Codec: On Thomas Ruff’s JPEGs


Session Title:

  • Photography and the Virtual

Presentation Title:

  • Codec: On Thomas Ruff’s JPEGs



  • Through a close analysis of Thomas Ruff’s JPEGs series, we will explore the JPEG codec as the new paradigm of the digital image. Trained with Bernd and Hilla Becher, Ruff is one of the leading figures in contemporary photography. For his JPEGs series, he took his own images and digital photographs from the web and compressed them using the maximum rate; he then decompressed them into large-scale prints. This method exposes the mathematical infra-structure of the digital image, the pixel blocks into which the image is split during the compression process. We will trace the passage from archive to archetype at play here, the double meaning of taking an image from the web or from the wide world, and the possible return of beauty as a means of societal reconciliation. We posit that JPEG compression calls for a new conception of photography in which the perspectival projection gives way to the mathematical abstraction of the numerical tableau.