Research: Project 3 Surface & Depth – Thomas Ruff













At the conclusion of part one of Expressing Your Vision we studied a small project entitled “Surface & Depth”. In this project we consider two alternate views of the work of Thomas Ruff, a photographic artist who recycles old images, processing them to make creative use of jpeg artifacts, the 8 pixel by 8 pixel square, clearly visible in the first image above “Jpeg rl1104 (2007).”

David Campany 1 , a writer , curator, artist and lecturer at the University of Westminster, describes the work of Ruff as both “aesthetic” and “intellectual”. By aesthetic he means the form of the image and the beauty within it regardless of context. Ruff uses both his own images and those of others, all images being part of a collective photographic archive, to produce images that create a similar response in the viewer, regardless of who the original photographer was: the creative act being the reimagining of the original photograph into a new and very large scale artwork (Ruff’s images are typically printed 5-6 feet wide or tall). In presenting images from the collective archive but presenting it through the artist’s own grid of the use of series and the use of the pixel (in contrast to the historical use of grain to artistic effect), Campany talks about the images tapping into nested archives and how they affect all of us and how the use of images from various archives presents images that may never have been seen before. What he does in many ways reflects modern music with it’s use of the sample and overdub which takes a sample of an older familiar piece of music (for example, Sting’s 1983 track “Every breath you take” represented by Puff Daddy in 1997 as “I’ll be missing you) or older unfamiliar pieces of music such as the samples of blues recordings used on Moby’s 1999 album “Play” to create something new and as creative as the original pieces.

In contrast, Joerg Colberg 2, a writer and editor, whilst describing Ruff’s images as creative and even beautiful, raises the question of whether or not Ruff’s work is even photography. It is photographic but not photography. Historically Ruff discovered his process when his own photographs of the tragedy of 9/11 were mis-exposed or processed and he reverted to looking at images grabbed from the Internet. The low resolution of the images opened his mind to the possibility of deliberately using low-resolution jpeg compression on other images to create large artworks that highlight that technique. In Colberg’s writing he admires the beauty of the outcome but expresses disappointment at “the ultimate thinness of the concept behind it.” He clearly views Ruff as simply applying a thoughtless filter to any image he might come across to create an empty pretty image – an image created solely through a technique, so lacking in any true creativity.

Having tried this myself, I would say the technical side itself is not completely straightforward and nor is the idea of re-presenting another’s original work lacking in creativity compared with the original. Many might same that the multiple Variations on the theme originally written by Paganini are better than the theme and the world is better off for the multiple variations.

I finish this project with a re-imagined version of one of my own images from 2007. I am reasonably happy with it though it doesn’t have the vividness of a Ruff image but it definitely looks better printed.












  1. Bloomfield, R (2014) Photography 1: Expressing your Vision., OCA 2017, p.33
  2. – visited January 2018
  3. – visited January 2018

Exercise 1.4 Frame

In this exercise the task is to take a number of photographs using the viewfinder grid. My camera divides the viewfinder into 9 sections and composition then takes place solely in one of the 9 sections, the other 8 being ignored. There are a number of challenges with this, the first being that this is a very small amount of viewfinder to compose within and reminds me of peering into the little glass viewfinder of a box brownie from the 1940s. Secondly, this exercise still requires the camera to be in automatic and the changes in framing lead inevitably to exposure challenges.

In The Art of Photography , Bruce Barnbaum says

“Camera placement is critical for bringing out the compositional elements. Sometimes a change of camera position by mere inches makes the difference between an ordinary and a great photograph.”

With this in mind, I took my first set of photographs with a standard lens (50mm equivalent) aimed at a reasonable flat subject roughly at eye height. The compositional element was the arched top of a door set in the stone and flint work of St Albans Abbey.

The metadata shows that I used the same lens for each of the nine images and repositioned the camera to frame the door top in each of the sections in my viewfinder grid. Exposures varied slightly the first 5 exposures being at f6.4, the latter 4 at f7.1, ISO constant at 200 and shutter speed close to 1/1600th.


And the metadata recorded for the group of images is here.

Reviewing the images, I can see obvious changes, regardless of height, between the first 2 images and the last where moving the point of the composition to the right reveals the edge of the building creating a sense of depth as the shadowed area and glimpse of sky reveals 3 dimensions.

