Review: Thomas Ruff - Surfaces, Depths


Book Reviews, Photobooks


I’ve always thought that good images will still be good images, even if you printed them in a newspaper; but of course, art books are not printed like that. Except for Thomas Ruff - Surfaces, Depths. The book, a survey of the artist’s work over the years, is printed on, well, what looks like the kind of paper you’d use for newspapers - it looks and feels just like it. The printing itself is of higher quality than what you find in newspapers, though. I came across Thomas Ruff - Surfaces, Depths by chance - visiting Ruff’s show at Zwirner gallery; and they had a copy on display (albeit none for sale).

What really amazed me about the book is not just the way it’s produced, but that it works so well. It looks and feels very different from what you usually find when you open a photo book. Since so much of Ruff’s work centers on how images are used and what they mean, seeing them presented this way almost forces the viewer to look at and focus on the images themselves, and what they have to say. Form follows function I suppose.

There is another survey of Ruff’s work that was published recently, called Thomas Ruff. I don’t own that survey - I looked at it at The Strand, and I admit I was quite impressed. If you’re interested in the art of Thomas Ruff, either one of these two books seems like a good recommendation. From handling it at the store, I remember Thomas Ruff to have more of a “real” art-book feel to it, with its heavy paper and its high-quality printing. In contrast, Thomas Ruff - Surfaces, Depths feels and looks different. If being required to make a choice I’d pick Thomas Ruff - Surfaces, Depths over the other (in fact, I did, since when I came back from my last trip to New York I ordered it).

I really have to talk to friends to see what they think of Thomas Ruff - Surfaces, Depths as a photo book, to get an idea whether it’s just me liking the way the book is so different from other photo books, even though it’s really just the paper and printing. Maybe it’s just “a phase” for me (you know how kids and critics - both probably the most spoiled creatures in this world - have phases they go through, and if you remind them later what they did they refuse to believe it).

But somehow, I am reminded of Ofer’s reaction to a “small” Gursky survey, where the unexpected format worked so much better for him:

“Here in this size (and I assume in the exhibition) the photographs are all about the image and not about the scale. Something about the size of the images makes me want to look more, not less. As if I have to search out the tiny details to understand what it is that I am seeing.”

The printing aside, as a survey Thomas Ruff - Surfaces, Depths deserves praise for presenting a wide range of Ruff’s very diverse work, incl. some that I had no idea it even existed.

Thomas Ruff: Surfaces, Depths, photography by Thomas Ruff, essays by various authors (German/English), 288 pages, Verlag für moderne Kunst Nürnberg, 2009