Alessandra Ruyten is a young portrait photographer, based in Antwerp, Belgium. At the age of 15 she started taking photos. Throughout the years she experimented with digital photography, polaroid photography and even disposable cameras until she developed her own style – unique polaroid portraits. Every portrait expresses her vision of the world and how she experiences being alive.
KALTBLUT: How did you end up using only polaroids?
Alessandra: After years of working solely digital (with my dad’s or my boyfriend’s digital camera or in photography school) I got the feeling I was losing my love for photography, so I decided to buy myself a Polaroid camera. The camera that I already enjoyed working with as a child, a camera that gave me an instant nostalgic feeling. Buying this Polaroid camera is possibly the best thing I ever did for myself. I created images I couldn’t believe I created, I felt an incredible connection with this camera and the way of working, one shot, one opportunity, this is it. I am very happy that Impossible Project decided to start making film for Polaroid again! Yes I wished the film was less expensive, but it also makes me think harder about the image I want to create than if I worked with a digital camera; which background should I use, who is the perfect model for this image, which composition could be nice, what kind of look does the model give me, and only when you look through the lens and you feel that everything in the image is like you had imagined it to be, that is the time you take the picture. With digital photography you can take hundreds of photos and later on choose one out of the bunch and all the others go into the virtual bin. No, I prefer a one of a kind shot, focus, and there it is, magic!
KALTBLUT: Who are the people you photograph?
Alessandra: I portrait people who I feel an instant connection with – they have an aura or style that attracts me. If I see someone on the street who I like for some kind of reason I ask them if they want to meet up for a shoot, or if we have time and the location we’re at is cool I ask them if I can make a portrait of them on the spot. This sometimes brings up the best results, because it’s really spontaneous and I have to improvise and there’s no time to overthink it. Taking portraits on the spot with people I’ve never met on the street gives me an instant adrenalin rush. I had one shot and I did it, after I always feel very self confident. It could also happen that I meet someone online (Facebook, Instagram) with an interesting face and than I just ask them. And most of the time people are flattered you asked them, so it’s also a nice way to make people feel good about themselves.
KALTBLUT: Where do you get inspiration from?
Alessandra: I get inspiration from almost everything. It could be from people around me, a painting I saw hanging in the doctors waiting room, objects I notice on the street on my way to the supermarket, a dog and his owner sitting in the grass in the parc,… etc.. Therefore I like to take a one hour walk every day to spot new locations, new people to shoot, visit art bookshops and look in photography books. The photographer who inspires me the most is Anton Corbijn. I can stare at his work for hours, he knows how to capture people in a raw and honest way. He has such an authentic style and every portrait shows you how he sees people and things around him. He created his own universe and I could recognize his universe out of thousands of other universes. Also my two favorite artists Mark Rothko and Jean-Michel Basquiat inspired me to be free in my art and to stay true to my own vision and personal style. Mark Rothko for saying dark colors are the happy colors and bright light colors are the sad ones, for his ability to share his feelings through his very minimalistic paintings and Jean-Michel Basquiat for his brutal artworks who scream out a big personality and an urge to be himself in a world where so much people imitate eachother and are scared to stand out because of criticism. They don’t care, they just live the life they want to live and make the art they like to make, and that in itself is badass and inspiring for me.
KALTBLUT: How has photography changed or remained the same over the years?
Alessandra: As a child I started taking polaroids with the polaroidcamera my dad had bought for himself. But it quickly became mine as I remember myself experimenting a lot; random close-ups from the carpet, from the nose of my dog, the memory notes my dad sticked to the frontdoor, my own feet and fingertips, I was fascinated by basically everything and everyone around me. For a few years I stopped taking photos and I started writing. I wrote poetry, short stories etc.. This is my second passion, but it never grew as big as my love for photography. At the age of 15 I noticed my dad bought a digital camera and I asked to borrow it a few times. I remember the first time I borrow it, I went into the garden by myself, it was a beautiful warm summer day. The grass was green and soft under my bare feet. I took pictures of the leafs in the trees dancing in the sun, of old bricks, of my own eyes and with every photo I took I felt a fire burning warmer and warmer inside. A fire that could no longer be ignored. I took a lot of digital pictures, some awful, some nice. I edited them on my dads computer and showed them proudly to everyone who I could show them to. At 18 I fell in love with a guy who had studied photography, he borrowed me his old digital camera and I was so happy. I now “kind of” owned my own camera and I started organising shoots for music bands, for models, for my own artistic projects and was unstoppable. One year later we broke up and I had to give him his camera back. After that relationship ended I neglected my passion for photography and took no more photos for a while. But I couldn’t forget that only photography could make me feel so extremely happy and I decided to go study it. I decided to do a one year course of photography, because I personally don’t believe actually studying photography for three years would do my personal creativity any good. I need freedom in my work and I don’t like people giving me subjects like a mayonnaise jar to photograph. So I did that and I learned a lot of basic things like how Adobe Lightroom can help me develop my images better, etc.. I already got a bit bored during that year, because we worked with the digital camera the whole time, and I felt like I took the pictures because I had to, not because I wanted to anymore. So in order to keep my fire burning, I bought myself some Polaroid cameras via Ebay and bought film via the Impossible Project. And there it was again, I opened the delivery box and I immediately tried the camera. I remember taking a nude portrait of myself in the mirror. Telling myself no one would ever see that picture, no one but me and my camera. It was an intimate moment for me to get to know my camera and ever since that day I was hooked on polaroid photography. So If I look back now, not much has changed, I am still excited about photography and it’s probably the only thing I feel very very confident about, I can do this, I know how to do this, it’s not always easy, but if I am myself, I know I can manage.
Interview by Emma E. K. Jones