The first two images of each row are 2 dimensional, it is only as I start to use the lower row of the grid that I am forced to point the camera upwards causing verticals to converge noticeably and in the final image, it almost feels like we are viewing a tower. But the standard field of view of the 50mm (equivalent) lens, and the reasonably close proximity of me and my camera to the subject limits the range of variance of the images.

Seeking Barnbaum’s “ordinary to great” through moving mere inches, I changed my approach.

This second set of images, also of St Albans Abbey were taken from further away and with a telephoto lens (85mm equivalent). I also chose to shoot all of the images pointing the camera upwards to differing degrees.

Now there is a bit more drama in the images – there are slight converging verticals but the use of a telephoto lens has reduced this. I am composing using the little cross and a small element of roof and sky. Now small camera movements are making significant changes to the composition moving along a row. Moving down the central section and lower section of the viewfinder is less successful though interesting, the final image, bottom right, because of the framing reflects the element that I am using throughout the images, there is just more sky so in this final image, I have ended up with the viewfinder section composition equating to the entire image composition. Before starting the exercise, I did not anticipate that this would happen.

The metadata is attached below.

It shows that I used the 85mm (equivalent) lens throughout. All the images were taken at f5.6 and ISO 200, with shutter speeds varying from 1/350th to 1/500th all chosen by the camera.

Finally I thought I would try one more attempt using a subject that was reached from street to sky, an an interim distance and with a wide angle lens. I used a 24mm (equivalent) lens for this series of images.

This time I anticipated a wider spectrum of images due to the wider field of view of the wide angle lens. I made an effort to keep camera movement to a minimum and move as little as possible to see just how different the different images would be.Whilst exposure is more challenging due to the contre-jour lighting, the images have ended up being significantly different to each other. The Odyssey is a restored art-deco cinema in St Albans and it loos flat against the backlit elements. The different viewpoints create interest visual tricks of geometry, particularly the last image which is really just about angles and lines, in contrast to image 2 or 3 which are bland sets of a pretty uninteresting building. This has been an exercise of discovery: before it, I wasn’t aware just how radically moving the camera can utterly transform the composition.

The metadata for this shot is below. The camera has selected ISO 200 as it was a bright day. The aperture is again consistent at f5.6 and the shutter speed varied from 1/350 to 1/1100 of a second, a wider range of shutter speeds. On this set, the exposure does not always look correct and I would probably not use fully automatic settings for these images given the choice.














  1. Bloomfield, R (2014) Photography 1: Expressing your Vision., OCA 2017, p.28
  2. The Art of Photography, Bruce Barnbaum, pp. 42-43


Exercise 1.3 (2) Line

This second line project considers the use of lines to flatten the pictorial space in contrast to using line to create depth.  A photograph using depth and perspective often looks like a recording, a representation of what was seen by the viewer; this provides a journalistic or pictorial image.  In contrast, flattening perspective can be used to create abstraction and the image often becomes the thing itself and no longer a recording or representation of a viewed reality.  Laszlo Moholoy-Nagy used the new at the time 35mm camera to adopt different viewpoints, such as looking straight down, to create flat abstractions.

Ralph Gibson in his 1980s photo series “The Black Series” created abstract images, devoid of colour and mostly devoid of grey to create images which are about the pictures themselves.  We are not asked to consider what these images represent, instead we consider the images as themselves and enjoy their abstract form.  Below are two images from this series.

For my own images I experimented with keeping the sensor plane parallel with the image, getting up close, mostly using a telephoto lens, avoiding vanishing lines and looking for rhythms  of shape repetition within each image to create interest for the viewer of the images.

In the first image I used a 35mm (equivalent) slightly wide angle lens and had to tip the camera up slightly so while the image is flat there is a very slight inclusion of perspective. In addition the inclusion of sky (out of focus)  in the top corner prevents full abstraction in the image and it is apparent that this is a picture of a shed.

In the next threee images I used an 85mm (equivalent) short telephoto lens. The sensor plane is also parallel with the image in all three images and I have been careful to avoid any distractions outside the tight image frame to maintain the sense of abstraction. The last image uses the gently curving lines of rusting corrugated iron to create the lines.

