a child. Working on this project, which got the name Water as a Weapon, paid off. I found that working on a long-term project, with all its highlights and setbacks, worked well for me. I chose black and white photography to strengthen the link with the past. For months I traveled along the old defence line, looking for interesting remains and hoping for good light to capture the right atmosphere. I developed a special interest in 19th and 20th century fortifications and I learned that on a misty morning I could create the atmospheric images that satisfied me most.
Werk aan de Groeneweg, New Dutch Waterline, 2009
While working on my photo project I made a trip to Greenland in August 2009. During a boat trip, I visited an abandoned US airfield from the Second World War. Back home I discovered that I had visited Bluie East Two. Photographing the rusting vehicles in the remote landscape of Greenland was an unforgettable experience. It gave me confirmation that the combination of landscape photography, history and traveling suited me well.
Bluie East Two, 2009
Back in the Netherlands I continued my project Water as a Weapon. I had set myself the goal of photographing at Fort Honswijk, but this fort had long been military property and visiting was virtually impossible. Getting permission turned out to be a difficult process, but in the end I gained access to the fort for three hours. On a cold winter day in February I photographed alone in the abandoned and atmospheric fort, again an unforgettable experience. On my way home I was stuck in a traffic jam and decided to specialise in the theme Historic Landscapes. I stopped doing photography assignments and accepted that with my specialisation I would not make money with photography. I successfully completed my study in 2010.
Fort Honswijk, 2010
The years that followed, I started new projects related to historical events or themes and I kept shooting in black and white. By specialising, the quality of my photography improved and I developed my own style. I never regretted my decision and after more than ten years I still enjoy working on my projects. They usually last several years and take me to places I probably would never visit otherwise. While working on a project I often find the inspiration for new projects. My project about the Battle of Verdun resulted in a about the First World War which I would eventually work on for 12 years. It’s a journey that never ends. I hardly ever take photos outside of a project, the only exceptions are my photos of the woods around my hometown.
I’m convinced that you can make your best work as a photographer when you capture a subject that is close to you. Socially minded people will therefore create better portraits or wedding photography than myself, who prefers solitude and appreciates the peace and silence of the landscape. If you're really passionate about photography, I think you will come to a point where you think about where you want to go with your photography. Your photography is a representation of who you are so looking for your inner motivations and thinking about what really makes you happy will be the key to shoot your best work. Looking back, I’m amazed that it took me so long to find my direction. Good things apparently take time.