Part 1

Research notes – Thomas Ruff

Joerg Colbert critique of Ruff’s “Jpeg” (1) aims directly at the concept. He mentions in passing the debate over whether appropriating somebody else’s pictures can be considered as photography, but does not wander into that. For him the idea of “Jpeg” is interesting from a technical, and even aesthetical perspective, but he finds that this in itself does not qualify as a “concept” and is not sufficient to grab his attention. He explains what is lacking in more detail in his previous blog notes on “Jpeg”, where he suggested that the logical next step would have been to apply the “Jpeg” technique to other series of photographs “…that are about something, where that something is not the fact that you get those funny patterns when you blow up badly compressed jpeg images.”(2). I believe this comment is quite interesting in the sense that as photographers we tend to focus too much on the look and feel of pictures, in developing a particular style, and the medium used (film or paper type), but sometimes disregard the concept behind the images, how well they go together or what is the purpose of it all.

In contrast with Colbert, Campany (3) spends quite a lot of time discussing Ruff’s appropriation by explaining the importance of the “archive” in modern art and by noting that many of Ruff’s images for JPEG come from the Internet, which is an “archive of archives”…the images are then organised or archived, according to Ruff’s own ideas and order.

Campany tries to make the analogy between pixelation and grain. When this was written, back in 2008, the best digital cameras probably had resolutions of around 12 megapixels, which was not sufficient to enlarge at the scale of Ruff’s work without pixelation becoming visible. Nowadays, with the resolutions exceeding 80 megapixels in some professional cameras, this is no longer an issue and I believe a more relevant analogy would be between grain and signal noise.

He laments that the pixel does not have the “…scattered caos of grain”, but nonetheless finds that the choice of images by Ruff, of “…phenomena that…are in a sense irrational, anarchic”, together with the pixelation treatment, makes the viewing move “from figuration to abstraction and back again”, creating tension and drama that relates to modern life. With this, Campany seems to find the concept behind Ruff’s work that eluded Colbert.

———- oooo ———-

Looking at Campany’s post, there is a pixelated picture of a waterfall from Ruff’s “JPEG” which caught my attention, as I have a similar picture and wanted to see how to they compared. The original picture from Ruff can be found here.


Ezaro waterfall, Spain. (c) 2016 by Jose Souto


(1) Colbert, J. (2009) Review: Jpegs by Thomas Ruff. Available at: (Accessed: 18 September 2016).

(2) Colbert, J. (2009) When does a shtick become a shtick? (conscientious). Available at: (Accessed: 18 September 2016).

(3) Campany, D. (2008) Thomas Ruff: Aesthetic of the Pixel. Available at: (Accessed: 18 September 2016).