Thomas Ruff - 2015

Contemporary and Old Art Reviews

Thomas Ruff - 2015

Postby CAP » Mon Oct 12, 2015 10:55 pm

This article also appears on CAP'S CRITS where it has the advantage of opening links in separate windows (making it easier to toggle between text and illustration rather than linking back and forth).


The artist is famously the most detached and technically inclined of the Dusseldorf School of photography. The school, as a stylistic entity (rather than the department of the Dusseldorf Academy of Art) comprises the work of students of the seventies and eighties that reflect the teachings of Bernd and Hilla Becher. The emphasis is upon social and geographical documentation. Other members include Andreas Gursky, Thomas Struth, Candida Höfer and Axel Hütte. While Ruff’s work initially shares an interest in working-class period decor – very much the marginalised aspects to the urban environment advocated by the Bechers, he is steadily drawn to more formal and technical aspects of composition and print qualities. To some extent these coincide with the digital revolution in photography, but in other respects they only amplify the artist’s disposition. Given this divergence to the work the question is really how much his work continues the principles of the school, how much it departs from them?

Initially there does not seem to be a decisive point of departure to his development, no sharp break in practice. Moreover, the Bechers’ work has its own formal emphasis and their teachings stressed the aesthetic element rather than mere sociological record. Yet the kind of abstractions Ruff arrives at with his Substratum, Cycles and Photograms series in the twenty-first century clearly declare a very different engagement with the world. When does reference become self-reference? Why should the artist, alone amongst the school, be drawn to the issues? Answers to these questions illuminate not only central values of the school but an assessment of Ruff’s place within it.

The Bechers teachings were not confined to the example of their own work, naturally. Their documents of obsolete or obscure industrial architecture drew on a tradition stretching back to Eugene Atget (1857-1927) in which unappreciated aspects of urban life are framed in such a way as to call attention to affinities with more recognised tastes. It rehabilitates or reorientates them to some extent. And ‘framed’ here covers more than the mere edges to a picture, includes matters of focus, exposure, stock and shutter speed, scale and proportion, printing options as well as context or composition within surroundings. The photograph highlights a selected object accordingly, but in so doing demonstrates its own pictorial resources and thus merits consideration as art. Indeed, it may be impossible to effectively do one without the other. All the same, historical or sociological documentation does not necessarily qualify as art. While such documentation may provide valuable evidence to a time and place, not all times and places are of equal interest to the social scientist or aesthete. All depends on how well it connects or projects to an accepted body of research or tradition. This applies both to objects photographed and ways of photographing them.

It is an elegant model for the relation of content to form in photography and essentially it is a familiar and flexible one for teaching by the seventies. More distinctive of the school is an implicit distance between form and content, literally often declaring a generous foreground, expansive scale to selected object and remote but focussed background. Metaphorically the style tends to invoke a contemplative stasis or serenity that registers as vaguely nostalgic, a lost world as much as a frozen moment. However, it is recognition for the Bechers’ work within the art world that gives weight to their teachings and impetus to a more analytical approach in the work of their students. In theory, the model accommodates more spontaneous encounters with events or people as well as studio-based tableau involving elaborate props and lighting, but in practice the school is drawn to a more measured perspective on a less measured world.

The person as subject is not exactly ruled out of such an approach but behaviour tends to be gauged against social or group events. This is especially true of the work of Gursky and Struth. It is significant that Ruff commences a series of portraits of classmates and contemporaries in 1981, (Ruff was a student from 1977 to 1985) where the subject is isolated against a blank background, framed only as head and shoulders under an even light. In other words, the portraits deliberately deny a context or setting, allow only slight matters of grooming, dress and makeup to suggest period or occasion. The portraits are formal to a fault and identify no more than an age group (perhaps twenty to thirty somethings) even as we dwell upon faces of anonymous individuals. It is a decidedly uncomfortable mix of formality and intimacy. We want something from the faces that they cannot deliver – relevance. As the series progresses, Ruff steadily narrows the direction of the sitter’s gaze, until it is only into the camera lens, formalising them further and deliberately converging upon the format of the passport or ID thumbnail. But here they are rendered in sumptuous large-format resolution and colour and eventually (in 1986) printed to an imposing scale of around a metre and a half in height. As the artist comes to realise, it is only with the radical enlargement that the ID format takes on effective contrast. The difference obviously is that the tiny ID photo is solely for comparison with the actual subject by security officials, whereas Ruff’s photographs, detached from such function, now assert the same constraints as the artist’s preferred address to peers or as personal expression. The work adopts a deadpan indifference to the task of portraiture as insight into an individual, effectively regards them as no more than so many specimens. On this point it is interesting to compare the work with some of Andy Warhol’s photo-silk-screens, with their appeal to photo-booth self-portraits and even police records or films such his Screen Test series which carry a similar uneasy passivity in studies of a face. The contrast lies in Warhol’s equal indifference to technique, while for Ruff it remains if not a point of pride then anxiety.

