I picked up this Thomas Ruff catalog (from the “Thomas Ruff” exhibition at Whitechapel Gallery, September 27, 2017-January 17, 2018) on the recommendation of Jörg Colberg more than a year ago, and it’s languished in the “to review” pile ever since… Well, now’s as good a time as any, I guess.


The book opens with excerpts and quotes, selected by Ruff, from Benjamin, Barthes, Flusser, Sontag, and other heavyweights, and then moves through Ruff’s photographic series, from Interiors (1979-1983) through W.G.L. (2017), and the photographs run the gamut from fairly straight photographs of interiors and architecture, to computer generated photograms and images of Mars. As Colberg says,

With Ruff, you never quite know what you’ll be getting next. You can be certain it will be interesting, even if the results might at times leave you cold.

Colberg, Jörg. “Taking Up Moholy-Nagy’s Mantle.” https://cphmag.com/moholy-nagys-mantle/

Essays from Sarah E. James, David Campany, Iwona Blazwick, Cameron Foote, and Nayia Yiakoumaki follow the plates, and I’m ashamed to say that I haven’t made time to read them. Shame on me.

Ruff’s photographs are in a class by themselves, and his explorations into photography, what it is, what it does, how it works, etc., are varied and interesting. For Nights (1992-1996), Ruff used night vision cameras (those of us alive at the time remember the look from coverage of the first Iraq war) to photograph Dusseldorf. For W.G.L. he took archival images of a 1958 Jackson Pollock exhibition at Whitechapel Gallery, colorized the ceiling and floor, and left the paintings in monochrome. In Negatives (2014 and ongoing), he scanned 19th Century photographic prints, then inverted the colors and presented them in a blue monochrome.

Suffice to say that Ruff’s work is somewhat different, and more wide ranging, than other famous artists whose books I’ve unboxed, and different is good, even if some of the series leave me cold.


Thomas Ruff is available a few places, all for roughly 3 times what I paid for it when I bought direct from Whitechapel Gallery in 2018… Yay? Shrugs. I do have some credit card debt and have been thinking of selling some photobooks to 1) pay it off, and 2) clear some space on the shelves. But I hesitate. I’m not a collector, or don’t think of myself as one, and there are a bunch that I’ve only looked at twice (once for the unboxing and once for the review) and likely won’t be looking at them again, but I hold back. Why? (If you have any thoughts, yay or nay, please pass them on.)

Thomas Ruff is an excellent catalog and a great resource, but $150-$350 excellent? I’m not sure… If you see it somewhere, it’s worth a browse or purchase, for sure, but maybe don’t go out of your way or save up for one. It’s just too spendy now.

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