Tag Archives: Thomas Ruff

Assignment 2 – Contextual Background

N.B. This post should be read in conjunction with the companion one, Photography and New Materiality (Woodward, 2019). This assignment has morphed through several different ideas since I began the research for it. Originally, I had planned to do it on some old correspondence that my great-grandfather had with the operetta composers Gilbert & Sullivan. After reading the course and reference materials though, my mind was teeming with new ideas, particularly on the subject of internet privacy and specifically, how much Instagram knows about us – or can surmise about us – given our interests and the pages and images we like.  This led to further research on algorithms and how the internet stores our data, and the ‘Aha moment’ came when I printed out the digital code for a 7×7 pixel square and was astounded at the size of both. The image and the associated data now forms the first image of my assignment book.

This led to some experiments using photographs and digital image code, two of which are shown below.

Fig. 1 Two altered found photographs (2018)

At this point, it became clear that I wanted to explore the relationship between the digital image and the code that forms it. Using the program onlineimagetools.com I printed the entire code for a single 6×4″ photograph to PDF, and it came to over 1100 pages of Word, using a 3 point font. Such a huge amount of information for one image! And with so much potential for alterations, visible and invisible. This underlying matrix of coded information, particularly at the micro level, became the basis of the assignment.

Following on from assignment 1, which was influenced by the work of Kensuke Koike, Joe Rudko and Pippa Drylaga, I have continued to watch out for photographers who use the materiality of the photograph to make their points. In the previous assignment, I used found photographs, but this one called for digital images, and I have used my own photograph this time. Just the one, as my exploration is about the constituents of the digital image rather than the end result.

There are several modern photographers whose work in the this field particularly underlies the project and I would like to consider three in particular in this post.

Thomas Ruff

I have written about Ruff’s work before,  in my posts Thomas Ruff – Tripe (Woodward, 2019) and Thomas Ruff- Size is everything (Woodward, 2017). The aspect that particularly intrigues me is his way of looking at the nature and constituents of an image and then plays with them by altering just one aspect. He has moved a very long way from his original, very typographical work, although he still revisits it from time to time. In jpegs (2009), for example, he examines the geometric nature of the pixel and reduces the numbers to re-see the images as if to form a more limited point of view (similar to how the first digital images appeared). At the same time, he hugely increases the size of the photographs, so that from a distance, they look to include all the original information, while close-up each individual pixel square is clearly visible. On another tack, in substratum (since 2001) he overlays multiple copies of an image onto each other and then plays with them in Photoshop to the point where the original meaning of the image is completely lost, just leaving an impression of the work, not its reality. (I have been doing my own versions of these, but at a lesser, more realistic level, with my mandala images, some of which I discussed in my blog posts ore More on photo-manipulation (Woodward, 2017) and Some more mandalas (Woodward, 2017). In these, I retain some of the detail of the original but reworked and simplified to make a pattern which echoes the main points of the original, while producing something totally new, and hopefully interesting in its own right).

Wolfgang Tillmans

Tillmans is another photographer whose work I looked at in my post Wolfgang Tillmans at the Tate Modern (Woodward, 2017). Although the range of his interests is vast, he also has a fondness for exploring the nature of the photography and specifically the relationship between subject and object. An excellent article in Dazed Magazine (Epps, 2017) refers to his ongoing interest in mistakes, darkroom accidents and interventions, which he has then explored more fully in series such as Blushes (2000) and Freischwimmer (2003), as well as the ones I mention in another post. I am fascinated by his ability to take an idea and then stretch it out to form something completely new, but which still clearly references the original.

(Speaking of darkroom accidents, and still very much on the subject of this assignment, I was in the darkroom yesterday, with the intention of printing the first image below. I had originally planned it as a digital negative, but had printed it on the wrong side of the transfer film and rather liked the results. Unfortunately, when drying the print, I put the negative alongside it for comparison, and it stuck to the print. Perhaps I should call the second image Double Digit Accident (After Tillmans).)

Fig. 2 Darkroom mistakes: before and after (2018)

Ellen Jantzen

On a different tack, I cam across the work of Ellen Jantzen via Instagram. I love her ongoing Unexpected Geology series, in which she imports small rocks into much larger landscapes to play with their relative sizes, Coming Into Focus (2016-17), where she lifts parts of the image away from the rest to give the impression of a landscape slowly coming into focus as a whole, when initially one only saw specific elements, and Losing Reality; Reality of Loss (2011), in which shadowy figures inhabit the landscape almost invisibly. I could go on, as most of her work appeals to me. Earlier last year, I made some images using similar techniques and a couple are shown below.