But while highly expressive of a kind of intense reserve or perhaps alienation on the part of the photographer, the portraits cannot be said to offer an effective or illuminating sample of a generation or demographic. This is partly because the sample is so narrowly focussed, partly because the age segment is not especially compelling. As noted, detecting a social dimension to an object is one thing, finding or making interesting connections for it, another. Ruff is able to make the ID format vivid here, certainly, somewhat at his friends’ expense, but it ends up saying something uncomfortable about the photographer, about his paucity of options in individual portraiture. It is telling that in a public presentation, the artist introduces the portraits as descriptions of “what humans look like for aliens”. It is this retreat to an extreme perspective that alerts us to problems, even allowing for the artist’s off-hand humour. The portraits thus represent a reversal of several key traits to the school, in being studio-based, isolated close-ups of individuals and with a pre-determined or formulaic framing. Conversely, the works retain a cool, analytic attitude, a distinct symmetry to composition and immaculate rendering of static detail and resolution. Importantly, they are also intended to be viewed as an ensemble or series, so that if individuals lack some further purpose there, this is only to confirm the primacy of the group. Yet here, as noted, mere age segment is too broad or trivial to add anything to the particulars of identity. The series thus advances the scope of the school style a little but encounters a troubling revision of attitude or taste.

The series occupies Ruff off and on until the turn of the century. That is, for almost twenty years. An enlarged eighties example would be S. Weirauch (1987) a late example would be A. Koschkarow (2000). Without question the series remains his most significant work. Parallel to the portraits, Ruff produced six other series over the period. The first was Häuser (Houses), views of high-rise housing blocks and later, non-descript office buildings (1982-91). The second was Sterne (Stars) using observatory photographs of the night sky, as a kind of readymade abstraction (1989-1992). The third was Zeitungsfotos (News-photos) rephotographed press images of topical events without captions or context (1988-91). The fourth was Nacht (Night) - night scenes of the backstreets of Dusseldorf using night-vision enhancement to suggest a war zone (1992-6). The fifth was Anderes Porträt (Other Portraits) using an identikit camera to compose fictional heads (1994-5). The sixth was L.M.V.D.R., studies of the architecture of Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe, digitally edited to colourise in whole or part (1999-2000). None have quite the impact of the portraits, expressively or formally, but each variously reflects the same artistic issues. All evince a loose or expansive grasp of theme, indicated in the titles, all struggle to provide examples that properly illustrate or conform to theme.

Houses for example, supposedly illustrates German society in the post-war boom years, but the examples are both too selective, given the range of architecture to the period and nation, and not selective enough, given shared design trends in the world for the period. Ruff grasps the aim of the Dusseldorf School, in highlighting hidden or overlooked aspects to their immediate world, but formulates too ambitiously to convincingly illustrate it. Ultimately either he lacks the eye or insight to recognise effective features, or they fall outside the scope of the school’s aesthetic. Instead, he resorts to digital editing in later examples, where he removes obstacles and imperfections to his strict compositions, rendering the buildings closer to architects’ models than an historical record. While discreet and deft, the results are ultimately sterile. With the portraits one can argue key traits to the school are in some way furthered, but with Houses, neither framing nor digital editing disclose interesting features, compared with say the scale and proportion to a Gursky or Höfer, the depth and intricacy to Struth or Becher. Admittedly the clichés of frontality, wide angle and pronounced symmetry at a certain point inure against greater discernment, but without some formal devices work fails to signal anything out of the ordinary. Ruff can resist the mannerisms but fails to surmount them. Ruff attempts to reveal the banal or non-descript but ultimately his pictures succumb to it. With Houses, Ruff’s position within the school is revealed as peripheral or minor.

