'At the still point of the turning world' - the photographic portraits of August Sander and Thomas Ruff

Tubb, Katherine Anne (2008) 'At the still point of the turning world' - the photographic portraits of August Sander and Thomas Ruff. MPhil(R) thesis, University of Glasgow.

Due to Embargo and/or Third Party Copyright restrictions, this thesis is not available in this service.
Printed Thesis Information: https://eleanor.lib.gla.ac.uk/record=b2617289


1920s Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) photography has defined developments in German photography since it entered the art historical canon – its theoretical and aesthetic strains can still be traced in German work made today. Previous studies provide general accounts of how and why this is the case, but none probe the topic from rigorous critical standpoints in order to test these traces thoroughly – the catalogue accompanying Tate Modern’s 2003 exhibition ‘Cruel and Tender’ is an example.

This dissertation aims to test these traces by comparing how Neue Sachlichkeit photographer August Sander and contemporary practitioner Thomas Ruff use series of portraits to probe the political and social destabilisation of individual and collective identity as a result of progress.

Chapter one discusses August Sander’s series People of the Twentieth Century. Evaluating its relationship to contemporary parallels including Die Welt ist Schön by Albert Renger-Patzsch and Helmar Lerski’s Köpfe des Alltags shows that Sander simultaneously engages and subverts both contemporary photographic technique and traditional archival format – revealing his political outlook to be as contradictory and indefinable as it is unique.

From his Zeitungsfotos to his Nudes, chapter two examines how the political aspect of Thomas Ruff’s oeuvre is expressed through his exploration of perception itself, making reference to his Neue Sachlichkeit progenitors and specific comparison with Sander’s distinctive technique.

The third chapter is devoted to Ruff’s Portraits. The series was inspired by the socio-cultural reverberations felt after the eruption of the terrorist Rote Armee Faction into German politics in the late sixties. Comparison among various German-language films about the period and Gerhard Richter’s seminal treatments of it in his fifteen-painting cycle 18 Oktober 1977 reveals that by gravitating away from the epicentres of the era’s historical events Ruff, like Sander, develops a unique political outlook on his chosen subject.

This opens both practitioners up for a close comparative analysis in chapter four which reveals how they combine the portrait with the serial format to tackle socio-political destabilisation. This reveals as many productive divergences as convergences. Once linked with analysis of work by Bertillon, Richter, and Warhol, these form the basis for chapter five’s discussion of contrasts in the treatment of space by the two photographers.

By analysing key spatial theories developed by Oakes and Lefebvre I show that Sander actively seeks (and even manufactures) socially and politically stable spaces in which to place his sitters – while Ruff persistently characterises space as a site of political contestation. But I go on to argue that this divergence reveals one fundamental convergence – both photographers exhibit a clear consciousness of space (both actual and photographic) as a political category the reordering of which has revolutionary potential for their subjects.

Item Type: Thesis (MPhil(R))
Qualification Level: Masters
Additional Information: Due to copyright restrictions the full text of this thesis cannot be made available online. Access to the printed version is available.
Keywords: photography, portraits, August Sander, Thomas Ruff, archive, politics, history
Subjects: N Fine Arts > N Visual arts (General) For photography, see TR
D History General and Old World > DD Germany
H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Culture and Creative Arts > History of Art
Supervisor's Name: Lewer, Dr. Debbie
Date of Award: 8 February 2008
Depositing User: Miss Katherine Tubb
Unique ID: glathesis:2008-97
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 14 Oct 2008
Last Modified: 15 Apr 2015 13:12
URI: http://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/97

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