For this exercise, we are asked to produce a piece of work that either explores the family album and its iconography or reflects on representations of the self in digital culture. My first thought here was to use something from my personal family archive to consider how I have conformed with the conventions of the family photo album. Something that impressed me about the work of Hans Eijkelboom is his use of repeating motifs which force us to consider similarities and differences closer than we would ordinarily. Being the father of three children there are many images in my family album which would fit into this description – mainly based around celebrations and events such as birthdays, holidays and Christmas. I found similar themes recurring such as blowing out candles on a birthday cake or the three children standing together on a day out that would be worth exploring further. I chose to look at images from Christmas day however as taking a picture of the children sitting on the stairs as they wait to be given permission to come downstairs on Christmas morning has become a tradition I uphold despite the eldest now being 16. I expected to have 11 years worth of photographs of the three of them together and was surprised that my memory had played tricks on me and these photographs have only been taken for the last 7 years. (I have included an eighth image as it features the three of them but is not posed in the same way as the further pictures.) For me these snapshots are imbued with strong emotional resonance as I remember the excitement that filled the house each Christmas morning and I look at how the children have aged over the years – I suspect their interest would be limited for anyone else outside my family however. The striking thing from this process is how strongly I have misremembered that I have been taking these images in the same way since the youngest was born 12 years ago – while the charge of how personal memory can be proved to be false through photographic evidence is not present in the images for anyone else but me, this has affected me so much that I wonder how I could use it as a subject for a future project.
For this exercise we are asked to consider an artist who uses archive material in their practice. The exhibition ‘Archive Fever’ and the UK organisation ‘Grain’ are cited as references to use for inspiration. from these sources there were many artists that I could have researched further, however, I chose to investigate the work of Thomas Ruff as he is an artist I have been interested in for some time and I wanted to take the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of his practice. My notes can be found here.
I am attracted to Ruff’s work because it is fundamentally concerned with the nature of photography – his images contain multiple meanings and there is an inherent ambiguity that appeals to me. Although his projects are seemingly disparate, he has managed to somehow build a coherent body of work that returns and reinforces his central concerns and interests. Despite the conceptual underpinning and serious ideas at play in Ruff’s work, I do not find it academic, cold and overly serious. The work often stems from a simple idea and experimentation and for me, the sense of inquiry and Ruff’s curiosity are some of the aspects of his practice that are most appealing. In a couple of short videos I found (see here and here), Ruff comes across as someone who is driven to use his practice to explore ideas and ask questions about the world. When we look at the work of an artist, particularly someone with an extensive catalogue like Ruff, it is easy to be daunted by what they have made and arrive at the notion that ideas and strategies come easily to them. It is reassuring to learn that this is far from reality and that even someone like Ruff starts a series with little idea about where it will go or if it will be successful.
Working towards assignment 2, I was most taken by Ruff’s use of appropriated imagery, particularly from the internet. The series’ ‘Nudes’ and ‘jpeg’ push the limits of the digital image provocatively and force the viewer to question photographic representation. The most powerful and consistent theme present in all of Ruff’s work is the notion that how we read an image is fundamentally changed by the context and format it is presented. Ruff’s signature presentational style is to print his work at enormous sizes – the very fact that he does this with images that were never intended to take a physical form, let alone be shown in an art gallery, forces the viewer to question the validity of what they are seeing. Images of pornography that are the antithesis of what we would normally consider worthy of serious contemplation have a strong aesthetic reminiscent of impressionism. The titling of the series ‘Nudes’ is a simple, yet provocative, challenge to the presentation of the body throughout art history. The low resolution images that are the basis for ‘jpeg’ are pushed to near abstraction due to their enlargement well above the size they were intended to be shown – the pixels take on the appearance of a mosaic. Ruff’s most successful strategy through all of his work is the removal of context that forces the viewer to contemplate what they are seeing – the seemingly banal can become sinister, the academic aesthetically beautiful, and the ephemeral elevated to the status of art.
This exercise asks us to bring together a typology of 12 images, either appropriated from the internet or from our own archive, and present them an appropriate way, such as grid form, single images or as a slideshow.
Typically, I have gone a little over this by selecting 224 screenshots of various pieces of ‘wisdom’ that have appeared on my Facebook feed over the period of a couple of days. These vary from pseudo psychology to irreverent, incorporating the profane and the banal. The sharing of these memes and quotes is something that I normally pay little attention to as I scroll through my social media feeds, when I started taking screen shots however, they became something of an obsession. I have been surprised by how much I have been influenced by the work of Joachim Schmid, and perhaps just as importantly, his philosophy as an artist. Putting a large amount of images together in some way seems to increase their power.
For presentation I have experimented with both a grid format (created in Photoshop using the contact sheet action) and a slideshow (created in Lightroom). The effect I am going for is for the amount of images shown to be both overwhelming an difficult to read – something that for me represents the superficial way this type of visual data washes over us. The slideshow has a deliberately short transition of 1 second between each slide – for some of the images this is not enough time to even read the text, and even when it can be read, the transition to next one is so quick that it is impossible to fully take anything in.