Category Archives: Thomas Ruff

Thomas Ruff

Exploring Space and Place with Beate Gütschow, Andreas Gursky, Candida Höfer

“Through the Lens of Candida Höfer,” interview profile courtesy AsiaAlter

In Lost Places: Sites of photography at Hamberger Kunsthalle in Germany (through September 23, 2012), 20 innovative contemporary photographers respond to the question: ”What happens to real places if a space loses its usual significance and can be experienced on a virtual plane?”

These artists, many who came out of Bernd and Hilla Becher’s renowned Dusseldorf School of Photography, which championed the de-emphasis of the perspective of the photographer and focus on the object’s command over the frame, present the documentation of landscape at a time when traditional notions of “space” and “place,” for better or worse, are rapidly changing.

Artist included in the exhibition are: Thomas Demand (b. 1964), Omer Fast (b. 1972), Beate Gütschow (b. 1970), Andreas Gursky (b. 1955), Candida Höfer (b. 1944), Sabine Hornig (b. 1964), Jan Köchermann (b. 1967), Barbara Probst (b. 1964), Alexandra Ranner (b. 1967), Ben Rivers (b. 1972), Thomas Ruff (b. 1958), Gregor Schneider (b. 1969), Sarah Schönfeld (b. 1979), Joel Sternfeld (b. 1944), Thomas Struth (b. 1954), Guy Tillim (b. 1962), Jörn Vanhöfen (b. 1961), Jeff Wall (b. 1946) and Tobias Zielony (b. 1973).

Gursky, Höfer, Ruff, Struth, and Wall were all featured in Stefan Gronert’s large-format volume The Dusseldorf School of Photography (Aperture 2010). In the fascinating video series “Contacts: The Renewal of Contemporary Photography,” Gursky and Wall describe the methodology behind their work.

In 2005, Aperture also published Höfer’s monograph Architecture of Absence, which features her meticulously composed images of public spaces marked with the richness of human activity, yet largely devoid of human presence.

Gütschow, “who constructs cityscapes and landscapers that are reminiscent of well-known places, but that do not allow any true reference” for her photographs in this exhibition, did a monograph with Aperture as well in 2007 called LS/S.

Work by Joel Sternfeld was featured in Aperture issue 192 and 180. Guy Tillim appears in Aperture issue 193.

Lost Places: Sites of Photography
Exhibition on view:
June 8 – September 23, 2012

Hamberger Kunsthalle
GlockengieBerwall 20095
Hamburg, Germany
+49 (0) 40-428-131-200

Outer Space: Thomas Ruff’s Altered Reality

The themes that have defined the more than 30-year career of Thomas Ruff were born while the influential German photographer was studying under famed photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher at the Düsseldorf Art Academy from 1977 to 1985. Known for their typology work of water towers in which they photographed with a straightforward point of view, the Bechers believed that images which were photographed objectively were more truthful. Bernd Becher criticized Ruff’s student work, faulting his photographs for not being his own. They were simply clichés, Becher argued, mimicking fictionalized images in magazines. Ruff turned the criticism on its head—he began to make images that questioned the very methodology of image making.

“Most of the photos we come across today are not really authentic anymore,” Ruff once said. “They have the authenticity of a manipulated and prearranged reality. You have to know the conditions of a particular photograph in order to understand it properly.”

It’s easy to see these ideas in Ruff’s space work, the topic of a new exhibition and book called Stellar Landscapes, which premiered at the Frankfurt Book Fair last weekend. In his book, Ruff includes appropriated imagery of space that he has collected over the last 20 years. In some of the photographs, Ruff used images made from NASA satellites, which he downloaded for free online. Ruff often took images that seemed to be abstract renderings of the surface of a planet and used color to abstract them further. Other times, the photographer hand colored the NASA photographs to make abstract scenes more realistic. Ruff has always had a fascination with the dialogue between photography and context of a photograph. It seems only natural, then, that Ruff translated this idea into reworking existing NASA images of to present another—and equally important—view of space.

Stellar Landscapes is on view at the Landesmuseum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte, Münster through January 8. The book is available now through Kerher Verlag.

What’s Next?

I’ve just written a piece for the magazine European Photography in which I touch on the lack of substantial online discussion on current trends in photography and where things are going. I’ll be posting the piece on eyecurious soon, so I won’t go into detail here, but in general my feeling is that although online activity on photography is growing by the day, it is becoming commensurately shallower as a result. Fortunately there are examples which buck the trend. Foam, the Amsterdam photo-museum, has recently added What’s Next? to its expanding range of content. What’s Next? is a supplement to Foam’s quarterly magazine but also an online discussion forum which is designed to spark discussion on current trends and how they are affecting the development of photography. The museum recently organised an expert meeting in Amsterdam around the What’s Next project with an impressive line-up including Charlotte Cotton, Fred Ritchin, Thomas Ruff, Joachim Schmid and many others (you can see a number of the presentations from the meeting on Foam’s youtube channel). Although the design of the site messes with my eyes and head a little bit, there is some terrific content on here running from photobooks to photojournalism. As a blogger I find that the most satisfying experiences writing online are those which spark a discussion, debate or even an argument. If you are interested in any of the above, I highly recommend a visit to What’s Next?


