#PhotoCollection “Nude Ben 04” by Thomas Ruff


Thomas Ruff is a contemporary German photographer who seeks to explore and exploit in his work the multiple particularities of the photographic medium and the evolutions he is experiencing with the advent of digital technology. He was a student of Bernd and Hilla Becher, pioneers of post-war conceptual photography, but he never adhered to the so-called objectivity of the photographic image, which he constantly challenged in his work.

In the Nudes series, Thomas Ruff appropriates pornographic images collected on the Internet in order to explore their plastic potential by digitally modifying them, thus proposing a new approach to the illustrious genre of the artistic nude. His interest in the subject appeared around 1998, when he also began to manipulate abstract computer-generated images. His research leads him to explore the world of pornography in which he says he finds much greater honesty than in the nude as it is represented in art. He will then apply to these pornographic photographs the experiments he had previously started on computer-generated images and which he will then continue with the Jpegs series. With these nudes, the artist sought to cover in the most exhaustive way possible all sexual practices and fantasies as they are now offered on the Internet.

These images were chosen by Thomas Ruff according to composition criteria such as image structure, colours, lighting and body layout. He then reworks them digitally, modifies their colours, but above all their clarity by working on the blur effects. He widens and twists them until the subjects become simple, disembodied and anonymous forms. Bodies dematerialize themselves through this game of pixelization and thus a distance from the referent occurs, which is erased in favour of the medium.

The poor resolution of these images is an essential point as it highlights their lack of authenticity. Thomas Ruff, by altering and deconstructing photography in this way, returns to the very foundation of the image. His work aims to question our relationship to the photographic image, and the very status of the latter. If these images from the daily and collective archive that is the Internet may seem trivial at first sight, they nevertheless have a much broader scope than their subject suggests. Through them, the photographer exposes the image for what it is, namely a fictional construction. The subject itself becomes secondary to the concept. The photographic medium takes precedence over narrative, in the same way as content loses importance in the digital world.

Reworking the digital image is a way for the artist to appropriate and reveal a reality that has already been manipulated and rearranged. In this way, he suggests that all photography is fake, especially the one we see on the Internet, and denies it any notion of authenticity and objectivity. Through this digital manipulation, Thomas Ruff highlights this propensity for deception that is specific to the photographic medium, and all the more so in the digital age. He thus reminds us that photography ultimately consists, not in capturing reality, but in truly creating, making an image.
Altering photography is therefore for him a way of conceiving a new image. He explains as follows: “by working on the computer you can play on different layers, but in the end, everything is unified into one image, the one I want people to see.”

Thus, Thomas Ruff’s work consists in appropriating the imagery resulting from new digital technologies but also in questioning our perception as spectators. From this point of view, the Nudes series is truly emblematic of the approach specific to his work and will find echo in the broader Jpegs series through which the artist pursues his project of reappropriation and alteration of the digital image that he widens in order to reduce it to a cluster of monumental pixels.

Thomas Ruff is represented by the david Zwirner Gallery who, after London and New York, is currently exhibiting his work in Hong Kong. This solo exhibition entitled “Transforming Photography” highlights the artist’s various works from May 22 to June 29, 2019, including photographs from the Nudes series.

Thomas Ruff’s rating has risen sharply, as illustrated by the sale organised by Phillips on 16 May 2019, during which a photograph of the same series was acquired for £41,250.

Building on its success, the Victoria & Albert Museum commissioned Thomas Ruff to open a new centre dedicated to photography last October. The famous London institution asked him to reinterpret Linnaeus Tripe’s photographs in India and Burma in the 1850s.

By Gérôme Saint-Germain for 28Vignon Street


Thomas Ruff
nudes ben 04, 2001
colour printing
excellent condition.
Image size: 90 x 138 cm
edition: 3/5
signed, dated and numbered in pencil on the back of the support.
Mounted on the side on plexiglass and framed
22 500.00€


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