Images and their Dissemination in the Digital Age: Thomas Ruff

For the past three decades, Thomas Ruff has taken his chosen medium, photography, as his subject. His recent bodies of work present thorough investigations into photography’s many uses and meanings as well as its physical structure. He has appropriated images from a variety of sources including scientific archives, newspapers, and, more recently, the Internet.

In his series, Jpeg, started in 2002, Ruff explores the dissemination of images in the digital age. He downloaded images he had found on the Internet, compressed the files using the maximum rate, and then decompressed and enlarged them to a monumental scale. This process of hyper-compression and enlargement exposes the grids of pixels into which the image is split during the compression process, and therefore also exposes the underlying mathematical structure of the jpeg image file type. It is this structure, grid-like and repetitive, that unites and homogenises all digital images, and allows them to be so widely and easily shared.

Appropriating found images, including dense cityscapes and scenes of war; Ruff transfigures images from potentially familiar or clichéd into something unknown and unreadable. The works, therefore, present an engagement with the problematic ‘truth value’ of photography and a mediation on the potential instabilities in any particular photograph. The exaggerated pixel patterns transform the photograph to a point of distortion, and the viewer is confronted with a geometric and rhythmically abstracted surface.

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