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Dutch photographer Ruud van Empel is justly celebrated as one of pioneers and leading artists of the digital photographic medium. For Van Empel the photo editing tools he uses to create his images are a means to an end - a somewhat surreal and yet Utopian vision of innocence and a commune with nature.

Each of his figures is a hybrid, resulting from his painstaking synthesis of hundreds of diverse fragments taken from his own photography to create the entirely new human (and plant) forms that make up his images. The process is painstaking, as a single work can take months to complete.

An early career in graphic design as well as designing for theater productions and television informed an approach to photography focused on creating a world that is both alluring and unsettling. Van Empel’s methods engage with questions of identity, truth and artificiality in an age where the digital manipulation of reality is ubiquitous.  In Van Empel’s work, as well crafted as each image may be, the fiction is straightforward.

The origins of Van Empel’s work came in the mid 1990s when after working in a traditional collage manner he began experimenting with Photoshop.  Over a period of several years he assembled his own image bank - eyes, noses, lips, bodies, and costume to be collaged together to create entirely new beings.  These forms or characters were placed in settings also created by Van Empel.  However much the artificiality is visible the final image always plays between fantasy and reality.

While Van Empel’s figures are multiracial, it is worth noting the artist’s deliberate intention of creating a diverse universe.  As the art critic Jan Baptist Bedaux wrote of the work:  “The iconography of the innocent child was traditionally represented by white children. In deviating from the standard iconography by giving the child a dark skin, Van Empel inadvertently assumes a political stance.”  Dressed in formal children’s clothing or confronting the viewer as they emerge from their tropical settings, Van Empel portrays all his subjects as fully autonomous and dignified beings.  Aware of the issues of race and cultural appropriation, Van Empel’s statement is nevertheless one of inclusivity and tolerance.

Ruud van Empel was born in Breda, The Netherlands, in 1958.  His work has been lauded internationally and shown in America at museums including the Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego and The George Eastman House.  

Van Empel lives and works in Amsterdam.