And the artist perhaps senses as much in a flurry of side projects that shed either the onus upon direct engagement or realms that require such engagement. Stars is perhaps the most extreme of these series. Ruff was interested in the sheer objectivity of recording the night sky, the fact that, if accurate, must be the same for whoever took the photograph. Yet not everyone could take such a photograph since it required special facilities, such as an observatory. But it is really the anonymity granted the photographer rather than the accuracy of the picture that drives the inquiry. Ruff purchased a number of large-format negatives from an observatory archive and printed them more or less as is, without enlargement. The interesting thing is not why we should consider them the work of Ruff, since he has at least copyright clearance, but why we should consider them as art. Stars are essentially ready-mades or found images that in the context of the artist’s work acquire new emphasis or connections. They are less concerned with charting a portion of the night sky than declaring a remote or specialised area of interest, outside of which the image remains no more than an abstraction of white specs on a black ground. They are strangely hermetic, in just the way that an ID photograph is and anticipate the drift to abstraction for Ruff. Now the artist stands well back, not just from his subject, but even the taking of the picture.

Closer to home, the photographer also amassed a vast collection of topical press clippings, photographs deprived of captions often presented in a jumble of eras and topics. News-photos obviously recalls Pop Art and not just Warhol, but Robert Rauschenberg, Sigmar Polke and of course, Gerhard Richter, another former student and professor at Dusseldorf. These are connections that would not be lost on the artist, given his other series, given an implicit rivalry with painting he acknowledges in several of his presentations. But Ruff displayed little interest in accenting halftone dot screen gain or diffusion, inking flaws or motion blurring. Rather, he re-photographed items in colour, although sources were black and white, in low contrast, mostly actual size. This is a little before the full emergence of digital photography, so options are still quite limited as far as editing is concerned. The aim is to conflate the spectacular and scandalous, to render connections between images surreal or absurd. Again this is a further step away from the school and evidently a tentative one. Significantly, the copyright issue is unclear for this material. The project is revisited more successfully with web-sourced imagery in the Jpegs series in 2009.

Night and Other Portraits belong to the digital era but strangely avoid Photoshop options, even where the theme would seem most at home. Both series now use technique to determine subject matter in a way that marks a far more drastic departure from the school style. Now it is not just a matter of highlighting some aspect of an object with suitable technique, but of rendering an object otherwise imperceptible, exclusively through photographic means. At this point Ruff strictly ceases to be a member of the Dusseldorf School. This is not fatal to his photography, of course. It simply traces the trajectory of his development and prompts other standards against which to judge the work. The work now attempts to demonstrate techniques in some unexpected application, extending their reach and connotation. But in both cases the returns are slender. The techniques remain little more than gimmicks. Night attempts to confer a warzone on sleepy corners of Dusseldorf, with the distinctive green light to photon amplification in night-vision lenses. But the scenes remain serene, dreamy and deserted. At one point the artist records a garden statue (Nacht III 1993) signalling not so much cultural desecration as whimsical distraction. Produced at the time of the Gulf War and media saturation with night-vision video, the problem is possibly that twenty years of familiarity and greater accessibility to the equipment has robbed the technique of some of its wartime association. Now it suggests as much issues of surveillance, perhaps stalking. And in retrospect it is hard to believe such images could not have been derived more effectively in Photoshop.

Other Portraits construct generic portraits from his pool of peers, using a special Minolta ‘stereoscopic’ camera, partly suggesting police identikit faces, and their frequently wild implausibility, partly as a distancing of particular sitters, a bid for stereotypes for the group. Essentially this is another step to abstraction and again points to the future for the artist. But the composites also look strangely awkward or unconvincing, especially with the advent of digital means and because by that time the fad for ‘morphing’ faces, for measuring very subtle affinities between identities, presents other possibilities for portraiture. This fad commenced as early as 1985, on the evidence of a video for the pop group 10c.c. but grew considerably more sophisticated by the nineties. For Ruff to resist greater digital means here is curious, particularly since even police technology quickly adapts. The work deliberately flags an archaic or quaint quality, underlined by the reversion to black and white. This too functions as a further distancing of subject.

The following series, LMVDR, is of buildings by revered Modernist architect, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Here the artist more fully engages with digital options, tinting areas, introducing selective halftone screens, filtering out detail and generally reducing the images to a graphic or design. It is interesting that he returns to architectural themes, although he claims no particular affinity for them, since they are central to the school style. At this point Ruff might be seen as rejoining or reconnecting with the school, yet the emphasis is on edited imagery of the buildings, rather than the buildings directly. It is perhaps the loaded cultural heritage that is the real attraction, a further platform on which to stretch the artist’s means and in this they still remain some distance from the school. It is not a building’s social history as much as extension to its austere design tenets that are emphasised digitally, and again, almost inevitably, later works to the series broach abstraction.