Figs, 3 & 4 The mystery in the woods, Spring & Winter (2018)

In a related vein, I have an ongoing experimental series which I have called Barcodes of Nature, which uses some of the same techniques to try to capture the colour palette of a place from a single line of pixels in the image. There is more about this in my blog post First thoughts for assignment 1 (Woodward, 2018). Other photographers whose work examines similar themes are:

  • David Szauder – his Failed Memory (2013) series uses ‘glitch art’ to consider how our memories of events fragment over time
  • Joan Fontcuberta – in Datascapes: Orogenisis/Googlegrams (2007) he takes the ideas in the opposite direction and constructs images from multiple other internet images, which have a similar other-worldly vibe, but are based on some of the multitude of online data.
  • Catherine Yass – uses digital manipulations alongside both digital and analogue layering to look at how we perceive time and space. She is also a fan of the light-box and digital negative, which are both becoming a feature of my own work.
  • Samuel J Fordham – uses physical and digital manipulations to think about memories. I love I Thought I Would Sit Here and Look Out At The Fjord For The Last Time, 2018  from his series C-R92-BY (Fordham, 2018). It looks simple enough, but the digitally altered pieces don’t correspond with the missing pieces in the main image, producing a nagging feeling of discord.

I could go on at length, but it is worth considering the works of Anastasia Samoyova,  Barbara Kasten, Adrienne Hughes, and Anna Yeroshenko,  to name but a few.

Finally, and in a different direction, the different ways in which pixels have been interpreted has been a subject I have explored before, specifically in my posts More thoughts on subverting the male gaze, NSFW (Woodward, 2017) and Quick note on another iteration of the mandala work (Woodward, 2017), and which was influenced by my work for Research on embroidered photography (Woodward, 2016). It seems that I keep coming back to the same themes – of materialism and manipulation of ideas and both digital and physical images from a conceptual viewpoint. Maybe I am finding a Voice, at last.


Fig. 1 Woodward, H. (2018) Two altered found photographs. [mixed media] In the possession of: the author.

Fig. 2 Woodward, H. (2018) Darkroom mistakes: before and after. [mixed media] In the possession of: the author.

Figs. 3 & 4 Woodward, H. (2018) The mystery in the woods, Spring & Winter. [Altered digital images] In the possession of: the author.


‘Your ultimate guide to Wolfgang Tillmans’ In: Dazed 23/01/2017 At: http://www.dazeddigital.com/photography/article/34353/1/your-ultimate-guide-to-wolfgang-tillmans (Accessed 18/06/2020).

Fordham, S. (2018) C-R92-BY. At: https://samuelwjfordham.com/C-R92-BY (Accessed 18/06/2020).

Woodward, H. (2017) More thoughts on subverting the male gaze, NSFW. At:  https://hollyocaidentityplace.wordpress.com/2017/08/16/more-thoughts-on-subverting-the-male-gaze-nsfw/ (Accessed 18/06/2020).

Woodward, H. (2017) Quick note on another iteration of the mandala work. At: https://hollyocaidentityplace.wordpress.com/2017/06/30/quick-note-on-another-iteration-of-the-mandala-work/ (Accessed 18/06/2020).

Woodward, H. (2017) Research on embroidered photographs. At: https://hollyocacontextnarrative.wordpress.com/2016/04/07/research-on-embroidered-photography/ (Accessed 18/06/2020).

Woodward, H. (2017) Some more mandalas. At: https://hollyocaidentityplace.wordpress.com/2017/06/01/some-more-mandalas/ (Accessed 18/06/2020).

Woodward, H. (2017) Thomas Ruff: size is everything. At: https://hollyocaidentityplace.wordpress.com/2017/11/15/thomas-ruff-size-is-everything/ Accessed 18/06/2020).

Woodward, H. (2017) Wolfgang Tillmans at the Tate Modern. At: https:// ollyocaidentityplace.wordpress.com/2017/05/09/wolfgang-tillmans-at-the-tate-modern/ (Accessed 18/06/2020).

Woodward, H. (2018) First thoughts for assignment 1. At: https://hollyocadic.wordpress.com/2018/04/24/first-thought-for-assignment-1/ (Accessed 18/06/2020).

