While most photographers aim to depict the world in a fresh way through the lens of their cameras, Dutch artist Anouk Kruithof aims to revolutionize the way we actually experience looking at photographs. She delights viewers by making unexpected photo, video and spatial installations as well as social, in-situation works or "take-away art." Last year she won the Jury Prize at the Hyères International Photo festival in France and, as part of that prize, produced an exhibition at this year's festival—one that literally takes the unexpectedness of her installations to a new height.
The proliferation of digital photography has led to a glut of images in the world, and Kruithof's holistic approach to making photographic artwork feels fresh within a new generation of artists who question that surplus. Like many young people, she is a compulsive photographer and calls her habit "automagic." She saw the exhibition at Hyères as an opportunity to do something with ten years worth of images languishing on her hard drives, and that led to the search for an editor who would see the images in a new way.
For the project, called "Untitled: I've Taken too Many Photos/I've Never Taken a Photo," she set out to find someone to help her edit her work—someone who had never taken a photograph in his or her life. She began by posting signs in her Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York, that read, "Did you Never Made a Photo in Your Life." Even with the grammatical error, she decided to put them up. The responses led her to a young man named Harrison, who was 19 years old and the only one of the 15 respondents who had never taken a photograph.
"I saw him at his house and asked a lot," she says. "So I am sure he never took a photo before, which was super special. He is a bit of a 'pearl'. Also his name is excellent: 'Harrison Medina.'"
The editing process began with 300 images, which Medina narrowed down to 80 and sized. Kruithof recorded the process as part of the work. "He was just reacting naturally, very much from the heart—just reflecting on them in a very pure and personal way," she says. Medina looked for two types of images: "He saw either things which reminded him of the 'bad' situation in society—a situation he is also in—and, on the other hand, he just used his imagination to see things in the photos."
At the exhibition, the images are all installed on the ceiling and viewers are given hand-held mirrors to view them. "The space, which is an old medieval tower, made me think I wanted to respect it because of the beauty of the building and the atmosphere inside of the building. You cannot hang photos on these walls; it wouldn't make any sense to me," Kruithof explains. "When you enter this serene space the first natural thing to do is to look up." She also believes that the installation format allows viewers to see all 75 photos together or to "frame" their own pictures, rather than looking at one at a time. The framing of the image, in a way that is literally in the hands of the visitor, encourages active participation in the exhibit. Those who see the exhibit become editors, like Harrison was. Kruithof calls the process "analog interactivity."
The dynamic nature of the installation is something the artist sees throughout her work. "It is like a never-ending chain; one project, book, series or single work ties onto the other one with a certain flow," she says. "With every new thing I do I want to be surprised and make something I didn't see before. Otherwise it would not make sense for me." And in this case the surprise was a happy one: "It gave me a good feeling seeing all these people busy framing their pictures and looking at the mirrors of others. It had a lot of depth, in content as well as in form," she says. "I am not often happy when a show is up, but in this case I really was."
Anouk Kruithof is a Dutch photographer. Her most recent book is A Head With Wings, made in collaboration with Alec Soth and Little Brown Mushroom. She was recently awarded the Infinity Award for art by the International Center for Photography. "Untitled (I've Taken too Many Photos/ I've Never Taken a Photo)" is on view at Hyères 2012 at the Tour des Templiers, historic center through May 26 and she hopes it will come to the States this year. More of her work and books can be seen here.