Women Crush Wednesday: Tina Ruisinger
Born in Germany, currently lives and works in Zurich, Tina Ruisinger is a photographer, artist and curator. She studied at the Hamburg School of Photography, the International Center of in New York and the Zurich University of the Arts. Her work has been the subjects of numerous exhibitions. Her book Faces of Photography featuring 50 Masters of Photography, was published in 2002 and has received wide international acclaim, and her dance book Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker/Meg Stuart, featuring two of the world’s most influential choreographers,was published in 2007. Her most recent book Traces deals with the subject of loss and has been published in April 2017. View more of her work here.
Interviewed by Jing Zhao
We are looking at your recent published book “Traces”, which is a book with pictures of objects left behind by the deceased.
In 2002 my book Faces of Photography was published - a book about 50 Master Photographers of the 20th Century. One of them was Ted Croner from New York City. He not only became my mentor, but a very close friend. When he died in 2005, along with his camera, some beautiful photographs and letters, I kept an old key to the elevator leading up into his studio. It was marked with his distinctive handwriting and wrapped with tape. It was just a key, without any value, but for me, it carried all the memories of my old friend. This was the beginning of Traces, things that remain when a beloved person dies.
Turning away from photographing humans, I started photographing, instead, the objects, mementos and treasures of people who have passed away - all those little things that remain and remind us, as survivors, of what was. Those small, yet significant, things that stir up memories and bear the traces of the person lost.
I found it fascinating that instead of focusing on their life stories, you concentrate on how objects can be expression and create emotional impact. I am curious, how did you select the objects? Could you give us a specific example?
I did not select the objects; I just photographed what the bereaved showed me, what they kept to remember their beloved. I had no influence at all on the selection, and this made it very challenging. I interviewed all 50 people first, to record their personal story and build a confidence. This was very important, as many of them had not talked about their loss for many years, and of course, did not know me. Only then did I photograph the objects. It was a very private moment. A used pair of wedding shoes, an old love letter, a ringlet, a tape with a voice, a crumpled skirt, a small pile of ash, a talisman. I never saw the same things twice. While working on the project I decided that I would keep their personal life stories a secret and only show the images of the objects.
You subtract a lot of information, and yet one can still sense the presence and atmosphere through your poetic and profound visual language. Isn’t it interesting how little information we need to tell a story?
It makes me happy that you see it this way. It was a decision to show the work without any explanation and just focus on the one image, hoping of course, that the viewer would feel connected somehow, maybe read his own story in it, work with his own imagination. On the other side, I think we can expect this from the viewer. When I see myself in an exhibition or museum, the images that touch me the most are the ones that work without any back knowledge. They just grab me.
In general, I tend to look more and more into the little things of life. Particularly with photography, I try to find the essence in a very reduced form. Reduced to the max. The flood of images today just frightens me. As I mentioned in the introduction, we have to ensure our existence all our life by buying, accumulating, hoarding things that are then left behind when we die. Some things might completely lose their value, whilst others may transmute and turn into objects of consolation and remembrance. We hang on to these objects to help us accept the inconceivability of death.
I discover that the imagery and texts are presenting separately in this book. Could you talk a bit more about the format and why?
At the end of the work I had so much material that came out of the conversations and the photos. It was not easy to find the right form, but I knew I did not want to do a documentary project on the personal stories of the people, but rather a conceptual work on the subject of death and loss. Together with my publisher and graphic designer, Loreen Lampe, we found a very beautiful format for the book.
We decided to start the book with only photographs (and no explanation) to give the viewer a possibility to dive into the subject without knowing too much, to let the images affect him, to offer the possibility of unfolding one’s own imagination. In the middle of the book one gets an idea of the bereaved’s thoughts and memories by means of the quotations - some are personal and connected to specific images, and others are more general, dealing with the subject of loss and death. The photographs are embracing the personal quotations; the quotations are embracing the more general texts (introduction and essays by Olonetzky and Zudrell). Even the title is only on the back of the book; you can read it when you close the book.
You also studied at International Center of Photography, New York at the mid-1990s. What’s the experience like comparing to living in Zurich?
The time in New York and at the ICP was absolutely unique and wild. Coming from Hamburg, being in New York and surrounded by all the other young photographers explosively opened my mind to photography. I was 26 at that time and had never seen such a melting pot of creativity. We all had very little money, but big aims and tried to live our dreams.
Coming back to Europe and Zurich in ’98 was very difficult in the beginning, as life was so much more formatted and stigmatized. I missed the cultural clash. But then you grow older and look more realistically on the profession as a photographer. You have to live from your work and then, at a certain point, you have to nourish a family.
1. How would you describe your creative process in one word?
2. If you could teach one, one-hour class on anything, what would it be?
Bring ONE personal photo that you care about the most from your family or past and start telling your life story, or somebody else does. What happens?
3. What was the last book you read or film you saw that inspired you?
I just saw Heart of a Dog by Laurie Anderson and finished the biography on Marina Abramovic Walk Through Walls: A Memoir. Both are artists that I adore.
4. What is your most played song in your music library?
Cartwheels by Patti Smith
5. How do you take your coffee?
Espresso macchiato, strong Italian coffee with foamed milk.