Monday, 21 October 2013

Deadpan aesthetics - Thomas Ruff - Subjective v Objective

One of the main photographers and photographic perspectives we look at on the course is Thomas Ruff and the Deadpan Aesthetic. You're advised to look into this and engage with it as it can potentially accelerate your learning and it encourages you to produce images in a way that you've probably not beforehand. With a little reading and practice you will normally start to produce images that people will look at and take notice of and it also gives you a new perspective with which you can work with. 

For a basic introduction you should look at Charlotte Cottons book The photograph as contemporary art as there is a really useful chapter within the book dedicated solely to the subject. You're advised to use this book as a rule on the course as it's wholly relevant to what we teach.

The key photographers that we look at and use is Thomas Ruff & The Bechers

The key point with regards these images is the implementation of a system (Mechanical approach) whereby the way you shoot the images is subject to a set of rigid rules in the same way as Ruffs predecessors 'The Bechers' do with their Typologies (See below). This method Ruff came about by applying the same sort of approach, asthat  forced on you when having your photograph taken when completing a passport...

From the Govt website (Link below) 

For passport photos:
  • eyes must be open and clearly visible, with no flash reflections and no ‘red eye’
  • facial expression must be neutral (neither frowning nor smiling), with the mouth closed
  • photos must show both edges of the face clearly
  • photos must show a full front view of face and shoulders, squared to the camera 
  • the face and shoulder image must be centred in the photo; the subject must not be looking over one shoulder (portrait style), or tilting their head to one side or backwards or forwards
  • there must be no hair across the eyes
  • hats or head coverings are not permitted except when worn for religious reasons and only if the full facial features are clearly visible
  • photos with shadows on the face are unacceptable
  • photos must reflect/represent natural skin tone


Photos must have a background which:
  • has no shadows
  • has uniform lighting, with no shadows or flash reflection on the face and head
  • shows a plain, uniform, light grey or cream background (5% to 10% grey is recommended)

The Bechers (Bernd & Hiller) more or less came up with this concept as a way of photographing buildings applying a very similar approach to their subjects giving rise to the birth of the deadpan aesthetic in photography and New Topography.

This approach whereby the images are taken using a set of rules is an objective approach and it pushes aside any of your own subjective considerations and makes you take images that are very different. This approach will draw comment from people as it challenges their usual visual take on how photography is done and makes your images stand out. The fact that is creates discussion about the approach means that you'll have to ask questions about your own practice 'What constitutes a portrait' where have the rules for portraiture come from, what is their purpose and what are they trying to convey with a portrait and how is it done?

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