Thomas Ruff is renowned for constantly developing original methods and expanding traditional concepts of photography. His series “Negatives” is no different. In it, he references the beginnings of the medium using photographs from the nineteenth century. Consisting solely of shades of blue, the set of works recalls the cyanotype – a technique for producing photographs made famous by the natural scientist Anna Atkins, who used it to make a precise record of various plants. Pictures of artists’ studios, portraits, and nudes were some of the key visuals on the historical nineteenth-century photographs Thomas Ruff acquired. He scanned these old photographs, digitally inverted the color scale, and created blue-tinted photographs in the size of the original negatives. In the inversion process, the “Negatives” produce wholly new compositions with new light/dark values which achieve completely different depth effects, heighten the plasticity, and thus allow for a new visual experience. With the title “Negatives” Thomas Ruff calls attention to the elimination of negatives in a digitalized world, whose younger generations rarely encounter negatives as a precursor to photography anymore.
About Thomas Ruff
Thomas Ruff uses technological advancements to realize new visual possibilities of photography and question its artistic qualities. “I don’t believe in the psychologizing portrait photography that my colleagues do, trying to capture the character with a lot of light and shade,” he says. “That’s absolutely suspect to me. I can only show the surface. Whatever goes beyond that is more or less chance.” In the manner of the typologies and straight photography espoused by his teachers Bernd and Hilla Becher, Ruff’s best-known series is “Portraits” (1981-85), 60 frontal, identically framed photographs of expressionless men and women blown up to a monumental size. Authenticity and appropriation are of recurring interest to Ruff—he further explored these ideas in “Nudes” (2003), a photographic collection of distorted and enlarged thumbnails of pornographic photographs taken from the internet, and has produced series based on 3-D mathematical renderings, archival images of war and the night sky, and the architecture of Mies van der Rohe.
German, b. 1958, Zell am Harmersbach, Germany, based in Düsseldorf, Germany