Thomas Ruff – Portrait series

Thomas Ruff – Blue Eyes

Nan Goldin’s – Ballad of Sexual Dependency

In comparing the sets of work described above, the first comparison to draw is that in Ruff’s portrait series his subjects appear to be more formally posed, where as Goldin’s approach has resulted in her friends being recorded in a more informal ‘reportage’ style.

In the former little information can be gleaned about Ruff’s friends beyond the hints of their fashion tastes displayed in the glimpses we have of what they are wearing. The expressionless pose also becomes a mask behind which the sitter hides, all emotion reduced to that of a stark stare. The blue eyes series adds to the annominity of these people in that even the subjects eyes do not convey the truth as they were artificially coloured blue thus adding another layer of mask.

Goldins work offers us a view laid bare as these photographs portray her subjects in their lifestyle in all their glory, bumps and bruises, with nothing hidden. This gives her images a shock quality forcing us to witness the sharp reality that is the life that her friends lead. We are left drawing all sorts of ideas about the lives of these individuals to such an extent that much of their personalities are left wide open for us to read.

Nigel Grimmer – The Dunces, Road kill Family

In comparing the above sets with Nigel’s project, The Dunces, this work appears to sit at the opposite apogee to Goldin’s but at the same time alongside Ruffs.

In Nigel’s work the identity of the ‘Dunce’ is hidden although much can still be assumed from the photographs in relation to the personality of the subject, the style of clothing, the decoration of the room and the pose of the person. Included in this is the assumption of low intelligence, the symbol of the dunces cap being the trigger here, but the images form more of a narrative than a picture. In this respect the similarity between Nigel’s and Goldin’s work share a common ground.

Nigel’s work raises more questions though. Are the Dunces in their own rooms? If we assume for one moment that they are not then most of what we are seeing is a lie. Why do they have their backs to us? What led them to stand there?

The failure to eye – connect with the hidden face of the dunce puts the viewer at a further disadvantage in answering these questions and results in the old primordial instinct to be on your guard being raised, thus giving the images a slightly threatening feel.

By contrast Road Kill family offers the viewer a full narrative in that the subjects are portraying the role of dead animals by the roadside. The masks the subjects are wearing hides their identities and I wonder if they chose the mask or whether it was chosen for them based on assumptions or knowledge of their personalities in a crude ‘pets look like their owners’ method.


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