Woodward, H. (2019) Photography and New Materiality. At: https://hollyocadic.wordpress.com/2019/03/06/photography-and-new-materiality/ (Accessed 18/06/2020).

Woodward, H. (2019) Thomas Ruff – Tripe. At:        https://hollyocadic.wordpress.com/2019/01/30/thomas-ruff-tripe/ (Accessed 18/06/2020).


Thomas Ruff – Tripe

I was in London with my son yesterday, and feeling uninspired by what was on at most of our regular exhibition haunts, we decided to head over to the Natural History Museum for the Wildlife Photographer of the Year show. On route through the South Ken underpass, we noticed that the new V&A photography galleries are open and immediately changed the plan to visit those. To our great surprise, the first thing we saw when we entered the gallery was a new series by Thomas Ruff, called Tripe. A very uninspiring title to a Brit, for whom the word tripe conjures up WW2 austerity and hideous floppy white offal at the more adventurous butchery establishments in France and Spain. Yeuch! But I digress.

Linnaeus Tripe turns out to have been one of the first Victorian surveyors to travel to India and Myanmar with a quality camera in the 1850s, and his intentions were artistic as well as functional. Ruff came across his work when asked to do a project for the new gallery and decided to use the paper negatives as the basis of some new work. He was intrigued by the quality of the paper negatives after 160 years, with all the effects that time and atmospheric conditions have wrought on them, so took phone pictures of some and returned to Dusseldorf to work with them. I should point out at this stage that Tripe had embellished the negatives with painted clouds and other interventions and so the originals are hybrids between photography and painting.

Ruff then used Photoshop technology to turn the images into positives and alter them to give an impression of how the originals looked. He also blew up the images so that one can see the texture of the paper as part of the new work. The results are large images which rest somewhere between photography and brush arts, and they have a peculiar ethereal quality which is at odds with their size. One of them is shown below.



Ruff’s work always blows me away because it looks at the photograph in a totally different way from most artists. His focus is on their material nature and how this can be altered  and resized to bring attention to this side of the object. While Ruff was fascinated by the unusual paper negatives, his reinterpretation of them both brings out the detail in the originals and puts his own mark on them too.

There is no accompanying catalogue in book form, but I purchased a broadsheet ezine on the work for the princely sum of £5, which will be added to my shelf of artist’s books. And, without going into any detail, the rest of the images on show were an interesting mix of old and new. Well worth a visit, and it looks like they will be changing what is on quite regularly.


Exercise 1.1 – Hannah Whitaker and Layering

It is suggested that we look at the work of Esther Teichmann, Corinne Vionnet, Idris Kahn and Helen Sear and then produce 6-8 images using similar layering techniques. I have looked at Teichmann, Vionnet and Sear before, so had intended that Idris Kahn should be the subject of this post. I’d heard of him, but not seen any of his works, which turned out to be fascinating. But then, coincidence intervened and I am never one to ignore coincidence. I happened to pick up this article by Hannah Whitaker in this month’s Objectiv magazine, which muses on a line of thought I am exploring on the ontology of digital photography, and then came across her name again later that same day, when I was leafing through Charlotte Cotton’s (2015) Photography is Magic. Her work is very appealing to me, especially the patchwork style images, such as those shown below. So my 500 word post on a photographer’s work will be on her.

Hannah Whitaker is an American photographer, who came into the public view while she did her MFA at the International Center for Photography, New York in 2006. She is also a curator and a prolific writer about photography. Her images fall somewhere between photography and graphic design, and despite their appearance they are apparently all made using analogue processes. Using a 5×4″ camera, she inserts paper screens into the camera and then does multiple exposures to achieve the very layered look that much of her work incorporates. It is a massively complex way of achieving her signature look, but the physicality of the paper inserts often intrudes onto the image in a way that would not be possible if they were made entirely digitally. The images strongly resonate with both traditional and modern quiltmaking techniques to produce slightly off-kilter geometric patterns which I find very aesthetically pleasing. She herself says that many of them are influenced by the Bauhaus movement (and particularly the work of Anni Albers) and the Gee’s Bend Quiltmakers Group, both of which use a mix of traditional and modern patterns and colours.

Whitaker says that she enjoys playing with the materiality of the image and how it can be altered, and her processes involve a great deal of pre-thought and preparation.

