Project 3 Surface and Depth

Research Point- Campany and Colberg


Thomas Ruff’s ‘Jpegs’ & the aesthetic of the pixel-Some personal thoughts

This is new work to me and I read the reviews by company and Colbert with interest although not before I had searched out some of Ruff’s jpeg images on the internet. Little did I know I was replicating Ruff’s own processes that led to his found image series in his book Jpegs and the exhibitions of this work.

Campany’s review I found a hard article to assimilate, he covers the themes of the photograph as an object of contradiction and he places Ruff as ‘trail blazer’ pushing the boundaries of the medium to new limits and pointing out the Ruff’s work is:

‘at once cliches and estranged visions of our collective photographic order’

I remain uncertain about Company’s reference to layers of photographic archives, which range from the formal archive that an original image may be located to the virtual archives that digital copies of the same image inhabit allowing me to see and screen grab the Ruff image below. To this he adds the notion of the archive individual viewers that retained memory of images seen and observed, a sort of cerebral personal archive. Whilst not fully understanding this , Colbersg forces us to think about photographs and images existing as a wide range of ‘objects’, some real, some virtual and some highly personal.

I did understand his description of the importance of the pixel in Ruff’s work, these ‘grid like mechinic’ elements are at the heart of the giant images Ruff produced. Ruff looked closely at the fundamental building blocks of digital image construction and viewed the artefacts produced by compression algorithms as a thing of interest in itself. The ‘found’ (found in that it was found through an internet search and not taken by Ruff) image below is an example of Ruff’s work where he makes the pixelation an intrinsic element in his art. What I found fascinating is that he took this approach to making art before the software we all take for granted was routinely available. Ruff’s exhibition prints of ‘Jpegs ‘ are giant in scale which I imagine means the artefacts of compression central to his intent in this work will be exceptionally prominent.

Thomas Ruff, jpeg ny02, 2004

Copyright Thomas Ruff (

It is interesting to note when considering the image above that Ruff was in New York on 9/11 and although he took photographs he discovered none came out when he had the film processed back at home in german. It was this event, the failed pictures which appears to have spurred him on to make the image above.

Colbergs article although brief does set out with some clarity Ruff’s motivation and an the goes so far as to suggest that some will not see Ruff’s work as photography in the accepted sense. Given he is using the images of others, the work is certainly a different take on the image as art. Colburg clearly struggles with the work:

‘The tremendous beauty of the images notwithstanding, the concept itselfesems to rely a bit too much on the technique itself. What else is there?’

So what does all this work mean for me? Certainly reading about Ruff’s work has made me consider the wide range of art practice encompassed in photography as a medium. I have to say however I was drawn to Campany’s comments about grain in film. Whilst he’s state that:

‘The pixel has replaced the grain of photographic film”

he does concede they are fundementally different and not before he suggest that in documentary photography of the 20 century graininess took on the :

‘connotations of authenticity’

I am very interested in this concept and although a tangent to this commentary this is a theme I will pick up at another time!

Ruff does appear to be exploring images in different ways, central to his work is the hidden world of compression algorithms that under most circumstances the photography ould want to remain hidden. Making that the creative feature of the work would suggest hidden layers of meaning. At this stage however I can’t in all honesty say i am able to decode that meaning behind the purely aesthetic.

On a concluding note I found a helpful overview of Ruff’s work in this review from the Photo8 website and I have to say looking at this helped me to make more sense of the Company’s and then Colberg’s articles.

In addition to the material referred to in the course and I found a very helpful segment of a lecture delivered by Ruff. It provides a valuable insight into the artists thinking behind his work and why he was motivated to produce the ‘Jpeg’ series.

As suggested in the materials I produced a very low resolution copies of one of my own images , saved at zero quality to experiment with this approach. Clearly the compression artefacts are not hard to see!!!

Brand 244 copy


Campany, D. (2008) Aesthetic of the Pixel

Colberg, J. (2009) Jpegs-Book Reviews April 17 2009

FOTO8-The Home of Photojournalsim– Thomas Ruff Interveiw-


One thought on “Project 3 Surface and Depth

  1. Pingback: Part 1- Exercise 3 | John Adrian Orr

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s