Reflection: The Frank Album and Thomas Ruff's JPEG

I have a sense of ambivalence to The Frank Album. I am not particularly against the use and reuse of image sharing on the internet. For studies I frequently do so myself, referencing other artists work to articulate or support my points. However I am not seeking profit from this, as in keeping with current copyright laws I am referencing for academic and personal purpose. This is the area I find problematic.

On the positive side I see Alex Soth’s project an interesting participatory exercise in how the “possibility of meaning is ‘liberated’ from the actual contingencies of use.” (Sekula, 1999, p.183). The Frank Project can place the viewer in control of the narrative, creating a new context.

Conversely my first instinct is to feel defensive about my own candid photos being used in a similar way. Or again depending on where and how. In a small group as a reflective exercise, sure. Which probably explains my lack of social media presence.

On the format, I find Soth’s blog crude. The consent of advertising is out of place for the purpose of the project and suggests the space is a commodity. It is in these existing grey areas of legislation and online media that archive and found photography develops contrasting opinions.

For instance I recently visited the AGO (Art Gallery of Ontario) to see Anthropocene. Within the general gallery space I came across a print of JPEG NY01 (2004) by Thomas Ruff. Firstly its huge, which perhaps is the point. Its intended destination was a large white cube such as the one it inhabits. But how did it get there? Was it acquired or donated? Who produced it and at who’s cost? Is this creative accounting at play? I don’t deny, these are challenging, interesting questions. Again this, as David Campany says may be the point to Ruff’s work, with ‘…its potent ability to solicit individual and global responses that cannot be entirely reconciled.” (Campany, 2018).


Perhaps I would be less sceptical about these artworks if there was greater transparency in the means of production. But then again, my photo above is a copy of Ruff’s print, which has been ‘found’ online; where does it end. Resolving complex problems into simple solutions is ambitious as I noted regarding the Liverpool Biennial. Would it benefit the tension between standardisation and reinvention be better served more as a rhythmical cycle instead of a war of attrition?

Campany brings up an interesting point discussing Ruff’s JPEG series in regards to the digitally created image which is relevant generally; “This might be the first time some of these images have ever taken a material form.” (Campany, 2008). It is certainly something that is lost in the digital process; physical interaction with an individual work. Is it real if it doesn’t exist in the real world? More questions. In Campany’s authors note it concludes saying: “Ruff’s JPEG series doesn’t work very well on the internet or computer screen: the images need to be experienced as printed matter, moving from screen to page or wall.” With that in mind, isn’t the physical public space more interesting place for other work?

What began as a critique of Alex Soth’s The Frank Album has during the course of writing morphed into something much more. And so I’ll give Ruff the last word; “technology constantly changes, so does our perception of the world.” How true!


Campany, D (2008) ‘Thomas Ruff: Aesthetic of the Pixel’ In: David [online] At: (Accessed on 26.10.18)

The Frank Album (no date) Available at: (Accessed on 26.10.18)

Sekula, A. (1999) ‘Reading an Archive: Photography between Labour and Capital’. In: Evans and Hall (ed.) Visual Culture: A Reader. London: Sage. pp 181-192