To further enhance the abstraction in the images above I have chosen the 2nd and 3rd images and converted to black and white and enhanced contrast to see how this affects how we might view the image.

The first image uses Eric Kim Tri-X 1600 present 24 and the second uses Eric Kim Tried-X 1600 preset 21.

The removal of colour and tone does increase the degree of abstraction and is particular effective in the first image,  In the second image, the higher proportion of midtone renders the change quite differently and perhaps the colour version is more successful as the rhythm of colour works quite effectively in the first colour version of this image.

Contrasting parts (1) and (2) of the Line Project

It is clear that using depth and perspective gives a documentary eye to the image viewed.  It is generally more obvious that the image is a photograph intended to represent what was there (reportage) or provide a pictorialist representation of the scene in a similar way to a pictorialist painter may have chosen to paint a scene.

In contrast, the flattened approach to photography most often provides degrees of abstraction, in extent depending on the photographer’s intention or technique, which subvert the documentary tendency and present the image as the thing itself and not a representation of a scene viewed by the photographer and viewer of the image. This lifts the status of the image from documentary evidence arguably to art in that the image itself is all that actually matters and not the technique, subject or viewpoint.


1,2 Ralph Gibson – (accessed January 2018)


  1. Bloomfield, R (2014) Photography 1: Expressing your Vision., OCA 2017, p.26

Exercise 1.3 (1) Line

The second element of composition after point is line, particularly the lines that draw the eye through an image to create perspective, that is a sense of depth that takes the viewer into the image beyond the two-dimensional construct of the printed image.

Eugene Atget the Parisian street photographer managed to create a strong sense of depth in his images using diminishing object size and converging lines.

This image below of the Rue de L’Hotel de Ville was taken by Atget in 1921.  He travelled by bus throughout Paris taking his photographs using a 10×8 large format camera.  It is also likely that he used small apertures to ensure focus and this sharpness back to front together with the converging lines accentuates the sense of depth in the image.



Below are three of my images which attempt to convey depth through the use of vanishing lines within the image.

In all three images I have used the landscape format for consistency but have played with the compositional elements.

  • The first image splits the image into the top third being sky, two thirds fore-to-mid and the image was taken from a standing position using a mild wide-angle (35mm equiv) at f8 for good depth of field.  All lines converge towards the centre horizon and it does show depth.


  • the second image splits sky and foreground at fifty-fifty and the meandering river takes the eye to the right and then back o the centre distance of the image.  The image was taken from near waist position using a very wide angle (16mm equiv) at f16 for front to back depth of field.  It’s a more interesting composition than the first image


    • The final image was taken from a very low position using the same angle of view as image 2.  The lower portion adds a little more drama to the composition and the foreground dominates the composition.  There is only one main leading line, being the gap in the corn but it does give a strong sense of depth, enhanced by the slightly over-exposed but dramatic cloud filled sky.


  1. Bloomfield, R (2014) Photography 1: Expressing your Vision., OCA 2017, p.24

Exercise 1.2 Point

First attempt at single point images

The three main elements of composition of an image are the point, line and frame.  In this exercise I will be looking at the point to understand it’s impact on a composition and how its location leads to the success or failure of an image. Harold Evans, ex-picture editor of the Sunday TImes believed that “.. in photography, the idea needs to be service by technique.” In contrast American photographer Edward Weston likened photographic technique to the laws of gravity suggesting perhaps that good technique is simply a law of nature and not something to be learned. So will I learn where to place the point or automatically select one as I compose my image?

Here are my first three images using a point, which should be small in relationship to the frame.  In my three images the point is a plastic bag waste bin in my local train station.  I have placed if off centre, centrally and towards the edge of the frame.

Having reviewed the image I believe possibly my “point” is too large and instead perhaps represents a shape.  And looking at those students comparing the impact of their points in either colour or black and white it seems to me that the point must be very obvious and stand out – if it is muted and needs black and white to emphasise it perhaps it isn’t clearly a point.  In my images above, apart from being I think too large, I also think the translucency weakens the point too so I shall retake 3 more images using a smaller object and seek strength in my point so that it works effectively in either colour or monochrome.