This array of series thus measures Ruff’s departure from the school rather than a broadening of the shared style. But while more remote themes and means relieve Ruff of some artistic weaknesses, they soon expose him to others. In the twenty-first century the artist again works simultaneously on various series, making it difficult to track development in the short term. For convenience, the series are bundled here into four blocks, first, web-based imagery: Nudes (variously dated from 2000 or 2002 to 2012) and Jpegs (2004-7) second, graphic abstractions: Substratum (2002-7) Cycles (2008-10) and Photograms (2012-14) third, astronomy studies: Cassini (2008-9) and Ma.R.S. (2010-13) and four, found archive negatives: Negatives (2014- ). The four have points of overlap of course, so that Cassini, Ma.R.S. and Substratum are also derived from web sources, while nudes occur in Negatives and some Ma.R.S. examples are frankly full abstraction. But the division does catch something of the striking scope to Ruff’s work – the attraction to lively popular issues against serenity of past standards and novel distant realms. And just as earlier series tend to orbit around the central achievement of the portraits, in the twenty-first century so far, the longest running series, Nudes (2000/2-12), suggests a similar priority.

Yet Nudes are a far less successful series than Portraits at revising genre or format. In part this is because of stark differences in subject matter; in part it is because of the formal resources available to the artist. Admittedly, it would have been more fun to see him lavish large-format clarity and colour, clinical lighting and setting on re-stagings of found imagery, but the problem is one of categories before technique. The problem is really that porn does not necessarily fit into the traditional category of the nude – quite apart from the fact that many of the figures to his series actually remain clothed, albeit scantily – nudes are not necessarily sexual. A long history of cultural permutations celebrates this, suggests mythic, religious, political, economic and health practices, not to say simply beauty. To collapse the category down to mere sexual acts is therefore both misleading and finally offensive. But even had the series been more accurately named Pornography or Sex, the artist’s means of pointing to an online genre are curiously muted or tentative. While the pictures include a discreet level of pixel compression, framing does not include anything of a web page – even fictitiously or conspicuously edited – to alert us to source other than just digital photography. Instead the pictures feature a lateral blurring that is not a feature of most of the source material, unless it is perhaps a poorly compressed video and this would prompt attention to other features like screen ratio and scan lines. So the blurring does no more than draw a tasteful veil across the content or offer a coy cop-out.

Unfortunately it is also a veil that is too reminiscent of the paintings of Gerhard Richter, who at one point also addressed porn (interestingly, also terms them ‘Nudes’ although includes them in a broader range of activities). It is a resemblance most critics quickly note and while this might be counted as a subtle way to legitimise the content, perhaps to ridicule the painter, it points to a dearth of options on Ruff’s part. Richter is interested in referring to photography for its factual currency, through painting an ambiguous blur to subjects, variously signalling slow shutter speed, lack of focus, a mobile camera or printer or all as painterly evasion, a need to move on from the subject. He famously starts from mass media sources and proceeds to more specialised publications, ultimately to family snapshots. These days his place within contemporary German culture is virtually unassailable so that for Ruff to lazily allude to his signature really signals a grave lapse in invention and ambition. His Nudes does not succeed in rehabilitating porn as just more active nudes under a motion blur filter, but instead reduce sex and nudity to sleek and sleazy titillation. The imposing scale to prints enhances this although is ostensibly to allow the blurring and pixel compression to work for the viewer at different distances to the picture.

For the artist to have dwelt on Nudes for so long is not a good sign. A parallel series, Jpegs, uses a radically lower compression of pixels to the famously ‘lossy’ file format, from which the series takes its name. Subjects range, much as they did with News-photos, across a wide array of topical issues from crime to weather, politics to catastrophe. The series is more successful than Nudes for this bolder use of pixels, indeed Nudes would surely have been more successful for relying on greatly enlarged pixels rather than blurring. Jpegs diffuses content to a discreet grid, provides a potent metaphor for the detachment of the web, not to say concealment or filtering of sensitive issues. Had the range of subjects been narrowed, or better, the pixels from various sources interchanged, one can imagine the series taking on a more ominous political meaning, but that may be for a later series. As it is, the world in Jpegs is simply screened for brief and distant glimpses and the artist promptly captures a pervasive feature of our digital scrutiny. Both series raise copyright issues obviously and the artist’s legitimacy here remains uncertain.

