Thomas Ruff’s JPEG Series


In his JPEG series, Thomas Ruff uses low resolution pictures, taken mainly from the Web, which he enlarges, then compresses to the lowest quality JPEG format.  The images fracture and pixelate, leaving not just the image, but also its underlying digital structure.


Campany starts by explaining the way in which artists use images to try and make sense of the culture they inhabit. All photographic images come from Archives, arranged by us according to certain rules. In a changing world, these Archives are constantly re-archived and redistributed across the Internet. Ruff reflects this need for order by working in series.

Digital images are made up of pixels. All images created as analogue that now appear in a digital form have been converted to this state. Campany argues that the “grid-like, mechanic and repetitive” pixel does not suggest to us today the authenticity that the grain of analogue images did in the past. Instead, the pixel has represented a “cold technological limit”.

He believes our response to the pixel is changing though. In Ruff’s JPEG series, many of the images are of disaster, events and situations that cannot be controlled. But behind these images we see the comforting, ordered grids of pixels. According to Campany, Ruff is allowing us to contemplate at an “aesthetic and philosophical level the basic condition of the electronic image”.

Colberg does not deny the beauty of Ruff’s images, but questions whether his work is actually photography. He states that there is nothing wrong in producing beautiful images just for the sake them being beautiful images. He is unconvinced by the philosophical explanations behind Ruff’s works. However, he does admire the way in which he is willing to “push the boundaries of photography”.

When I first read the articles, I fell very much on the side of Colberg. Ruff’s images are arresting and often bleakly beautiful, however, in many cases, they aren’t even his own pictures, just ones he has culled from the internet and altered.  However, whilst I think Campany may be reading a bit too much into the importance of the JPEG series, he does make some important points. The way we view images is constantly changing and this is something that needs to be acknowledged.


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