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jpegs by Thomas Ruff

Thomas Ruff might be one of the most creative and certainly inventive photographers of our time. In fact, many people – especially adherents of photographic orthodoxy – will probably vehemently deny that most of Ruff’s recent work is actually photography. In general debates about whether something is photography or not, and if it’s not photography then what else, are not terribly exciting, and there is no need to get into them here. What is more interesting is to look at that work and to see what it does (call it photography, graphic design, visual art, whatever).

At the time of this writing, Ruff’s jpegs are his most recent body of work. In an interview, the artist explained its history as follows1: “Everything began with 9/11, the attack on the World Trade Center. That week […] I was in New York […]. I took many photos. When I got the negatives back from the lab in Germany, they were all blank. […] I finally downloaded a lot of images from the web. […] That was when I began to experiment with the ‘jpeg’ images […] The 9/11 images were iconic, but of terribly low resolution. With the […] jpeg structure and the results from work with image structures I managed to modify the terribly poorly resolved but still visually aesthetical images my way. ‘Terribly beautiful’ images they were.” In a nutshell, this is the idea behind jpegs. Ruff eventually expanded his jpegs into a rather large set, the subject of two large shows at Zwirner gallery, and the subject of Jpegs.

I had been looking forward to the publication of Jpegsever since I first heard about it, since I had a hunch. As it turns out my hunch was correct: Ruff’s jpegs work amazingly well in book form. It is a rather large book, beautifully printed. For me, seeing the jpegs in the book actually works much better than seeing them as gigantic prints in the Zwirner gallery setting where, well, there was that whiff of things being just a tad too pretentious. Of course, I understand the basic idea of having large prints – they require physical involvement of the viewer. But even without knowing what the images would look like in a book I thought that the amount of detail in the images was actually not large enough to justify the sizes shown in the gallery (of course, the business behind that gallery dictated otherwise). As a book, everything just works beautifully. I give Aperture a lot of credit for producing this book.

But then there is this unease that I’ve had with this work, which I expressed several times on this blog (find the most recent example here). The tremendous beauty of some of the images notwithstanding, the concept itself seems to rely a bit too much on the technique itself. What else is there? Make no mistake, there is nothing wrong with producing beautiful images or images that are “just” beautiful. And everything would be fine if there hadn’t been so many attempts to convince me that in reality “jpegs” is more. What that “more” really is I never managed to find out. Unfortunately, the text in Jpegsdid not help me much, either. At various stages, I thought “Well, now we’re getting somewhere”, only for the author to end a thought. Well, sure, images on the web often have low resolution, and if you blow them up then they show funny patterns (caused by the image compression algorithms2), and of course, photography’s role has been changing through its use online – but all that is just so obvious! I get it!

Of course, I’m being overly critical – probably in part because of Ruff’s willingness to push the boundaries of photography. I give him tremendous credit for that, to see what photography is, what it can do, where it might go… But now’s the time to move beyond form.

Or maybe sometimes, the medium is the message (and I’m expecting too much).

Either way, Jpegsis a stunningly beautiful book. Seeing the images in the book has made me re-appreciate the sheer beauty of this body of work, despite the ultimate thinness of the concept behind it.

Curriculum Vitae

Born: Zell, southern Germany, 1958.

Studied: Düsseldorf Art Academy.

Inspirations: “My teacher Bernd Becher, who showed us photographs by Stephen Shore, Joel Meyerowitz and the new American colour photographers.”

High point: “My portraits series in the mid-1980s: it made collectors who normally buy paintings become interested in photography.”

Low point: “My political collages at the end of the 1990s . I liked them, but other people didn’t.”

Dream subject: “I would like to go into space and travel to all the wonderful nebulas, moons and planets that the Hubble space telescope takes pictures of. I’d get a bit closer and take the pictures myself.”

1 Excerpt from a conversation with Max Dax, original in German (my translation), from Max Dax, Dreissig Gespräche, edition suhrkamp, 2009

2 Disclaimer: My scientific past contains a longish stint in a group working on digital image processing.

ogiginal post:

Thomas Ruff on JPEGS and Previous Key Series

In this clip, Thomas Ruff goes through several key bodies of work following his professor Bernd Bechers advice to always reflect on the photographic medium. Ruff speaks about his Portraits series he started at the Düsseldorf Academy and explains how large scale has emancipated photography on the contemporary art scene in the 1980’s. Ruff also touches on the matter of objectivity versus subjectivity as well as on the notion of authorship with his Stars series. intranet software . portal server software . He finally speaks about the spirit of the Jpegs series, focusing on the structure of images he finds on Internet and their distribution. By enlarging them, Ruff also plays with the perception of these images when the pixel patterns becomes sublime geometric displays of color. The full version of this talk is available on vimeo and on our multimedia section, divided in four different clips. Aperture and the photography department in the School of Art, Media, and Technology at Parsons The New School for Design presented this conversation between artist Thomas Ruff and writer, former picture editor, Philip Gefter, on February 12, 2010 at Aperture Gallery. philadelphia web design . Thomas Ruff is among the most important international photographers to emerge in the last fifteen years, and one of the most enigmatic and prolific of Bernd and Hilla Bechers former students, a group that includes Andreas Gursky, Thomas Struth, Candida Höfer, and Axel Hutte.