The unsettling visions of Thomas Ruff

30 December 2017

SIG: Contemporary

Just before Christmas I had a short adventure into London, to the Whitechapel Gallery to see the Thomas Ruff retrospective exhibition.  At this time of year one sees plenty of “best exhibitions of” lists and this appeared on a couple so I figured I would go take a look.

It is interesting that one often sees appropriation in “art” photography, Ruff’s work is no exception and seeks to show us how photography has been used by artists, scientists and journalists.  Ruff does not say he takes images, but rather, that he works with them and makes art with photography.

The exhibition includes a series of massive portraits of his friends – dead-pan, straight and highly detailed – showing that photography does not have to flatter, to make people good looking.  In much of the exhibition, however, Ruff reworks found photographs culled from press archives and the internet.  The old press photographs overlaid with their “exif” (source info, captions and crop instructions typed on the back of the images) were an interesting concept.

The exhibition includes massive JPEG images, enlarged until their low resolution has become a kind of pixellated abstraction.  Some hope then for the 1 megapixel images from my first ever digital camera!  I think the subject matter (press images of New York during the “9/11” attack) is perhaps more meaningful.

Other appropriated images of Mars are manipulated and distorted to emphasise features.  If you’ve got 3D glasses lying around from a cinema visit – take them (and let me know how different the images look).

There’s lot’s more.  If you’re in London, go and see this photography about photography, it’s on until 21st January.   If you’re not able there’s a lot more information in the links below:

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/sep/26/thomas-ruff-photographs-whitechapel-retrospective-profile

http://www.whitechapelgallery.org/exhibitions/thomas-ruff/