Research Point: Project 3 Surface and depth – Ruff’s JPEGS

After reading the two articles on Ruff’s JPEGS, here are a few of the key points that stand out for me:


  • JPEGs are just aesthetic not really intellectual
  • More personal account in Colberg’s writing
  • Colberg feels more like a fan to me
  • More of a book review than intellectual, historical analysis
  • Thinks they are too pretentious as large prints, better in book format
  • Never found out anything beyond them just being pretty “the ultimate thinness of the concept behind it”
  • Talks more about the process of creating the compression


  • JEPGS are both aesthetic and intellectual
  • Observes the archival nature (history) of photography
  • Ruff Introduces ‘art of pixel’ to art world
  • Talks about the pixel’s influence and similarities and differences to grain
  • Our response to the pixel is changing
  • Great tension and drama (figuration to abstraction and back again)
  • Comparison to modern life
  • Ruff’s preference for working in a series
  • simultaneously emphasizes and de-emphasizes whatever is specific about his chosen photographs

Two different styles of writing and I found them both reasonably interesting. Colberg’s text reads, as it was intended, like a book review, while Campany’s text is more like an essay. Campany touches on the more profound, philosophical, and sociocultural aspects of the work in terms of impact and with plenty of connections to historical reference (especially the use and function of photographs within archives).

Whereas, I thought, Colberg, while clearly a fan of Ruff’s work and with a lot of respect for his ‘pushing the medium’, seems to have missed the point of the blown up JPEG series of photos, even going as far as to say: “The tremendous beauty of some of the images notwithstanding, the concept itself seems to rely a bit too much on the technique itself. What else is there?”(as Richard Dorment also observed in his Telegraph article).
The subject within the photograph isn’t what we should be focusing on with this series (or, in fact, with Ruff’s earlier portraits series). What matters is Ruff’s (perennial) obsession with the Becher induced philosophy of how the image should “…always reflect the photographic medium.” (YouTube video below);  and also as Cotton (2009, p105) points out how “Ruff raises a more interesting issue of how we comprehend different subjects through the photographic form”.
Even though I haven’t had the chance to see any of these massive prints, I still think the idea is a successful one and works well. He does make us realize that the JPEGs are NOT images of things but a thing in itself. I could see Ruff agreeing with Papageorge’s (2011, p14) observation that , “From wherever it begins, a photograph ends as a cupped abstraction; the thing capsized by a lens, stripped, and projected as an image.” Ruff takes that ‘abstraction’ to a new level with distorting the picture through digital compression.
It is also intriguing to see how he came to develop this lo-fi JPEG project from his initial portrait shots of friends to the JPEG series.
Ruff mentions on the Aperture Education YouTube channel how he was slightly annoyed by the way people viewing his portraits would comment by saying: “Oh, look it’s a picture of Peter.”, or, “Oh, that’s Heinz…”, and he would have to tell them (correct them) by saying: “No, that’s not Peter, that’s a photo of Peter.” People were, according to Ruff, ignoring the medium, and looking past the photo into what they thought was actually reality. This prompted him to create huge prints of his portraits so people would then say: “Wow, that is a big photo of Peter!”, finally seeing it as a photo of Peter, and not really Peter; not a reflection of reality at all, although he does later admit (when talking about those portraits) in an interview with Gill Blank that “...there is a lot of real life and the actual person in each photograph“, which strikes me as a tad contradictory. Ruff went on to say that “My images are not images of reality but show a kind of second reality: the image of the image.” (Higgins, 2013)
Can a photograph have anything else but its own reality?
Ruff went on to explore that very question with his experimental shots of the stars. He was trying to get away from the subjectivity or photography and searched, somewhat in vain, to find objectivity within the stars.
A nice touch.
The Aperture video is a nice short clip of a much longer video that I haven’t seen yet, but there are still a lot of relevant insights here. Such as, Ruff’s comments on how his JPEGs when viewed from 10-15m away give the impression of being beautifully complete photographs; but when we move closer, to about say, 5 metres away or less, you start to see the image degradation caused by the pixelation:the artifact, if you will.

I tried to do a couple of these lawlessly compressed JPEGs. And I have to say that the results are quite intriguing; the artifacts that appear are fascinating, and I don’t think this will be the last time that I ever do this.
Which is a good sign as I thought that it was a total waste of time before I started reading up on what Ruff was really trying to accomplish with his JPEG series. I can only imagine how impressive they must look dominating a gallery wall…

A couple of my attempts using Lightroom

PS I am aware that this was meant to be 300 words.


Cotten, C., The Photograph as Contemporary Art, Thames & Hudson Ltd, London, 2004 (p105)

Papageorge, T., Core Curriculum – Writings on Photography,  Aperture Foundation Inc,
Honk Kong, 2011, (p14)

Higgins, J., Why It Does Not Have to Be in Focus – Modern Photography Explained,
Thames & Hudson, London, 2013 (pp70-71)

Campany, D., (2008) Iann Magazine, No 2, [online], Available at:
[Accessed 31/03/16]

Colberg,  J., (17/04/2009) Concientious, [online], available at

[Accessed 31/03/16]

Dormant, R., (29/05/2003)  Now for something completely indifferent, The Telegraph [online] available at: [Accessed 31/03/16] [Accessed 25/03/16] [Accessed 25/03/16]  [Accessed 25/03/16]

Wikipedia, (20/02/2016)  Thomas Ruff, [online] available at:
 [Accessed 31/03/16]

Searle, A., (13/05/2003) The Evil of Banality, The Guardian, [online] available at:
[Accessed 31/03/16]

Notes from my notebook

Notebook scribbles

One thought on “Research Point: Project 3 Surface and depth – Ruff’s JPEGS

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