Thomas Ruff – Jpegs


Thomas Ruff’s photobook Jpeg (Ruff and Simpson, 2009) consists of images that he has both taken and found on the web which he then enlarged which ‘exaggerates the pixel patterns until they become sublime geometric displays of color.’ (David Zwirner Books, 2009)). Ruff says, ‘the Jpeg idea, in which a pixelated square is ugly, but if you present it in the right context it can become beautiful’ (Benedictus, 2009).

Campany discusses Ruff’s work in the context of the history of art and photography.

Found images have been used since 1920’s as a way of making sense of a culture with an unending amount of information.  Campany points out that all images come from archives, some obvious, some less so and that within those archives there are layers of systems from the internet itself, the specific archives that are accessed, the more limited archive of the collector (Ruff) and on down to the archive of the viewer’s memory. These archives are arranged in grids, which with Ruff comes from his preference for working in series, the meaning of the image then comes at least partly from its place in that series.

Campany also discusses that all images seen now are digitised (even those printed in books) and therefore the pixel has replaced the grain of a film. Grain, with its random nature became ‘a sign of the virtuous materiality of the image’ while pixels are ‘grid-like, mechanic and repetitive ….  a technological limit (David Campany 2008). He feels that Ruff images force us to look back and forward between figuration and abstraction leading to pictures with a sense of drama.

In contrast Colberg discusses the meaning or rather the possible lack of meaning behind the images. He says Ruff stands as one of the ‘most creative and inventive photographers of our time’ (, 2009). Colberg notes the extreme beauty of the images, especially when printed in book format but feels that the concept of the images relies on the technique, rather than anything else, and notes that Ruff simply describes how they were made starting from lost images of the 9/11 attack. He goes on to say that beauty in and of itself can be appreciated, ‘maybe sometimes, the medium is the message’.


Benedictus, L. (2009). Thomas Ruff’s best shot: ‘Pixellated images can be beautiful. I took this in Japan – through a hotel curtain’. [online] the Guardian. Available at: [Accessed 21 Apr. 2017].

David Campany. (2008). Thomas Ruff: Aesthetic of the Pixel – David Campany. [online] Available at: [Accessed 21 Apr. 2017].

David Zwirner Books. (2009). David Zwirner Books · Thomas Ruff: jpegs. [online] Available at: [Accessed 21 Apr. 2017]. (2009). Conscientious | Review: jpegs by Thomas Ruff. [online] Available at: [Accessed 21 Apr. 2017].

Ruff, T. and Simpson, B. (2009). Jpegs. New York: Aperture.