I started thinking about ways that I could relinquish control and play with that loss of control as a subject in the work,” Whitaker tells TIME, “I keep going back to ‘what can I do in this space?’ and working within that field of possibility.” (Time, 2016)

Somehow her work is redolent of the experimental Thomas Ruff images, while at the same time referencing traditional women’s arts in the execution and final appearance of her work. She also uses a technique of punching holes in her images and projecting light through them in a similar way to Helen Sear,  and both of these methods are ones I would like to try myself. Of course, I don’t have an analogue 5×4″ camera, so I will be doing it just as laboriously in Photoshop. At present, however, my ideas greatly exceed my ability and the whole process is ludicrously slow.



Exercise 1.1

We are then asked to make a series of 6-8 images using layering techniques.For this exercise, I am using the following image, which I made last year, as a base.

P1630426-3Firstly, I overlaid it with between one and three layers of circles produced in Photoshop, and they were moved about to produce different patterns. I like the randomness of the effect which is achieved. After that, I tried inserting layer masks in between different layers to produce other effects. I think the main take-away from this exercise is that one can do pretty much anything in Photoshop if you are prepared to spend enough time setting up the necessary processes.

Some of these work better than others, and there is definitely a point where one can go over the top. I am most happy with the first three, which seem to have both a clear intention and a pleasing result.




Cotton, Charlotte (2015) Photography is Magic. New York: Aperture.









SW OCA meeting with Helen Sear

Helen Sear 1

© Helen Sear

On Saturday, a good number of us met just outside Bristol for the day. We spent the morning talking with OCA tutor Helen Sear about her practice and the afternoon discussing people’s work. Unlike the Thames Valley Group, this one has people following a diverse range of pathways to their degree, including Creative Arts, Painting, and Textiles, amongst others. It was fascinating to see the work people were producing  and I always find some areas of cross-fertilisation for my own potential work.

For someone who is just starting DI&C, the morning with Helen Sear was a wonderful jump-off point. She originally trained as a painter at university, but began to look at photography as part of a mixed media approach soon after she left and her work is incredibly diverse. She also uses a variety of techniques which will be useful for me to know about for my own work, such as Photoshop layering, back lighting, cutting and burning. I came away with loads of ideas to test out at home.

Helen took us through some of her earlier work, explaining that at the time, she was interested in the theory of landscape, how humans are inseparable from it,  and what makes us find some landscapes beautiful and others not so much. In essence, she argued that we are drawn to landscapes that might be good to live in. I’m not sure that I wholly go along with that, thinking about some of the more mountainous elements of landscape photography, but it is an interesting idea.

She became interested in the materiality of the image, and how it can be disrupted, by lights, montage, multimedia and specific points of view, mainly through manipulating analogue images initially, but later with digital ones. Her pieces often combine some of these elements to produce work that you need to move around to see properly, with reflections and projections changing as your point of view changes and you catch glimpses of what is below the surface work.

Helen Sear Becoming-forest-7

© Helen Sear

We also looked at some of her trademark work using taxidermy in the home and the landscape which plays with the idea of what is real and what is constructed, and her dioramas, which made me think of Hiroshi Sugimoto’s work.

We then went on to discuss how going digital changed what she does. She said that she feels there is much more precision now, and that she likes the way one can play with colour and oversaturation in images. Her interest in what lies below the surface came to the forefront and she used heavily marked layers in Photoshop to make work like the image below, which sits somewhere between photography and drawing. I found this work both beautiful and mesmerising, and would like to try out something similar myself. I was also intrigued by her use of drilled holes in images and backlighting.

Helen Sear 2

© Helen Sear

Her method of working is interesting too. She doesn’t really have a plan when she starts a new project, but lets it slowly expand and assume a direction over time. She frequently goes back to revisit old work and to re-edit it. When it is complete, she tried a range of different sizes before settling on what she feels is the right size, as she feels that how you ‘meet’ work is very important. Finally, she showed us a short film she had shown at the Venice Biennale of birds in a real-life diorama, which was fascinating, as it focused the viewers attention on the tiny short-lived dramas that take place all around us, but which we never really stop to see.

I found her work inspirational and exciting, and look forward to experimenting with the ideas myself. It reminded me of Thomas Ruff’s exhibition, which I saw in London last year, and she did refer to him herself too. It had the same sense of working with different specific elements of the image and exaggerating them to find out what can be achieved. I also need to read some of her extensive writing too, which is linked on her website.