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Inta Ruka

You and Me

Hero Image for Inta Ruka

Inta Ruka presents well-rounded portraits of people who gaze into the camera in a genuinely natural manner. Her photographs are personal, revealing and disarming.

Respect for other people’s life stories is what characterises Ruka’s portraits

Born in 1958 in Riga, Latvia, Inta Ruka grew up with her mother in a rented apartment in modest circumstances and trained as a seamstress. Given a camera as a graduation present by her mother, she has devoted herself to photography ever since. With the camera her shyness disappeared. She joined the photo group Ogre and learned the trade.

In the early 1980s, Ruka travelled to her mother’s native village, Balvi, near the Russian border, to take photographs. Following the postman around on bicycle, she met all the villagers. The photographs resulted in the series My Country People (1983-2000), which became Ruka’s international breakthrough when she represented Latvia at the 1999 Venice Biennale.

Like the Swedish photographer Sune Jonsson (1930-2009), Inta Ruka depicts a world that is about to disappear. She works like a documentary photographer but has her own approach. Nor primarily concerned with documenting society, she is more interested in people and in meetings. Respect for other people’s life stories is what characterises Ruka’s portraits. Before she photographs someone, she meets them, talks to them and waits for the right moment. Every sitter receives a copy of the portrait and sometimes she meets them several times and takes new portraits. Some of the pictures are accompanied by handwritten captions, resembling short stories.

Each portrait requires trust. And the people in Ruka’s photographs trust her because they share the same experiences and the same background. She has a unique ability to make people open up and talk about their lives. Her portraits do not appeal for compassion but convey the sense that everyone has an important story to tell.

She is an autodidact and still makes prints of her images at home

Inta Ruka is contemporary with Maud Nycander, one of Sweden’s most prominent documentary filmmakers. They ran into one another in Riga some years ago and have been friends ever since. After a few years of friendship, Nycander began filming Ruka and in her documentary The Photographer from Riga (2009), she presents Inta Ruka’s life story. In Nycander’s new documentary, Road’s End (2013) – with Lars Tunbjörk as the photographer – we meet Daina, one of the women Ruka has photographed for several years. Through Inta’s and Maud’s friendship, issues of love, children, happiness and sorrow are addressed. The documentary Road’s End will be premiered at Fotografiska.

Inta Ruka has never worked as a press photographer, only with her own projects. The slow process appeals to her. She is an autodidact and still makes prints of her images at home. She uses a classic Rolleiflex camera, always on a tripod, and works in natural light.

Inta Ruka is one of Latvia’s most important photographers. She has held several successful exhibitions in, among others, the UK, France, Holland and Germany, and is represented in numerous international collections. In addition to My Country People, Ruka has produced the series People I Happened to Meet (1988, 2000-2004) and Amalias Street 5 (2004-2008). The exhibition You and Me presents a unique selection of Inta Ruka’s work.

– Maria Patomella, curator

All the photographs in the exhibition were printed by Inta Ruka on silver gelatin paper.