Interview with Ryan Koopmans
18 November 2022
Ryan Koopmans is a Dutch Canadian lens-based artist interested in the built environment and the societies that are shaped by those environments. Koopmans is primarily drawn to photographing surreal structures in our world’s megacities and urban landscapes. Formal qualities in their geometry, repetition, and saturation help him illustrate what he terms ‘the poetry of form in interesting locations.’
Could you introduce yourself and tell us about your background?
My name is Ryan Koopmans, and I am a Dutch canadian lens based artists interested in the built environment and the societies that are shaped by those environments. I was born in Amsterdam, but raised on Vancouver island in British Columbia. I initially planned to become an architect, but during the portfolio making process for Architecture graduate school I began taking photographs. I quickly realized that my camera enabled me to do things, go places and to meet people in a way that a traditional career never would.
I changed direction and instead pursued an MFA in Photography, Video and Related Media at the School of Visual Arts in NYC which formed the basis of my future as a professional photographer.
I became obsessed with documentary photography and worked around the world creating stories and shooting on assignment for the past 15 years. After working on photojournalism projects, fashion, travel and automotive photography, I eventually found myself back at the core of my visual and conceptual interests; the built environment and Architecture.
As a photographer, what inspires you the most?
Whether it’s the building of a new futuristic capital city in Kazakhstan and Iraq, to small villages in Siberia and favelas in Brazil, photographing the wide range of architectural types and the ways we live within those, is what drives my curiosity. I am inspired to visit new, unfamiliar places that have not yet been extensively photographed. My fundamental interest in a subject is driven by fascination of a country and its social, political, historic and economic characteristics.
How and when did you discover Georgia and Tskaltubo?
The first time I went to Georgia was in 2014, as a member of an international press team invited as guests to attend their fashion week. I fell in love with the country and thereafter, returned several times to the capital of Georgia, Tbilisi, to photograph fashion. The city of Tbilisi itself is a fascinating and dynamic place, however, after exploring the surroundings areas, I realized the full potential of the country and the depth of the history and its interwoven stories.
Along with fellow photographer Adam Katz Sinding, we drove to the town of Tskaltubo after being advised by a local that the architecture was something that would interest me. Upon arriving, it was like entering a time capsule. Shortly after, I returned with Alice Wexell to photograph the architectural interiors that laid the foundation of what became The Wild Within. We made close contacts and friendships with people in the town and returned every year to explore and create images for this project.
The town was full of ornate but derelict buildings, many of which housed internally displaced people from the nearby region of Abkhazia since 1992. The combination of witnessing these overgrown, crumbling monumental buildings, and hearing the stories of the people who had been living in them for years without basic utilities, made me realize that this was a location I was going to photograph and learn about for years to come.
There are still some parts of the country that I haven’t seen that I hope to return to! It is changing very quickly as modern infrastructure replaces the old, and the country continues to transform at a rapid rate. The great thing about photography is that the act of taking pictures in itself is a form of preservation, so even though the face of the country might change, the images of how it once was will be preserved for eternity on the blockchain.
What do you think makes abandoned places so interesting? And why are these places so special to you?
I am not interested in abandoned buildings per-se, but more-so architecture and cities that have gone through extreme socio-political changes or environmental stresses. Their abandonment is reflective of much more than simply the passing of time, but are representative of the greater forces that the country has endured. Buildings that have signs of the past but are not totally damaged, are the most interesting to me. Furthermore, the architectural qualities of the space is important. Therefore there are only a handful of locations around the world that share all of the aspects that make it interesting for me to shoot. Lebanon, Georgia, Armenia, Ukraine, Italy and Kazakhstan are a few that I have made this connection with.
Jim Carrey bought one of your NFT and posted it on social media. Tell us more about this story, how did Jim discover this NFT and what did that acquisition enable you to do?
Jim Carrey is an artist in his own right (aside from acting of course) and he wanted to enter the crypto art space by minting his own work and to start collecting. SuperRare has been the premium marketplace to collect art thus far, curating some amazing artists.
I was fortunate enough that Jim Carrey connected with the piece Devotion which was the final piece minted in the project The Wild Within, all of which was shot in Tskaltubo.
I know that he related to the serene and meditative nature of the piece, and I attribute a lot of that to the magical uniqueness that can be found in Tskaltubo. His collecting the work did bring a lot of attention to not only the artwork in The Wild Within but also the town of Tskaltubo itself. I actually just returned from Georgia where I gave an interview to their state TV broadcaster about Carrey's recent acquisition, as the people are very proud and excited that more positive attention has been cast on Georgia.
The success of the project has allowed my co-creator Alice Wexell and I the opportunity to give back to Tskaltubo and Georgia in several different ways. It’s been rewarding and interesting to see how crypto art as a movement itself can be so powerful and lead to opportunities to help others.