In pointed contrast with the muffled excitements of current affairs, Ruff also pursues more otherworldly interests in Cassini and Ma.R.S. with marked precision and elegance. The artist has a sincere and longstanding interest in astronomy so that recent images made available on the NASA website from the Cassini space probe and the Mars Reconnaissance Satellite (Ma.R.S.) are something of a personal preference. Interestingly, the artist does not simply appropriate the material, as with Stars, and more recently with Negatives, but edits the files in Photoshop, colourising, cropping and in the case of Ma.R.S. imposing a forced perspective. We might think of this as a labour of love. However, while attractive, the results for Cassini do not amount to much more than graphic design, at home on say, a textbook cover or television credits background. In the case of Ma.R.S. we have such a remote object that it registers as not much more than a novel texture of undisclosed scale, or abstraction. As noted, even where some new or unexpected feature of the world is discerned, much depends upon its relevance or connections for acceptance. It is finally, a matter of extreme sensitivity for artist and context. The artist may find some distant corner where he feels confident to make his own carefully calculated contribution, but where its affinities are firstly with graphic design, no amount of slick enlargement can add to its significance, on the contrary.

The issue of abstraction is foremost in Substratum, Cycles and Photograms. Here the artist departs not just the Dusseldorf School, but photography entirely and the results are again disappointing. It is not just that the artist’s tastes are essentially conservative as a graphic designer, but that the work never quite finds a context beyond light shows or motion graphics, something quickly noted in critical corners. As abstraction, the work is too flatfooted, bland. To argue that it represents an extension to the realm of photography is only to confuse Photoshop with a camera. None of these series involve a camera, at best Photograms uses a virtual camera within a 3-D modelling programme, which is only to say a computational simulation of a camera within a virtual 3-D environment. But this is just digital graphics. While software like Photoshop allow a seamless integration with photography and printing and may tempt the digital photographer further afield, the special tasks of illustration and decoration there cannot demonstrate the kind of two-dimensional foundation required of pictorial abstraction. They are too entrenched in lesser practices. Their means may perhaps appear exotic and extreme to the visitor or novice, but as art they are essentially banal. While Ruff can avoid the up-close and personal by getting in touch with his scientific side, eventually it robs him of expertise and taste. His forays into digital graphics are his least impressive works and spell out some unfortunate limits for his art.

Predictably, all three series involve elaborate computational procedures. Substratum combine stereoscopic images of Manga comic strips, hence the blurring to edges of simplified shapes and then rotate colours by hue and saturation in unpredictable relations. In Cycles, the artist uses ‘cycloids’, mathematical curves obtained from rolling one curve along a second, fixed curve as a formula to generate lines in a 3-D modelling programme (Cinema 4D) – thus granting the curves a depth. The resulting images are screen grabs of the continuing paths. For Ruff these underline the mathematical basis of digital graphics, but maths does not determine the width or colour of lines, the scale of prints or point at which the artist freezes the process for a screen grab. Maths is not all or even most prominent of feature to the work. The results surely remind viewers as much of screensavers or children’s tracing template games as underlying computation. Photograms probes the extremes of 3-D modelling, constructing an enormous virtual darkroom in which to conduct virtual photograms. A photogram exposes a piece of light-sensitive paper to light, recording the shadows of objects placed upon the paper or between light and paper. Shadows register as white or unexposed paper, exposed areas register as black. The inspiration was the famous photograms of the nineteen twenties, pioneered by Man Ray, László Moholy-Nagy and Christian Schad. Ruff introduces colour to the lights, allows inspection of the exposed composition and adjustment before actually taking the picture with a virtual camera and further inversion of the tonalities or exposures. The arrangement also allows all manner of volumes to be constructed as objects. Objects may have any degree of transparency for example, any scale, may intersect with one another, hover above the paper or within the paper surface. Not surprisingly, files for these scenes became enormous and unwieldy, some images taking up to a year to construct and amounting to a staggering sixteen terabytes. Rendering would have taken around a year on the artist’s bank of Macs. Instead he used a supercomputer at the Jülich Supercomputing Centre in North Rhine-Westphalia, where a single render could be achieved in fifteen hours, to the staff’s satisfaction. Prints are around two metres in height, of immaculate resolution and finish.

