phone mail2 facebook twitter play whatsapp
Thomas Ruff: Photographs 1979 – 2017
Image Credit: Detail from 16h 30m by Thomas Ruff (c) Thomas Ruff

Thomas Ruff: Photographs 1979 – 2017

10 November 2017 Katie Da Cunha Lewin

Thomas Ruff’s photography is often stark and confrontational. Through his innovative compositions and myriad editing techniques, he considers how the source and context of an image alter meaning.

Thomas Ruff was a German photographer from Düsseldorf who studied under the tutelage of Bernd and Hilla Becher, the German conceptual artists. The couple often worked in series, creating typologies of buildings and structures. In clear inheritance from these artists, Ruff also works in series. This exhibition brings together 18 bodies of work, comprising of projects since the late 1970s until the present day. In many of his works, he manipulates, edits or re-colours works from other sources, including images from collections, newspapers, and telescopes. His work also traces the transformation of photography through its short history, from film and digital, to the rise of the internet and its effect on the very nature of the image and its subsequent dissemination in new forms.

In the first room, several series on display demonstrate Ruff’s play with colour. In w.g.l for example, he has adjusted gallery images taken at the first showing of Jackson Pollock’s abstract expressionist works in 1958, adding colour to walls and ceilings. Through these subtle adjustments, not only do Pollock’s paintings become signs of a new era of non-figurative work, but the gallery space itself is also transformed. On a further wall, the six huge portraits that greet the viewer are blankly confrontational. Positioned in front of a white background, suggesting the arrangement of identity cards or passport photographs, the subjects seem to stare back, meeting the gaze of viewer. In their enormity, each individual demands attention, so that the viewer scrutinises the faces of each with greater care.  In their stark composition and blank expressions, these portraits do not really seem to give away anything about the individual within them, but ask the viewer to acknowledge the presence of the sitter.


Installation view at the Whitechapel Gallery, Gallery 1. Photo: Stephen White

On a nearby wall, Ruff moves from the human face to the aesthetics of space: Sterne (1989-1992) and ma.r.s (2011-13) both use images taken from telescopes and satellites, transforming enormous borderless maps of skies and planets into individual images. Like the portraits at the entrance to the room, these pieces are huge; in the case of ma.r.s, Ruff has doctored the images so that they can be viewed with 3D glasses.  In both of these projects, strange landscapes and geographies are given a new kind of framing, presented as art objects.  But these are pieces that are completely enigmatic, offering no ‘map’ for the eye to read the image; instead, the viewer is left with the overwhelming feeling of an undirected eye.

In other series, the viewer is asked to look at images that are ubiquitous in our digital age. In nudes (1999-2012) Ruff has taken and edited screenshots from pornographic films, turning them into photos, bearing a resemblance to the historical form of the nude. In another, jpeg (2004-08), he has blown up images taken on 9/11, so that these widely recognisable images are given a new form. In both sets of works, the pixels that make up these images are revealed; that which creates the images in their digital form, blurs them in this new context.


Installation view at the Whitechapel Gallery, Gallery 8. Photo: Stephen White

This reframing occurs again in Ruff’s work with archives and news. In Zeitungsfotos (1990-91), he has removed the captions from images found in newspapers; here he plays on our desire to know by removing the words that often play the pivotal role in cementing our ideas of historical events. In his 2016 series, press++, has trawled through the archives of various news agencies, discovering photographic prints that contain the scrawling and marking of journalists. Ruff scans both sides of the images, layering then on top of one another so that these photos also contain the historical markers that give them context. In these images, the viewer sees not only the item of news, but literally sees the context made visible.  In both projects, Ruff makes the viewer aware of source and the necessity of context in creating meaning.

In all of these works, Ruff questions the limitations of photography and exposes the sheer malleability of the form. If an image is doctored, transformed or altered beyond recognition, is it still the same photograph? Or does it become another kind of art object, something between a painting, a photo and a sculpture?
 
Thomas Ruff: Photographs 1979 – 2017 is on at the Whitechapel Gallery until 21 January 2018.
 


 

Tell us what you think

You may also like

This week: 29 January – 4 February

This week: 29 January – 4 February

It’s cold, it’s dark and staying at home with a nice hot drink might seem appealing but here are some ideas to tempt you out of…

Top 5: Brutalist Buildings in London

Top 5: Brutalist Buildings in London

Brutalism is an architectural movement of the 1950s – 70s that is as striking as it is divisive, often accused by its opponents of ruining the…

This week: 19 – 25 February

This week: 19 – 25 February

After the cold dark days of last week we could all do with some fun, so here are some exclusively jolly ideas to brighten up…

Immigrants Get the Job Done

Immigrants Get the Job Done

Designs on Britain, a new exhibition at the Jewish Museum, is displaying the work of 18 designers and artists who all have one thing in…

Alternative Valentines Day

Alternative Valentines Day

Valentine’s Day seems to be a bit like marmite. You either seem to love the heart adorned gifts, treats and extravagant displays of affection, or you…

Yto Barrada at the Barbican Centre

Yto Barrada at the Barbican Centre

The French-Moroccan artist Yto Barrada’s latest exhibition Agadir explores the ways in which a city’s people respond to a devastating natural disaster, and the way the…

Top 5: London Hidden Gems

Top 5: London Hidden Gems

London is a city that has plenty of attractions, museums and activities to offer. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the first or tenth time you are…

Glitterbox X Jealous Gallery

Glitterbox X Jealous Gallery

an artistic extravaganza of photography and design

Omega To Charleston

Omega To Charleston

The Art of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, 1910–1937

The Gap Between Us

The Gap Between Us

The Mosaic Rooms, a non-profit gallery aiming to promote art from and about the Arab world, showcases the work of Basma Alsharif, a Kuwait-born artist…

Most popular

Win Tickets to Best of Broadway!

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra - Win Tickets to Best of Broadway!

Experience an evening showcasing the finest shows on Broadway and in the West End live at the Royal Albert Hall.
Win 2 Tickets to a Cocktail Cinema Evening!

Courthouse Hotel - Win 2 Tickets to a Cocktail Cinema Evening!

Your chance to win a magical night out with this Cocktail Cinema Evening for Two at the 5* Courthouse Hotel in Shoreditch!
Win 2 tickets to see Good Girl

Trafalgar Studios - Win 2 tickets to see Good Girl

Naomi Sheldon’s award-winning debut play
Win Tickets to The Enchanted Room

Estorick Collection - Win Tickets to The Enchanted Room

We've got two tickets to give away to a unique display of Italian art.
Win Tickets to Lab Late: Managing the Biosphere

The Imagination Lab - Win Tickets to Lab Late: Managing the Biosphere

Are you concerned about rapid changes facing the planet? Hear about a movement that advocates for action, driven by the people!
Top 5: Brutalist Buildings in London

Top 5: Brutalist Buildings in London

Concrete beasts in the city
Win a bottle of Prosecco and free entry to Womb 2

Number 90 Bar & Kitchen - Win a bottle of Prosecco and free entry to Womb 2

Number 90 Bar & Kitchen in Hackney is celebrating it’s 4th birthday with a massive 4 day party of individually themed events.
Top 5: Escape room games in London

Top 5: Escape room games in London

Exciting quest for adventurous explorers
Julius Caesar at The Bridge Theatre

Julius Caesar at The Bridge Theatre

Ben Whishaw, Michelle Fairley, David Calder and David Morrissey take to London’s newest stage.

Your inbox deserves a little culture!!