Q&Q: Florian Ruiz

Art Bahrain / 2018 Sony World Photography Awards

Authors: Irene Butera, Emma Double, Valentina De Vincenti

The Sony World Photography Awards is the world’s most diverse photography competition. Free to enter and open to all, the 2018 Awards attracted more than 320,000 entries from over 200 countries and territories.

Produced by the World Photography Organisation, the Awards are now in its 11th year.  The shortlisted and winning photographers selected by the Awards’ expert jury showcase some of the world’s finest contemporary photography captured over the past year.

Photographer Florian Ruiz is shortlisted for Creative category, Professional competition.

French photographer Florian Ruiz is based in Tokyo, Japan.  His photographic works often examine disillusioned social situations, with the aim to express the atmosphere, feeling and sensation of desolate places.  The artist currently uses rudimentary photographic equipment – a pinhole camera – and employs collage, assembly and super impression to create his artworks. Ruiz was previously shortlisted at the 2016 Sony World Photography Awards and this year is recognised for his work “The White Contamination”.

Nature plays a distinctive role in your series “The white contamination”, tell us more about when and why you decided to employ this theme in your photography?

Nature has an essential place in my current work, it is the place where radioactivity accumulates the most. In addition, Japan maintains a strong cultural relationship with nature: A great place is given to it in cities with zen gardens, the changes of seasons are moments of popular celebrations. Poetry with Haiku and Japanese prints put nature at the centre of the works.

In my pictures, I’m strongly inspired by traditional Japanese engravings or ukiyo-e. In its ancient sense, this artistic genre is heavily loaded with Buddhist notions emphasizing the reality of a world where the only thing certain is the impermanence of all things.

Then, I hoped to capture the fleeting moments, the movements of climatic phenomena, and the ever-shifting perceptions of nature.  As in traditional Japanese engravings, I wanted to document the relationship between man and nature while maintaining the romantic and sentimental landscape.

I was inspired by the German Romantic Painting like the painter Caspar David Friedrich who seeks to give a spiritual dimension to his paintings. “The painter must not paint only what he sees in front of him, but also what he sees in him”. I wanted to make the landscape accessible to the expression of the Sublime even if it’s contaminated by radioactivity.

Fukushima is rather an inhospitable place. What attracted you there?

In my photographs, I have long developed a documentary approach to the desperate social world marked by disillusion. Present in Japan in 2013 during the earthquake, I quickly went to the scene of destruction caused by the tsunami. I documented this upheaval by photographing the interiors of the ravaged homes. Approaching the irradiated forbidden area of Fukushima, I was confronted with an invisible danger. Only my dosimeter (a device that measures the amount of radiation to which one is exposed) informed me of this invisible danger. As a photographer, I asked myself a question which is now the centre of my approach: How to put in the image, how to give to see what is invisible? Fukushima became the centre of my photographic reflection.

I understand this work is part of a long-term project.  How long did it take you to create the shortlisted images and what are your future plans for the work?

For this selection, I had to reside from January to March in the heights of Fukushima. Mountain where the radioactive cloud of the power station is fixed. This work is important for me because I try by a process of deformation of the real, of the mutation of the landscapes to reveal the presence of the radioactivity, to create the feeling of vertigo, of discomfort, of a threatening danger hidden behind the purity of the white landscapes.

Also, I wish to continue on a long-term this work in order to document this relation of the Man to the nature. I currently have about thirty landscapes. I am looking for the symbolic number of photographs that will put an end to this project.

Indeed, great masters of traditional Japanese engravings such as Utagawa Hiroshige and Hokusai have always produced series of landscapes associated with a number: The Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji, Hundred Views of Edo, The Sixty-nine Stations of Kiso Kaido , The Fifty-three Stations of the Tōkaidō.

I continue these photographs hoping that this symbolic number will be revealed at a given moment. In the meantime, I want to expose this work and consider an edition.

Your series embraces Japanese tradition but with an innovative approach. How do you technically achieve it?

In this series, it was important to give a contemporary dimension to the print to show the influence of man and radioactivity in changing landscapes. With a geiger counter, I measured the contamination of landscapes in becquerel (Bq), which expresses atom disintegration and its mutation’s number per second. By a process of staggered superimpression, I wanted to show the atom’s alteration in my pictures. The transparency effects, the broken perspectives give rise to a shape that is in motion, an impermanent world.

You are a French photographer living in Tokyo. What inspires you the most for your new projects?

My current approach is strongly linked to the imaging of radioactivity by the deformation of landscapes. Parallel to this project, I started a work in China for a year and a half. I regularly visit the Chinese nuclear test site located in the Lop Nor Desert in Xinjiang Province. This desert has been irradiated for 30 years and remains very contaminated. I photograph abandoned landscapes and places. I want to show the invisible dangerousness of the ever-present radioactive contamination.

As a previously shortlisted photographer of the Awards, what made you enter again?

Being selected and awarded at the Sony World Photography Awards is a great opportunity for a photographer. The award allows my work to have international recognition, to be recognized by professionals of photography and it encourages me to continue my approach of author. I hope to give to my work a visibility that will reward my commitment and my passion for photography.