On being a cleaning woman… and a photographer : Inta Ruka

Inta Ruka is a Latvian photographer born in 1958. She married the famous Latvian photographer Egon Spuris, and was a member of the photogroup that he created : Ogre. I wanted to talk about her for a long time now and I have been very impressed by her work which belongs to the tiny world between amateur and professionnal photography. Her main work being an office cleaner at the Swedish Embassy in Riga, where the ambassador gave her one day free per week to practice photography.

Probably because Latvian was a former state of USSR, Inta Ruka remained unknown till the 90’s. She began photography in the 70’s and she is mainly known for her portrait work. Especially in the rural environment of Balti district, where she came from. Her first important work was named « My country people » and was exhibited, in 1999, at the 48th Biennale of Venice in the Latvian Pavilion. This is how she started to be internationally known, with the publication of her first book named after the exhibition « My country people ». This is a thick book comprising a collection of portraits shot during a couple of decades in the East part of Latvia. The portraits are very subtle, in black and white, done with a medium size square camera. The high quality of those portraits is due to the invisible presence of the photographer. People are not acting, they stand proudly in their normal environment, and assume their ways of life. The fraction of time which the photo captures is like a thick slice of time in their life. Facing us proudly, we start to imagine their background, who are they, what is their work, what do they had in mind in the time of the photograph ? What Inta Ruka gives us is a portrait of a country. We can strongly have August Sander’s work in mind when we look at those photographs !

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Her more recent work is probably my favorite, just because it fits so much to the photographic genre that I love. The project was done between 2004 and 2008, and the subject is a community house with its inhabitants (in fact, the subject is mainly the inhabitants !). Like she had already done in her previous works, the portraits are very simple and the pictures come with a factual caption about those portraited people : what they do for living, what they expect, what is their family situation… This piece of work is like a wider jigsaw puzzle and each piece give you an extra knowledge about the whole community and/or area. The tenants share a yard where they can take part in events happening here. The reason why I like so much this work is that, on the opposite of « My country people » which was documenting a sort of typology of rural inhabitants in Latvia, this work makes us enter a community of people. Inta Ruka is so well accepted and integrated that we feel a real sympathy for those persons, like if we knew them as relatives or friends. We would not be surprised if we discovered our own picture on the following page. With this work we understand that she uses the camera as a medium between her and the human beings who she cares for ! Photography is an artefact to communicate with people (but in fact, has this ever been something else !)

It is not that easy to find her books, and, so far, she only did four monographies (they are those I know, maybe some unknown books can be found, and she did some books with others and/or small catalogs).

I have already talked about the first one « My country people » which was published by Sorosa Musdienu makslas centrs in 1999, for Venice, with texts in three langages : Latvian, English and Italian. This is a cobblestone, softcover book (293 pages) with a light brown cover, not very attractive. The quality of printing is not very good (fairly poor in fact !) but, as I already refered to Sander, it becomes a catalog of the population in a rural area, a kind of survey of those who remains !


The second one, Inta Ruka « Amālijas iela 5a »  (« Amālijas Street 5a ») published in 2008 by Neputns, a Latvian Publisher. A softcover book beautifully printed, in both Latvian and English, 72 pages, 20 x 25 cm. As the title indicate, this book is dedicated to Amalia Street project and is my favorite. The form of the book is just perfectly fitting to the spirit of the house photographed, all the typography is declined in different grey values. According to pragmatic considerations, the building is probably not the best place to live, but we instantly feel that life would be good in such a place !

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Published the same year, Inta Ruka: Amalias Street 5a, by Heden, Den Haag – Netherlands. Another softcover small book (16 x 22 cm, 48 pages).

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The last one was published in 2011 by the Swedish publisher Max Ström. This is the first retrospective book including more than 150 photos from different series like « My country people », « People I Happened to meet » and « Amalias Street 5a ». A big hardcover book of 30 x 31 cm. It was published on the occasion of many forthcoming exhibitions of Inta Ruka in Sweden during 2012 and 2013.

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Some useful links if you want to know more :

Inta Ruka’s blog : http://intaruka.wordpress.com/category/photos/

A film on Inta Ruka, VOD : http://www.onlinefilm.org/de_DE/film/26934

Neputns, Latvian publisher (one of my favorite, unfortunately, good books are out of print) : http://www.neputns.lv/en/

A video from Moderna Museet in Stockholm: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=atYQoZlum-Y

And, for the pleasure, if you have never heard about Egon Spuris, just have a look here : http://www.egonsspuris.com/


All images copyright Inta Ruka and the publishers (can be removed on request).


One Comment on “On being a cleaning woman… and a photographer : Inta Ruka”

  1. Kate says:

    Great piece about Inta Ruka, I really enjoyed reading it and it gave a great warm sense of her and her beautiful photographs

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