“Thomas Ruff Stellar Landscapes” by Melanie Bono and Thomas Palzer

Don’t judge a book by its cover but “Thomas Ruff Stellar Landscape” looks like an astronomy text book.  Upon closer examination it is by the art photographer Thomas Ruff of The Dusseldorf School and published by LWL State Museum for Art and Cultural History.  Cudos to Kehrer for their deceptively simple design – it sure peeked my interest.  The book is comprised of works from Ruff’s following works:

  • Newspaper photos
  • Stars
  • Night
  • jpegs
  • Cassini
  • zycles
  • ma.r.s.

The above series are not grouped together in coherent sections as you would expect but are organised instead by their preceding essays (in German and English) which are:

  • Foreward by Dr. Hermann Arnhold (Director of the LWL Museum)
  • “Stellar Landscapes” by Melanie Bono
  • “Conquest of the Suns: News from Space” by Thomas Palzer

The essays give valuable insight into this amazing body of work comprised of found images from traditional and new media such as Nasa’s Cassini Mission to Saturn website.  Here’s a brief description of each of the different types of images found in the book:

Newsprint photos

Are comprised of film based black and white newsprint photos of astronauts floating in space and crop circles.  It’s interesting to see how the earliest days of space exploration was portrayed in traditional media.  The pictures in this series are grainy and ultra low resolution in comparison to the more recent images.

Stars

Begins to move towards abstraction and digital photography.  These are beautiful images of high contrast black and white night skies densely populated by heavenly bodies of all shapes and sizes.

Night

“Nacht 12 III, 1993” is the only photo from this series that vaguely resembles what you can see of the night stars with the naked human eye.  The photo is placed adjacent to the “Conquest of the Suns: News from Space” essay and speaks to the yearning that man has to understand more about the universe.

jpegs

Only two samples from this series: one depicting an ICBM rocket on the launch pad; and the other of the US Lunar Rover.  Both images are very pixelated and reminiscent of the early days of digital photography.  The jpeg section serves as a good contrast to the Newsprint photos.

Cassini

This series is one of my favorites in the book.  It combines the ingenuity of science and art into some awesome eye candy.  Here’s a sample:

zycles

Here’s how these gems were created: It is hard to believe that these compositions, which consisted of curved lines and were spread all over the image, originated in mathematics, or more precisely, in antiquated 19th century books on electro-magnetism that portrayed magnetic fields on copperplates.  As the essays in the book explain these patterns exist in 3D virtual space and were rendered into 2D by selecting the field of view inside the 3D space.  That just blows my mind!

ma.r.s.

It’s like the google earth for mars with unearthly abstractions.  Who knew there would be so much variety on the Martian landscape.  Can’t wait to go and check it out 🙂  Although buying the book would save you about 228 days.  Here’s the link to buy the book on Amazon: thanks for your support.

Conclusion

The essays and photos in “Thomas Ruff Stellar Landscapes” are thought provoking and spell binding.  A great artful retrospective of the development of imaging and image manipulation technology alongside our growing knowledge of space.

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“The Dusseldorf School of Photography” by Stefan Gronert

I bought this book to learn more about the famous Dusseldorf School of Photography.  The book does a good job of reinforcing and dispelling some myths about the school.  It consist mainly of large format printed photos and an essay titled “Photographic Emancipation” written by Stefan Gronert.  The photos are divided into three parts: part one focuses on the school’s founding gurus Bernd & Hilla Becher; part two its more famous pupils; and part three its lesser known practitioners.  There is a very well researched and comprehensive “Biographies, Exhibitions and Further Reading” section by Isabelle Matz and Maria Muller at the end of the book.