Second attempt at single point images

This time I have gone out with the intention of identifying smaller more defined “points” and rather than just choose an identical point and moving it around the frame I have tried a different approach with each one. Here are the 5 images.

In image 1 the point is the little blue sign near the top right of the frame.  It doesn’t work too well because of the dominant blue of the bus and the position in the frame.

In image 2 the point is central and is the only blue thing in frame and so leads the eye to the centre of the frame and works better than image 1 though it’s a pretty dull image.

Image 3 uses a similar frame to image 1 but the contrasting yellow of the bus balances nicely with the blue of the point. The framing isn’t ideal though.

For image 4 I isolated a single colourful curly leaf. To make it stand out as a point, it is set in a grey abstract linear image of straight lines.  I think this works much better and also, the point could work in a range of different places but balances well nearer the edge of the frame.

In image 5 I have used selective focus to make the tiny flower the point against an out of focus wall and again I think this technique works.

I did try converting some of these images to monochrome but didn’t feel this added to the effectiveness of the point, in fact in image 4 it reduced the impact as the colour which lifts the leaf from the grey tones of the road was lost.

Multiple points in relation to the frame

Now seeking to place a number of points in the frame and taking onboard the encouragement to take real and not test pictures here are the results of looking for points and trying them in different parts of the frame.

Looking at each image in turn

This first image has the first point (a triangular roof detail) at the very edge of the  top of the frame – the eye quickly moves to the top of the triangular lodge gate and then again down towards the triangular shape at the top of the path.  The eye looks for another triangular point and not finding one returns to the first point.

In this second simpler graphic image the eye is drawn to the human feet in an otherwise grey landscape and the arrow immediately to the right draws the eye straight to the drain grate and then circulates around to the curved paved area – as I write this I realise that my eye then does go up to the straight line of the kerbstones as well! There is a geometric linkage again triangular.


My final image shows me that a human point speaks to the mind quickly  The central face, perhaps because more face is visible draws my eye and quickly links to the closer bald head – however this then routes back to the out of focus parking attendant in the background I think because the points relate to each other along a straight line.

My first image from a newspaper or magazine is a photograph of Bruce Lee during a fight courtesy of Martial Arts Illustrated (1)

In this image there are many points namely the heads of the monks which echo the shape of the upended fighter and the chin of Bruce Lee

My second selected image is courtesy of Fuji X Passion (2)

This simple image links the twos star/starburst points within the scene.

My final image is courtesy of Hungry Eye (3)

This powerful portrait by Tom Hoops uses bright white points to balance the image.

My take away from this exercise is that the sorts of striking images that appeal and are successful, at least to my eyes, often make use of fewer strongly linked points rather than a plethora of confusing ones.


  1.  Image of Bruce Lee in combat, photographer not credited, Martial Arts Ilustrated, August 2017 issue, page 74.
  2. Photographer Daniel Malikyar, Fuji X Passion magazine, Volume III, page 95
  3. Photographer Tom Hoops, Hungry Eye magazine, Issue 24, page 77

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  1. Bloomfield, R (2014) Photography 1: Expressing your Vision., OCA 2017, p.22

Exercise 1.1

The first exercise in Part 1, Project 1 of Expressing Your Vision requires the use of the camera in fully automatic mode. We then take 3 or 4 successive shots without changing anything on camera, also keeping the framing similar.

For this exercise I chose to use my iPhone 7 plus as using it in “auto only” is the default mode. The subject of my 4 images is my living space – not much is moving in there except for the floor fan (its 33C today) and so there is a visual change in each image and so too is there a change in each of the histograms. If I look very carefully I can convince myself that I can see a small difference in tone and shade on the higher part of the fence visible through the glass door – but it is probably the movement of the fan that is responsible for the change in the histogram.

The exposure is identical in each image at 1/350th of a second at f1.8 with an ISO of 20.  This data is not visible in the normal Apple camera app so it was interesting to see such a relatively large aperture – although with such a small sensor and focal length (3.99mm) depth of field is going to be deep front to back whatever the aperture.


1 Bloomfield, R (2014) Photography 1: Expressing your Vision., OCA 2017, p.21