04 h 20m/-70°, 1992
Thomas Ruff

Thomas Ruff, 04 h 20m/-70°, detail

Chromogenic color print on Diasec 
258.5 x 186.5 cm (framed)

Having acquired negatives of the night sky above Chile supplied by the European Southern Observatory (ESO), an international research center in the Atacama Desert, Thomas Ruff started printing large-scale, seemingly abstract photographs of stars, galaxies, and nebulae. He kept the titles of the ESO negatives, which indicate the coordinates of the sky in the center of the image. Ruff’s most dramatic intervention in the otherwise purely scientific depictions is the change of format from the square 25 x 25 cm negative to a monumental portrait size, a reference to the Renaissance topos of the painting as a window, suggesting a view to outer space. Selecting details from the negatives, Ruff divided them into six categories. In some, the stars are either in the foreground or background; in others, they are very remote, or otherwise, the focus is directed on interstellar objects, like the Milky Way and other galaxies. The photograph presents the viewer with a conundrum. While it is obvious what the white dots on a black background represent,  it is impossible to read the image as anything other than an abstract pattern without prior expert knowledge. The viewer’s attention shifts from the subject matter to the startling beauty and inexhaustible fascination of the cosmos. “Photography pretends,” Ruff states. “You can see everything that’s in front of the camera, but there’s always something beside it.”
Born in Zell am Harmersbach, West Germany, in 1958. Lives in Düsseldorf, Germany.