Stefan Gronert’s essay serves as a legend for the photos by covering the 11 approaches of “Photographic Emancipation”.  Although Gronert doesn’t spell out these 11 approaches exactly one can assume they roughly follow his headings.  These sections effectively sets up a dialogue between the artists.  Gronert points out that it was Axel Hutte who first started to do portraits but Thomas Ruff and Thomas Struth who later became more well known for them.  The author also compares and contrasts: the library photos of Candida Hofer with Andreas Gursky; and the street photos of Petra Wunderlich with Thomas Struth.  Gronert seems to dedicate a special section to Thomas Ruff’s work due perhaps to his more diverse oeuvre.

The insights in Gronert’s essay adds more flavor to the photos.  Some examples being Thomas Struth’s pictures of pictures or as Gronert refers to them as meta photos.  These photos of paintings in museums (the bottom photo on the book’s cover) are given another dimension when you learn that each scene was methodically captured over and over until one image “fit the bill”.  This according to Gronert gives the photos a much more authorial constructed reality.  For me personally they look somewhere between staged and found.  Jorg Sasse’s “Speicher I” is a photo-sculpture and image database system that allows the viewer to organize photos by themes.  In this day and age of The Cloud it’s interesting to see how artist physically interpret these concepts.

The Photos

Here are some personal observations about the photos by the various photographers in the order they are presented in the book:

Bernd & Hilla Becher

In so much as the photos are seen to be reproductions of reality, the repetitive nature of the photos’ subject matter are also reproducing themselves as well.  The repetition also encourages you to stop seeing the subject matter all together and start seeing the abstractions.

Andreas Gursky

By having AG follow B&HB’s work in the book helps to emphasize B&HB’s influence of scale on AG’s photos.  This arrangement also helps to contrast the non-monumentality of AG’s photos when compared to B&BH’s .  In AG’s photos it is the tableaux that becomes the monument.  One of my favorite photos from this series is “Baharain I” for its “all over-ness” and abstraction.

Candida Hofer

In contrast to AG, CH’s focus is more on space and depth.  There’s also a fractal thing going on in the photo of the room with boxes on the shelves alludes to the further subdivision of space in to smaller and smaller modules.  He seems to use this compositional strategy quite frequently.

Axel Hutte

Perhaps it’s the influence of Gronert’s essay but AH’s work seem to contain the seeds of the work of his peers.  There are fractal like spaces, deep voids, all over hill side/jungle foliages and icebergs, atmospheric environments, objects in far off distances.

Thomas Ruff

First time in the book that portraits appear in the artists’ represented photos.  And also one of the first to incorporate found “objects” (space photos, jpegs from the internet) in his photos shown in the book.  As mentioned before TR’s photos cover a diverse range of subjects.

Thomas Struth

His work deals with the topic of public spaces in his museum photos and also private spaces in family portraits taken in homes.  In the former the people are seemingly unaware of their presence in the photos whereas in the later there is a direct confrontation between viewer and subject.  It’s interesting to see these polar opposites side by side in the book.

Petra Wunderlich, Laurenz Berges, Elger Esser, Simone Nieweg, Jorg Sasse

PW has a series of stone quarry and stone buildings which I like for their negative and positive spaces respectively.  There’s an awesome photo by LB called “Delmenhorst” that has a snow laden tree against a blue wall that looks like a silkscreened sky.  EE’s photos are very painterly and I particularly like the one of the ocean wave called “265 Dieppe”.  Of all the foliage themed photos I think SN’s are the most successful.  I particularly like “Garden Fence with Rug, Gelsenkirchen” which has an all-over and consistent feeling that is present in all her photos.  Three photos from Jorg Sasse which I absolutely admire.  There’s the photo of the yellow vase against a purple background that is very abstract and Escher-esque.  The volcano and the butcher photos (actually two photos) for their texturing and patterns.  And I also like the speeding train photo for the strong horizontal composition and color contrast.

Conclusion

The book serves as a good overall guide to the key figures of The Dusseldorf School.  It’s a good starting point to help the reader explore more about the individual photographers.  The book is also very effective at putting everything in context so that influences and offshoots can be seen more clearly.  Most importantly it enables the reader to discover and appreciate the work of the lesser known students of the school.