The death of the negative - Art Collector

  © Thomas Ruff. Image courtesy of the artist and Gagosian Gallery

By Emma Capps

Earlier this month at Gagosian Gallery’s space on Davies Street in London, Richard Prince exhibited portraits that he had siphoned from his Instagram feed. Prince referred to these images as his New Portraits; images that had, as the artist wrote, “no history, no past”.

A few days after the Prince show came to a close, the same space became host to a new selection of photographs by Thomas Ruff. In his introduction to the show, the artist wrote, “due to digital photography, the negative, which I have used nearly every day for more than 25 years, has almost disappeared. If I ask my daughters what a negative is, they look at me wide-eyed, for they've never seen or used one. The negative was actually never considered for itself, it was always only a means to an end. It was the master from which the photographic print was made, and I think it is worth looking at these masters.”
This pointed re-visitation to historical techniques (looking back to history, back to the past) is what has informed Nature Morte, a series in which Ruff investigates the role of the photographic negative, digitally transforming sepia­toned albumen prints into mannered images of flowers and plants. In both style and approach, these prints honour the work made by photographic pioneers and members of the early avant­garde (Henry Fox Talbot, Karl Blossfeldt, and László Moholy­Nagy come to mind) who shaped what Walter Benjamin described as “the inventory of perception”.

© Thomas Ruff. Image courtesy of the artist and Gagosian Gallery

If not explicitly adding to this inventory, or critiquing it (as he had done in the past), Nature Morte extols the canon of botanical photography, reaffirming the still life as a permanent interest of man and his lens. The flora we see in this modest, stylish selection of images are specimens – recorded dutifully, artfully, and sedately.

Ruff was born in 1958 in Zell am Harmersbach, Germany, and lives and works in Düsseldorf. He studied at Staatlichen Kunstakademie Düsseldorf beginning in 1977 and was a professor there from 2000 to 2006. Public collections include Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Tate Gallery, London; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid; and Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin.

Thomas Ruff,
Nature Morte runs from 6 August 26 September 2015.

Share this page: