Thomas Ruff, the JPEG

The context of this theme is based on the comparison of analogue and digital photographic images, how they are archived.  Thomas Ruff in his book Jpegs explores the notion that once a photograph has been taken whether digitally or on film, it is no longer current, and will subsequently be held in an archive.  This archive could take the form of a series of photographs, a photo album, a memory stick, a hard drive on a computer, the internet, or folder containing negatives.  Ruff also explores the manner in which these images may be retrieved.  The one type of archive which holds images from both digital and analogue sources is the internet, although in this case the analogue images will have been scanned and held as digital images.  According to David Campany in his review of Ruff’s book JPEGS:

All photographic images come from archives. The very idea of the archive shaped how photography developed from its invention in the 1830s. The standardisation of cameras and film formats, the standardisation of printed matter, the standardisation of the family album, the picture library, the computer image file, the press agency and even the modern art gallery – these are all archival forms of, and for, the photographic image.  (David Campany)

Digital images held as Jpegs may be edited and enhanced using post production software so any analogue images converted to digital and which are not perfect, can be edited and enhanced in the same way.  However, the question then arises: how much can/should old analogue images be “enhanced”.  Should they be left as they appeared in their original form having been converted to digital images.

In these times of mass media and ease of transmitting images, the key benefit of holding all analogue images digitally is the ability to distribute them in the same way as digital images.  The pixel then is key to archiving and distributing images electronically.

In JM Colberg’s review of Ruff’s book, he quotes Ruff:

The 9/11 images were iconic, but of terribly low resolution. With the […] jpeg structure and the results from work with image structures I managed to modify the terribly poorly resolved but still visually aesthetical images my way. ‘Terribly beautiful’ images they were.” (Thomas Ruff).

So Thomas Ruff, according to JM Colberg, is a great believer of editing any Jpegs to enhance the image.  However, it should be borne in mind that an image designed for viewing on the internet is not necessarily the best format.  The example shows an image reduced in size to be suitable for the internet is not appropriate for the printed format.

IMG_3583 copy
Original image
Original image resized for viewing on the internet





Thomas Ruff/Linnaeus Tripe

The work of Linnaeus Tripe was on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum when I visited shortly after the gallery was reopened.  Captain Linnaeus Tripe went to India and what was then Burma to carry out a military survey.  His photographs, originally created for recording purposes only, became to be viewed as works of art in their own right. Tripe used waxed paper negatives known as “calotypes”, rather than moving onto the more popular medium: glass negatives.  He was concerned they were more likely to get broken, and more difficult to transport.

Tripe often enhanced his negatives.  For example, when photographing a scene the cloud detail was often lost because of the length of time the shutter remained open during the process.  He would then add detail, such as the clouds, to the negative.  Then every print taken from that negative would contain this detail.

Ruff studied these negatives by enlarging them, so that every detail could be seen clearly.

Ruff was drawn to the scale, beauty and aesthetics of Tripe’s negatives – specifically the way in which discolouration and damage to the paper mark the passage of time.  He was also fascinated by Tripe’s early “retouching” processes, in particular his painting the reverse of negatives to add different effects, such as clouds and foliage. [accessed 21/10/19]

The curator’s description of the work.

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2019-10-22_17-10-27 [accessed 22/10/19]



Photographing the ordinary

Rinko Kawauchi, a Japanese photographer who works with nature and light and creates images of everything around her from the ordinary to the extraordinary.  Nothing is too small or mundane to be photographed.  I was particularly drawn to the example below  because despite the brightness of the colour, it is a fragile and short lived image.  Within seconds of taking this photograph, the image will have disappeared.

Untitled, from her photobook: Hanabi,  © Rinko Kawauchi

In this image below, again she has captured the fragility and temporary nature of life.  The bubbles will have burst very soon after she took the photograph.

© Rinko Kawauchi


Laura Letinsky created a series of photographs entitled “I did not remember I had forgotten” in 2002.  The series depicts leftovers, crumbs, used crockery, stained tablecloths. These images were not intended to be depressing, but showing what has been.  Again, as in the case of the examples of Rinko Kawauchi’s work above, it is temporary.  Waiting for the cleaner to come along and clear away the dishes.  She said:

I was interested in the narrative end-point of the leftover, of what remains, what resists, not as a depressing or sad place, but as all that we ever really have, what has been handed to us.

[Susan Bright, Art Photography Now, Page 110]



I did not remember I had forgotten, Untitled No63. © Laura Letinsky



Information or stories?

Is the photographer providing information or a story?

Terry Barrett said in his article, ¹Photographs and Contexts, “The meaning of any photograph is highly dependent on the context in which it appears”. He sights the example of a photograph taken by Robert Doisneau of two people enjoying a drink in a Paris bar.  The photograph was taken with their permission and it subsequently appeared in a magazine: Le Point.   Some time later the photograph re-appeared in a leaflet produced by a temperance league warning of the evils of alcohol abuse, without Doisneau’s permission, and later still appeared, again without permission, in a paper entitled “Prostitution in the Champs-Elysees”. Barrett used this as an example of how any image may be interpretted in different ways, depending on the viewpoint of the interpreter, and may be far removed from the original intention.

Couple in a Parisian Bar: Robert Doisneau 1958

Barrett’s view is that an image may be interpreted according to three different types of information:

  • Internal Context: the information in the picture.
  • External Context: information surrounding the picture
  • Original Context: information about the way the picture was made, why and what was the photographer’s intention.

¹Barrett, Terry. (date unknown) Photographs and Context. [online] Available at: (Accessed 1/7/2019).


The Napalm Girl: Nick Ut. 1972


Internal context: this refers to the information shown in a photograph, without any explanation.  So for example to photograph taken by Nick Ut during the Vietnam War, shown above, later referred to as the “Napalm girl”,  could be (and was by some) interpreted that she was running from the soldiers.  There was no obvious reason from just observing the photograph as to why she was running or why she was naked. And Doisneau’s photograph simply shows two people enjoying a drink.

External context: This is the information surrounding the photograph, where it is being displayed, and in what context.  The photograph taken by Robert Doisneau of the couple enjoying a drink in a Parisian bar was taken with the intention of showing life in Paris, and Nick Ut’s photograph showed children running from something, but it is not clear exactly what they are running from, perhaps the soldiers.

Original Context: In Barrett’s view this relates to the story surrounding the photograph, why it was taken, the intention of the photographer, the background, any political or social cultures which would have influenced the photographer.

Returning to Nick Ut’s photograph, The Napalm Girl, it turned out that the children were not running from the soldiers, but were running from a Napalm attack and the soldiers were helping them to escape.  The naked girl had torn her clothes off a few minutes earlier as they were burning her skin from the effects of the Napalm. Later Ut helped her by pouring water on her burns.


In whatever form the information in a photograph is interpreted, that information is created by light and an under or over exposed image will not contain the same information as a well exposed image.  In the image below the subject is so over exposed that the detail is impossible to see.  Only the outline indicates that it is a flower, and the blurred areas in the background may be further foliage. The image is taken from Kawauchi’s series: Illuminance, but the image itself is untitled.  

Rinko Kawauchi



Depth of Field: deep or shallow?

When I first started writing this I thought that technically it is very easy to control the depth of field of a photograph – just adjust the aperture and the depth of field will change.  However, what I thought was the case turned out to be only part of the story!  DoF is controlled by the length of the lens, and then the aperture may be adjusted within the limitations of a lens.  So the longer the lens the deeper the DoF, and the shorter the lens, the shallower the DoF.  Now I understand why my 100mm macro lens will only create images with a very shallow depth of field, nothing to do with the aperture, it is the length of the lens.

So, the question is when and why should the different depths of field be used when creating an image, and how does this affect the way an image is perceived.

Wim Wenders said “the most political decision you make is where you direct people’s eyes”. (Quoted in the OCA EYV course text).

As the dept of field affects the areas of the image which are in focus it can be used to direct people’s eyes.  A deep depth of field will bring the whole image into focus leaving the eye to move around the image without any specific direction.  A shallow depth of field will result in one small area of the image in focus and the background blurred.  The eye will naturally be drawn to the small area and ignore the rest.

Ansell Adams created images which were sharp and wholly in focus, a move away from the Pictorialism (contrived images) toward Modernism.  He wanted the whole image to be sharp and real – as it really is, not contrived.  The benefits of looking at an image with great depth of field and focus is that it viewer can explore the image in their own way.  There is no prescribed direction.

Fay Godwin set out to create a series of images which highlighted the amount of open space which was inaccessible to the ordinary person.  She wanted the whole image to be in focus to give the feeling of space, and created them using a deep depth of field.

Alternatively, the use of shallow depth of field will draw the eye to the area in focus.  In his series Panem et Circenses, Gianluca Cosci created a set of images with a shallow depth of field.  He used this technique to make sense of the urban space around London, drawing the eye to the minutia, leaving the background blurred. Below is an extract of an interview with Kevin Byrne in April 2016.

“After moving to London from Bologna I had a kind of cultural shock especially regarding the city and its role as world capital. We could say that I was totally overwhelmed and quite intimidated by it. Everything exuded confidence, authority and superiority: economically, culturally and politically. Even the sheer size of everything was something quite difficult to deal with. I was fascinated and repulsed in equal measure by corporate places like the City of London or Canary Wharf with their obscene wealth and tangible power. The cultural institutions in the capital were no less confident in their self-awareness of prestige and influence on the world’s stage and the majority of people in that environment seemed to reflect all of this. My work during that moment was largely based on that feeling of being an outsider, an alien who observes things from a distance, unseen.”

Kim Kirkpatrick, on the other hand, was more focussed on the beauty around him, rather than a political statement.  He created images with a shallow depth of field to highlight the beauty and colour which often goes unnoticed.  In his early work he focussed on industrial waste sites, and the small things we don’t see.

The subject, as it always has been, is color and our daily environment – the results of constant searching for unnoticed elements of beauty and hidden, subtle significance in our surroundings.                        (Extract from

Images using a macro lens are created with a shallow depth of field.  The eye is drawn into the item being magnified, and the background blurred and to retain the detail of the background would detract from the subject.  I have included 2 images I took with my  100mm macro lens, both showing that the background would not have enhanced the subject.


Framing and Cropping

It seems to me that the difference between the two relates to what is included or what is excluded.  Framing refers to the overall photograph, what is included in the photograph and how it is composed within a frame.  The frame defines the boundaries of the photograph.  Cropping may refer to the post production processes where parts of the photograph are cut thus excluding areas of the original which are not required.  However, cropping can also relate to photographs where there is no defined boundary, for example in the photographic collection “Equivalents” by Alfred Stieglitz. In these photographs there is no border or frame and the images appear cropped.

One of the series “Equivalents” by Alfred Stieglitz