Project 3 Surface and Depth – Research Point

I have not finished Exercise 1.4 yet – stuck inside because of Storm Doris! – so I though I would jump ahead to the next part of the course  material.

I knew little of the work of Ruff, apart from what appears in Charlotte Cotton’s book (The Photograph as Contemporary Art. 2004. London: Thames & Hudson), so found these two reviews, so different in some ways, so similar in others, in their appreciation of his work, interesting.

Starting with Colberg, his key point seems to be that what you see is what you get, there is little depth to this work, but the work itself is the point – he uses (misuses?) Marshall Macluhan’s dictum “the medium is the message”.  Rather than delving into the images themselves what Ruff gives us is concept rather than substance, the concept relying “too much on the technique” of pixelation.  In Colberg’s view what we seem to be getting from these images is beauty, but only a superficial beauty.

(As an aside I would quibble with Colberg’s assertion that the use in the gallery of “gigantic” prints is “pretentious”.  In my view this is a lazy dismissal.  It is an all to easy to use put down but does not do anything to define what the real objection is, nor what the put-down actually means.  Take a look at ‘Pretentiousness’ by Dan Fox, 2016, London, Fitzcarraldo Editions.)

In contrast to Colberg’s somewhat superficial review (not inappropriate given his conclusions) Campany’s review is denser and more rooted in academic discourse (though not immune to infelicities, such as the hyperbolic reference to “the state of ‘all photography’ in its terrifying and sublime totality”, whatever that is supposed to mean) but I feel shows a more sympathetic reading of what Ruff is seeking to do.

Campany observes that the images do not so much stand alone as derive meaning and relevance from their association with, or by comparison with, other images in the same series.  This seems to me to be consistent with the view that all of Ruff’s images come from not one but a multitude of actual or potential archives.

The main point Campany seems to be making is that Ruff’s work intentionally seeks to break down artificially imposed barriers and taxonomies that seek to keep different ‘schools’ (“modern regimes of the image”) or forms of art separate.  Ruff, by reducing works to their constituent parts, in the case of digital images, the pixels, breaks down the barriers, reduces (but not in any judgmental sense) all these images to their (lowest) common denominator. This approach goes further in that it gives structure and meaning to phenomena that it would otherwise be difficult, if not impossible, to comprehend.

It is perhaps interesting that Colberg did not expand more of the issue raised in his opening paragraph about whether Ruff’s work is photography.  Campany suggests that the question does not really matter in so far as Ruff is breaking down barriers.  This is art, that just happens to be made from photographs.  No distinction needs to be drawn between the two.  Colbert’s dismissal of the debate suggests that his view is very much the same.  He also seems to agree with Campany that Ruff is aestheticising images of otherwise questionable quality by breaking them down into their constituent parts, pixels.  It is though interesting, but something upon which I cannot comment not having seen either the “pretentious” Gallery prints, nor the images in book form, that they disagree about which format does the works true justice.


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