Category Archives: Part One

Thomas Ruff – Jpeg

Thomas Ruff created a series of images using archived photographs of his work, together with images taken from the internet.

Joerg Colberg explains that Thomas Ruff was in New York at the time of the 9/11 attacks, which he photographed.  When he received the negatives back from his trip none had come out.  As a result he decided to search the internet for images of the attack.  It was during this search that he discovered most of the images on the internet were of a low resolution.  From here an idea grew to create a series of images using a low resolution and then increasing the size. Joerg Colberg felt that there was a thinness to this conception, but ultimately appreciates the series. He summarized his review saying

‘Seeing the images in the book has made me re-appreciate the sheer beauty of this body of work, despite the ultimate thinness of the concept behind it.’ (Colberg J 2009)

The review from David Campany is quite different.  He views the images on a deeper level. In his review he explains that vanguard artists have always been interested in found images and archives, which gave rise to Dada, Surrealism and Cubism. The images produced by Thomas Ruff do have a type of cubism feel to them. He also goes on to compare Thomas Ruff’s work to an archival grid stating

‘The series presents whatever is particular about an image in the context of a general group.  The effect is to simultaneously emphasize and de-emphasize whatever is specific about his chosen photographs.  We see each image as unique but we see that uniqueness only by sensing the grouping or series of which it is a part.  Meaning emerges as much from comparison and contrast as from any individual image.’ (Campany D 2008)

David Campany seems to understand that the pixels create a boundedness in themselves and brings some sort of order to the chaotic scene it is depicting, which creates a great tension within the image. Whereas Joerg Colberg has viewed the series on a more superficial level stating ‘Well sure, images on the web often have low resolution, and if you blow them up then they show funny patterns’

Bilbliography

Colberg J
(2009)
Review: jpegs by Thomas Ruff
http://www.tomhunter.org/life-and-death-in-hackney/
(Accessed 17 April 2019)

Campany D
(2008)
Thomas Ruff: Aesthetic of the Pixel
https://davidcampany.com/thomas-ruff-the-aesthetics-of-the-pixel/
(Accessed 17 April 2019)

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Walker Evans

I began my research into Walker Evans, by reading ‘Walker Evans American Photographs’.  At first glance, it appears that the images that Walker Evans has captured show the harsh reality of the Great Depression in the South of America.  There appears to be an emotional detachment from Evans in order to capture the stark reality, a certain type of truth in his images.

The image that particularly invokes the plight of Southern Sharecroppers hit by the Great Depression is ’16 CHILD IN BACK YARD, 1932’.  You initially see a child watching something in the background that we are not privy to.  However, on closer inspection you see how tired the girl looks with the bags under her eyes, the torn clothes she is wearing showing a certain degree of poverty.  The composition of the image plays a part in this also, drawing your eye to straight to the girl in the first two thirds of the frame and then to the last third with a drawing on the side of the door that looks like it has been drawn in the dust.  There does not appear to be any attempt in staging the girl for the photograph, but rather capturing a natural moment in time.

Walker Evans is known for his style of detachment and record of the subject.  Throughout the black and white images he has used the same tone and aesthetic throughout.  This encouraged me to view the images for its contents.  There appears to be an unabated truth about the images.  After reading the book I watched a lecture on Youtube by John Tagg hosted by YaleBritishArt titled “Knocking around between money, sex, and boredom”: Walker Evans in Havana and New York.

For the first part of the lecture, John Tagg concentrates on one image in American Photographs ‘43 HUDSON STREET BOARDING HOUSE DETAIL, NEW YORK, 1931’.  In his lecture John Tagg explains that this title was crossed out in the archives of MOMA and replaced with ‘Rooming House Bedroom in New York 1933’.  With this simple change in title the image takes on a different meaning.

Prior to being made aware of the title change, the image appears to be documenting a simple, austere room during The Great Depression when most could not afford luxuries.  Upon closer inspection this is reflected by the torn bed linen, worn bedframe and simple stool which has been cropped on the right side of the frame.

However, once you learn that this may in actual fact be a bedroom in a rooming house, your perception is slightly differently. 

http://www.getty.edu/museum/media/images/web/enlarge/05233301.jpg

Fig 1.
43 Hudson Street Boarding House Detail, New York, 1931
(1931)

John Tagg explains that Rooming houses provided cheap, minimally supervised accommodation where residents provided each other with a degree of privacy.  The rooms were simple with minimal furniture.   Due to their simplicity and anonymity, this made them popular with gay men, men without a secure job who would need to be able to leave easily should they get work elsewhere, and those that may need to leave quickly due to legal problems.   Knowing this alters your perception of the room slightly.  This is not an austere room due to the depression, but a simple room that met/suited the needs and requirement of its lodgers. 

John Tagg goes on to explain that John Cheever’s daughter recalls her father saying that Evans ‘took the photograph because he couldn’t believe anyone could live in such a miserable place’ (Tagg J 2017).  This begs the question, is Walker Evans showing the unabated truth, or what he sees as the truth, or what he wishes to portray?  When you do a search of this image, you can find an uncropped version, which shows a chest of draws on the right side of the frame.  Walker Evans has cropped this out of the final image that is in the book, making the room seem barer than it actually is.

https://collectionapi.metmuseum.org/api/collection/v1/iiif/275342/570281/main-image

Fig 2.
Bedroom in Boarding House on Hudson Street, Residence of John Cheever, New York City, 1931–33
(1931-33)

You will also find a photograph, which appears to be of the same room, but looking in the opposite direction.  In this image, the room does not appear so stark.

https://collectionapi.metmuseum.org/api/collection/v1/iiif/275231/570183/main-image

Fig 3.
Bedroom Interior with Table and Chair in Boarding House on Hudson Street, Residence of John Cheever, New York City, 1931–33
(1931-33)

After learning the above and viewing the uncropped image, this shows that a simple change in frame, angle or crop can give a scene a whole new meaning and is just as important as the scene itself.

Bibliography

Fig 1.
Evans W
(1931)
43 Hudson Street Boarding House Detail, New York, 1931
[Photograph]
In The Museum of Modern Art
(2016)
Walker Evans American Photographs
Plate 43

Fig 2.
Evans W
(1931-33)
Bedroom in Boarding House on Hudson Street, Residence of John Cheever, New York City, 1931–33
[Photograph]
https://collectionapi.metmuseum.org/api/collection/v1/iiif/275342/570281/main-image
(accessed on 16th April)


Fig 3.
Evans W
(1931-33)
Bedroom Interior with Table and Chair in Boarding House on Hudson Street, Residence of John Cheever, New York City, 1931–33
[Photograph]
https://collectionapi.metmuseum.org/api/collection/v1/iiif/275231/570183/main-image
(accessed on 16th April)

The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Published 2016 
Walker Evans American Photographs
Italy
The Museum of Modern Art