On Thomas Ruff´s JPEGs series.

Thomas Ruff is a German photographer born in 1958. For his series called JPEGs he created compressed enlargements of images gathered on the internet, exploring the form in which photographs are stored and reproduced in the digital era.

We are asked to read two reviews of his work and write a short essay on the opinion of both authors (David Campany and Joerg Colberg).


In David Campany´s view, Ruff´s series offers both aesthetic and intellectual pleasures, seeing each of the images unique but only in comparison with the others on the series. He also appreciates a connection between the way pixels are shown on JPEGs and a grid-like compositions on other artist´s work such as Andy Warhol´s screenprints or the geometric sculptures of Donald Judd. Moreover, he comments on how Ruff may have collected his images (mainly from the internet and his own), comparing the way photographs are digitalized and stored nowadays with the new concept of photography archives.

Campany sees an intention on Ruff´s work to contain the unpredictable (smoke, water, fire…) within the coldness and patterned repetition of the pixel, and identifies certain irony in how the use of the pixel is enhanced in the series while the pixel itself holds a negative value as opposed as the grain had in film photography.

On the other hand, Colberg does not appreciate any intention on Ruff´s JPEGs rather than the obvious representation of the digital format and the changing role of photography. He sees the beauty in the images but considers the concept behind them is poor, and even points out that the large scale used by Ruff to exhibit his work at the Zwirner Gallery is more a matter of business than an attempt to communicate or engage with the viewer.

Overall, JPEGs is a controversial piece. At the time that I consider the work meaningful for the author and can see his intention to communicate the idea of new concepts and changes in photography, I also see a point on Colberg´s opinion. A first look at the series made me think of images from the very first webcams and digital cameras. Nowadays, technology has improved in a way it seemed imaginable then and the concept of the pixel has a weaker presence. In some way, Ruff´s work is a journey back to that time when pixelated images where not only found online but also produced by our own cameras and also printed that way, showing the grid Campany seems to appreciate so much.



David Campany, 2008. Thomas Ruff: Aesthetic of the Pixel. Ian Magazine, no2, 2008.

Joerg Colberg, 2009. Review: jpegs by Thomas Ruff. Contientious, archives, 17th April, 2009.

Tate museum, Art and Artists Archive, online resource.



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