David Zwirner is pleased to present press++, a new series of works by Thomas Ruff on view at 533 West 19th Street in New York.
Working in distinct series since the late 1970s, Ruff has approached different genres of photography, including portraiture, architecture, astronomy, the nude, surveillance footage, reportage, and photograms. Using a wide range of technological approaches, and often pushing the limits of photographic representation in the process, he has reinvented historical conventions and expectations of the medium.
Shown here for the first time, press++ features large-scale photographs of archival media clippings from American newspapers that relate to the theme of space exploration. Ruff scanned the front and back of the original documents, which he has been collecting over several years, and combined the two sides in Adobe Photoshop. Interested equally in the subject matter (and any touch-ups) on the front of the paper and the words, stamps, signatures, and smudges on the back, he thus created seamless montages of image and text, in the process compromising the integrity of the former as well as adding relevant context. The overlap causes each side to lose its intended information and merge into a new image altogether. As such, the often disrespectful treatment of press pictures by newspaper editors becomes obvious, as text, cropping, and retouching can all fundamentally change the original document.
press++ continues Ruff's long-standing interest in the deconstruction of the image and the new structures of photography following digital technology. It relates to earlier series by the artist including Newspaper Photographs (1990-1991), in which images were sourced from analog newspaper prints, and jpegs (2004-2007), where he used digitally disseminated photographs. The new works further recall the emergence of photomontage in Germany in the 1920s, where it was employed by Dada artists as a potent and subversive political tool. Ruff's digital composites, however, are not concerned with the often fragmented and surrealistic effects produced by these art historical precedents, but with the treatment of the photographic image when it is redistributed and re-archived. As layers of information coexist seamlessly, the idea of a source becomes increasingly obsolescent and the image acquires even greater agency. The information of the press image is lost in favor of an image of its own artistic value.