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Matinee: 'Tripe | Ruff' by Thomas Ruff Share This on LinkedIn   Tweet This   Forward This

6 April 2019

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the 196th in our series of Saturday matinees today: Tripe | Ruff by Thomas Ruff.

Just short of five minutes, this video from the Victoria and Albert Museum takes us behind the scenes of German photographer Thomas Ruff's project Tripe | Ruff commissioned by the museum.

Martin Barnes, V&A senior curator of photography, introduces us to the project involving "creative appropriation" of the V&A's photography collection.

Ruff was taken by the museum's collection of architectural and topographical images taken in the 1850s by British Army Captain and photographer Linnaeus Tripe. Tripe used paper negatives, the first kind of negative invented.

The pictorial quality of Tripe's paper negatives was different. They appealed to Ruff as works of art themselves.

Tripe decided to use those to create new works. He was given access to four boxes of huge paper negatives.

That would puzzle most of us but Ruff has been investigating how photographs are made for 35 years. Photographers had to have a lot of knowledge, he says, involving chemistry, paper, printing, techniques. He wasn't familiar with paper negatives.

He's made plenty of negatives, he says, but he never looks at the negative itself. The pictorial quality of Tripe's paper negatives was different. They appealed to Ruff as works of art themselves.

In part, that was because of their large size. Without enlargers, prints could only be made as large as the negative. Everything was a contact print.

But the paper negatives, being orthochromatic, did not separate white from blue light. Skies were uniformly blank. Tripe didn't like that so, like his contemporaries, he painted clouds into the sky.

Ruff photographed the paper prints with his smartphone and back at the studio inverted them into a positive. They became the basis for a new set of prints that borrowed the image content from the originals, added color from the paper negatives, enlarged them so you could see the structure of the paper negative and were otherwise enhanced by Ruff.

A single print wasn't sufficient to make his point, Ruff says, so he made a series. He eventually created over 20 new prints based on Tripe's paper negatives for the series.

"I hope there is much more to be discovered," Ruff says of his exploration of photographic technology. And in that, he's not alone.


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