I didn’t have the highest expectations when I entered the door to the Thomas Ruff exhibition. I actually only knew his portraits which look like passport photos. Doesn’t sound breathtaking, mind-blowing or blood-tingling right? Should have known that I should have had high expectations because I’m at the Whitechapel Gallery.
Photography has become such a common thing for everyone with a phone. A picture is a picture. Every slightly interesting thing that happens in a day is captured. And that’s it. You don’t think about it anymore. Ruff takes an image, manipulates it and thereby explores all kind of things you can do with it. Perhaps it still doesn’t sound breathtaking, mind-blowing or blood-tingling but it’s interesting to think about something that has become such an ordinary thing. He shows you different kinds of looking and thinking about the medium.
My personal highlights were the series of self-portraits the show started off with. It might be the best self-portraits I’ve ever seen. It’s just plain silly. It sets the tone of the exhibition; it’s not going to be the heavy stuff. The other part I enjoyed was next to it. It was a series including pictures made of (I think the first) exhibition of the Museum of Non-Objective Painting, which later became the Solomon Guggenheim Museum in New York. Vibrant colored furniture and carpet are popping. The paintings which are depicted are famous, very famous artworks made by — Miro and —. Which are famously colorful. Ruff manipulated the pictures and made the paintings black and white. He probably didn’t want to make a statement about the exaggerated significance which is attached to these artists. I think he just did it because it shows a form of manipulation.
The most interesting and most political work according to me was the JPEGs series. He enlarged pictures of disasters so much, that you can see the pixels. You can see that an image is just made up from little squares. It reminds us about how detachedly we take these pictures of disasters and share them. Because of the bad quality of the pictures and the similarities to the pictures taken by bystanders of disasters and massively shared on the internet, I saw it a critique on the lookie-loos who take pictures just for the sake of sensationalism.
And if you’re still not convinced: there is “pixelised” pornography and pictures of Mars (the planet, not the bar) that become optically spacial when you put up the available 3D glasses.
Thomas Ruff: Photographs 1979 – 2017 at Whitechapel Gallery until 21 Jan 2018