In order to read and understand the reviews for our research point on Thomas Ruff, I first had to understand his work and what he does as I had not known of his work before this. In particular, an article I found of an interview with him is useful as it presents the artist’s own personal thoughts, opinions and views rather than other’s perceptions of him.
Being a prominent member of the Düsseldorf School of photography (1), Ruff went on to modify the approach of his teachers, the influential photographers Bernd and Hiller Becher, known for their undying loyalty to the 1920’s German tradition of ‘Neue Sachlichkeit,’ (2) by using and applying technological advancements and a more contemporary approach to create new visual arts that stimulate the imagination rather than represent reality, while retaining the documentary styles of his tutors. His works include images of domestic interiors, austere portraits, blurred pornography, photograms, and found JPEGs.
“I think that historically photographs may have been made in a naive and honest way, when photographers believed in the ‘pencil of nature’ and recording what was in front of the camera. But photography quickly came to be used in a prejudicial way, losing its innocence and consequently its ability to communicate.”(Ruff, 2017)
The underlying foundation of Ruff’s work has been to treat photography as an open archive for realising new visual possibilities and to question its artistic attributes. For example, his m.a.r.s. series of 2012 has more or less softened the line between reality and fantasy where he has treated found images of Mars and Saturn from the internet with 3D effects and visual treatments before ultimately reproducing them in large-scale Chromogenic prints (Thomas Ruff | Artnet, 2020).
He is cynical about psychologising portrait photography and is of the opinion that trying to capture characters with the play of light and shadows is absolutely suspect to him. According to him he can only depict the surface and whatever is shown beyond that is just more or less a matter of chance. if one looks for straight photography as his teachers propounded, the best and closest example would be his series “Portraits” (1981-85) which includes 60 frontal, expressionless, similarly framed, photographs of men and women, enlarged to a enormous proportions. He has further explored the ides of originality in “Nudes” (2003), where he has enlarged thumbnails of pornographic images taken from the internet, has developed a series on 3D mathematical drawings, historical images from war, the night sky, and the architecture of Mies van der Rohe (Thomas Ruff – 423 Artworks, Bio & Shows on Artsy, 2020).
In his contemplated perspective to the various sources and the varied possibilities that photography as a medium offers, Thomas Ruff has examined a variety of themes reflected in the diverse range of technologies adopted by him- “analogue and digital exposures taken by the artist exist in his practice alongside computer generated imagery, photographs from scientific archives, and pictures culled and manipulated from newspapers, magazines, and the Internet” (Zwirner, 2020). His works are investigations into the characteristics of photography as a medium itself – its constitution, its utilisations, its genres, its definitions. Only a small percentages of his time is spent behind the camera as his main interest lies if rendering pre-existing images into manipulated new works. His curiosity gets piqued if he discovers a visual system or technology that he doesn’t know of and then he gets really interested in its exploration (Jobey, 2017).
“I think we were all so successful because we didn’t go to technical or photography school, we studied at an art academy. When I was a student I discussed my work not with my colleagues at the Becher Klasse, I discussed it with my friends who were sculptors, who were painters; they were not photographers. And because we had this wide range of media, we could look at photography much more precisely; recognise its limits and advantages and then develop a very precise photographic image.”(Ruff, 2017)
To be honest, I think that Thomas Ruff’s works can be admired for the variety of techniques that he has incorporated so effectively and has been able to shock people into either loving or hating it. It does signify that photography as medium is just not restricted to taking straight photographs but has the capacity to encompass myriad of techniques to create further visual arts that at best taking a photograph as the base, create something larger than it, be it a photomontage, a photogram or a digitally manipulated image to create something abstract.
1. The Dusseldorf School of Photography refers to a group of photographers who studied at the Kunstakademie Dusseldorf in the mid 1970s under the influential photographers Bernd and Hiller Becher (Dusseldorf School of Photography – Art Term | Tate, 2020).
2. The New Objectivity (Neue Sachlichkeit) emerged as a style in Germany in the 1920s as a challenge to Expressionism. As its name suggests, it offered a return to unsentimental reality and a focus on the objective world, as opposed to the more abstract, romantic, or idealistic tendencies of Expressionism. The style is most often associated with portraiture, and its leading practitioners included Max Beckmann, Otto Dix, and George Grosz (MoMA|German Expressionism Styles: New Objectivity, 2020).