Thomas Ruff is a leading figure in a generation of celebrated German photographers, alongside Thomas Struth, Candida Höffe, Wolfgang Tillmans and others. His series of portraits, buildings, high-resolution images of stars and constellations, newspaper photographs, night scenes using night-vision technology and images downloaded from the internet dismantle many of the historical conventions and fictions of photography as a mode of representation. Ruff believes that photographs capture only surface appearances and convey a constructed reality, formed by the unconscious influence of images in the mass media and other cultural sources. Reflecting on this condition, Ruff’s works attempt to define what he calls the ‘substratum’ of photography, at which point images become bearers of information.
Substrat 19 1 2003 is from a series of photographs that emerged from Ruff’s exploration of the internet. The photographs derive specifically from Japanese comics (manga and anime images), which have been digitally manipulated so that only the intensity of colour is maintained. The subject matter is overlaid to the point of incoherence and the image becomes a purely abstract visual stimulus. Here, Ruff’s processing deliberately exploits the instability of digital information — a vast realm always potentially poised at a point of dissolution — where the transformations that occur are unpredictable and fugitive.