Research point – Response to Thomas Ruff’s work

“…’Jpeg’ by Thomas Ruff…Read the reviews by Campany and Colberg and, if you haven’t already done so, use them to begin the contextual section of your learning log. Try to pick out the key points made by each writer. Write about 300 words.


ruff_01_groot ThomasRuff1

Each reviewer is highly complimentary of the beauty of Thomas Ruff’s book, however they part company when discussing the meaning (and value) of the images. David Campany sees the images as challenging and intellectually stimulating, while Joerg Colberg does not!

Campany’s views are interesting. He sees the work as impersonal and unemotional, as we are distanced a little from the subject matter. He goes on to say “Indeed what is particular about Ruff’s work is its potent ability to solicit individual and global responses that cannot be entirely reconciled”. I think he is pondering on the large scale shocking subject matter, such as nine eleven, with the contradiction of our own personal emotional response. These images seem unemotional as they are seen through the filter of the pixel – a cold computer generated image. He then discusses the topic of found imagery, and how we relate to it, mentioning Dada, Surrealism and Cubism. There are some similarities to Picasso here – he and others experimented with multiple view points within a single image. (I’m not sure pixellated imagery takes things quite so far, but you can see a connection.) He points out that using archive material has a long history, and although “the pixel has replaced the grain of photographic film.” Company sees drama and tension in the interplay between the chaotic and dramatic subject matter the ‘abstract’ nature of the pixels.

Colberg disagrees, and I can’t help sympathising with his rather more skeptical views! He begins by saying he’s not going to debate whether this book can really be called photography, because they are mostly found images. As I’m entirely new to this subject, I haven’t thought about what might be defined as photography, but its interesting that some photographers like to work with found imagery. He then gives a brief explanation about the inspiration behind the book, and how he responded to it most in print (rather than large images in a gallery). Then he proceeds to the main point of his argument, which is really “so what?”. He feels they are simply beautiful images, making the rather obvious point that poor quality computer images are pixellated.

I can see both points of view really…I think most of us read modern imagery as almost more shocking and dramatic because the image quality is poor. It implies that something happened which is so awful that there was no time to set up an artistic, calm scene. It can seem elusive – like its been rescued from a distant place. A bit like a very important letter or package thats been beaten up in the post and survived fire or flood to reach you. On the other hand, if you re-use shocking imagery it will imply intellectual depth, but we should question if there really is any! Could an artist just be exploiting awful shocking events as a short cut to telling us they are really serious and heavy weight without really saying anything profound? Well, Colberg seems to think so, and I kind of agree. (Sorry!)


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