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Jpegs by Thomas Ruff

Two reviews of Thomas Ruff’s work are mentioned in the course material: a) Joerg Colberg http://jmcolberg.com/weblog/2009/04/review_jpegs_by_thomas_ruff/ (accessed 11.3.15), and b) David Campany http://davidcampany.com/thomas-ruff-the-aesthetics-of-the-pixel/ (accessed 11.3.15).

Ruff uses ‘found images’ to create art using jpeg grids. The technique of doing this is easy to understand with some knowledge of compressed digital images. I read Campany’s review first and then found Colberg’s all the more enjoyable.

Campany’s writing is loaded with opposites within single sentences: ‘once familiar clichés and estranged visions’, ‘is always as public as it is private’, ‘belong to everybody and nobody’. He says that the ability of Ruff’s work to solicit both global and personal responses cannot be entirely reconciled and then makes no attempt to reconcile the responses or elaborate on the difficulties of doing so. He then goes onto to focus on global responses. For these responses, he talks about art’s attempt (through found images) to make sense of a culture increasingly dominated by spectacle. He talks about photographic archives and how their format and portability has evolved in the digital age, and comments that no matter how much organisation takes place, there is always a potential collapse into chaos ‘because there is always something wild and unpredictable about the behaviour of images’. He asserts at length that one cannot be sure from which particular archives Ruff’s images originate – of course this is the case, as they have been passed around the internet and possibly originally digitised from an analogue archive. He contrasts the authenticity and randomness of grain in analogue photographs with the cold mechanics of pixels in digital images. And eventually, says that our response to pixels may be changing, evidenced by people’s response Ruff’s work. Campany finishes off with another set of opposites ‘great forces of rationality and irrationality’. I didn’t learn much about Campany’s view of Ruff’s work, but found his style of writing somewhat frustrating.

In contrast Colberg’s critique is clear and crisp, telling us something Ruff’s standing as a photographer, how he came to be interested in the features of jpeg images and sharing his personal perspective on Ruff’s work. While Colberg found the book of jpegs to be ‘stunningly beautiful’, he was troubled by the ‘thinness’ of the technique behind. He mentions he would probably have even been fine with the technique ‘if there hadn’t been so many attempts to convince [him] that in reality “jpegs” is more’.

To conclude, here is one of my images given the jpeg treatment.  It creates an interesting grungy effect. However, there are perhaps better ways of applying interesting effects to jpeg images, through iPad apps for example and possibly with more control over the output. Is an ‘app’ approach really any different in terms of the technical process? My view is not – they are just different approaches to post-processing of digital images and the result will depend on the artist’s eye.

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Andrew Fitzgibbon



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