But do results justify such extravagant means? Given the largely illegible combination of shadow, volume, transparency, negative and highlights, the suspicion is that similar results may have been obtained more efficiently in Photoshop or Illustrator through adroit compositing and a little more work with the pen tool. But of course, this is precisely what Ruff seeks to avoid. His aim is really the kind of programmed or automated pictures advocated by Moholy-Nagy, a one-step process for the hands-off artist. Yet, the point of the original photograms was really to demonstrate an elemental basis to photography. Abstraction played upon the obscured or partial identity to objects, determined composition accordingly, necessarily on a trial and error basis since results in negative could not be previewed. To introduce colour involves a much more complex process of development, somewhat obscuring the value of merely light-sensitive paper. Similarly, rearrangement of objects into such complex compositions and unfamiliar relations rather defeats the purpose of appealing to basics. In this sense Ruff’s photograms are not really virtual photograms either, but pseudo or quasi photograms; abstraction on a graphic designer’s digital terms. As with his Ma.R.S. embellishments, the artist finds a remote world to his liking however its relevance for others remains to be seen.

Finally, in counterpoint to the epic process of Photograms, the artist turned to drastically simpler, more modestly scaled means with Negatives. These were not negatives in the photographic sense, of a transparency developed from exposed film, but actually digitally tone-inverted prints. They were made from scans of nineteenth and early twentieth century sepia prints, covering a range of subjects from colonial Indian dignitaries, to successful academic artists in their studios, nudes (in the traditional sense) and flowers in vases. The inversion renders the sepia a striking deep blue, and in the artist’s survey of work at S.M.A.K. in Ghent in 2014, he titled a selection Blue Prints, wittily alluding to their fundamental place in photography. While seemingly simple in concept, the results are surprisingly subtle and effective. Negatives are not usually exhibited but rather regarded as an intermediate step to a printed ‘positive’. Indeed, to print to a negative, prior to digital technology, would have been complicated, requiring something like re-photographing the negative on a light box, then printing from the negative of the negative. But aside from practicalities, the real inspiration here lies in sensing meaning to the negative now as another form of abstraction. And like Photograms, it is one with a distinctly historical loading, since it denotes an all but obsolete technology. It is not immediately apparent from the work that the artist’s choice of sources is also antique, although the content of several works readily identify antique objects. But this partial recognition marks the degree of abstraction obtained, measures a kind of cultural residue that survives tonal inversion. This is also true of Photograms of course. As we discern more of the period character to the series, the negatives take on a slightly nostalgic or ‘blue’ tinge, not just for the past, but for photography’s past.

The negatives are a way of disengaging from particulars, noting things like volumes or profiles, proportion or depth – and as the blue tint also urges, of cooling things, distancing the subject. Negatives have functioned similarly before, for example in Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville, (1965) estranging moments of suspense or violence with a comic-strip-like abruptness. Here they restate central themes to the Ruff’s work, in some respects heighten them. For Ruff the estrangement takes on added weight in negatives of artists confidently posing in their well-appointed studios and nudes, equally self-consciously posing in studios. The issues here suggest not just a lost or concealed world, but in some ways an inescapable or indelible one. Ruff measures himself against tradition here and finds too many positives for his negatives. But here he is at least able to single out an overlooked technical feature and apply it to an unexpected realm with surprising potency. While unprepossessing in comparison with so much preceding spectacle, Negatives are amongst his richest, most satisfying works in the twenty-first century.

Ruff began his career as part of the Dusseldorf School with its exquisite reportage but soon discovered he was temperamentally unsuited. The approach ultimately asked too much of him, delivered too little in social significance. He could radically narrow the task, but this is only to deal in limitations, starts to look empty if not personal. In some ways his work establishes limits to the approach and steadily relies on more specialised equipment and processes, ultimately on the photography of others. But insights again diminish. The more he relies upon these extensions, the more revealing they are of his weaknesses. One is reminded of jokes about sound system fanatics whose musical tastes turn out to be feeble. At this point the comfort zone for Ruff is too great, the connections with the world, too slight. Not for nothing do his Negatives take an interest in the situation of the established artist. In interviews he dismisses the notion of a world beyond pictures but pictures beyond the world or just pictures of pictures equally beg a connection, turn out to be not that flattering either. Technology can only take one so far before it turns circular, becomes personal. Vorsprung durch Technik? Sometimes it pays to do a little more road testing.
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