Thomas Ruff's constant reflections on the technical and visualizing potential of photography have their most recent sequel in his "jpeg series", which he has been working on since 2004. These large-format photographs are based on the jpeg image file compression format used in digital imaging, and especially for the rapid distribution of photographic images in the World Wide Web. The jpeg format reduces the volume of image data by deleting everything that is not essential for a true-to-reality reproduction of the image. The result is an image that has a low resolution and a coarse pixel structure. Whilst the small-format image seems quite sharp to the naked eye, the same image is totally blurred when enlarged. Ruff mostly utilizes images found in the Internet, processing them by intensifying the grid pattern of the pixels and then having them printed in large format. Thus transported from virtual space into real space, the images are exhibited without commentary, context or captions. Indeed, the images are themselves the commentary, for they quote and question the forms of communication of a globalized, digitized world dominated by visual media. Viewed at close quarters, Ruff's images are almost abstract, for the motifs dissolve in the grid pattern of the pixels. Not until they are viewed from a distance do the pixels form a clearly recognizable image. The reduction of digital images and the concomitant loss of data are here made most visible.
The photographs show happenings and locations from the world of international politics, such as "9/11" or an atomic test, and also landscapes and cropped images from nature, such as palm trees, lakes and blossoming trees in Korea, but without any recognizable context.
"Nowadays there are so many different images of every seemingly important happening, but they all get forgotten the very next day. For me, there is something fundamental in all these images, something that I should like to lay bare …and so I have to 'undress' each image until I can see it naked. I try to peel off every layer of meaning until I reach the very core. Only then can I add new meanings, 'dress' the image again, so to speak." (Thomas Ruff, in: "The grammar of photography", Venice, 2006)
Thomas Ruff was born in Zell am Harmersbach in 1958, studied under Bernd Becher at the Academy of Fine Arts in Düsseldorf from 1978 until 1985 and was also a professor of art and photography there from 2000 until 2006.