Today, the V&A unveils a major new photography commission by internationally-acclaimed artist Thomas Ruff. Inspired by some of the earliest photographs of India and Burma (Myanmar), Ruff’s series, Tripe/Ruff, reimagines a set of 1850s architectural and topographical images by British Army Captain and photographer Linnaeus Tripe.
Encompassing over twenty prints, Tripe/Ruff is the latest series in Ruff’s 35-year investigation into the medium of photography. The work has been commissioned to celebrate the opening of the V&A’s brand new Photography Centre, which also officially launches today.
In preparation for the series, Ruff scoured the museum’s collection of over 800,000 photographs. He was captivated by the haunting quality of Tripe’s large-format paper negatives, revealing temples, palaces and monuments that in some cases no longer exist. Made over 160 years ago, when he was an official photographer for the East India Company, Tripe’s work is widely regarded as one of the great achievements in early photography.
Ruff was drawn to the scale, beauty and aesthetics of Tripe’s negatives – specifically the way in which discolouration and damage to the paper mark the passage of time. He was also fascinated by Tripe’s early ‘retouching’ processes, in particular his painting the reverse of negatives to add different effects, such as clouds.
"Working with the V&A’s historic photography collection adds a new dimension to my work," says Ruff. "It’s the first time I’ve ever worked with paper negatives. I was fascinated and astonished by the beauty of Tripe’s negatives and how he created them.
"In the age of digital photographs, I find it really interesting to revisit these images. Throughout my career I have produced a lot of negatives, but I’ve never really looked at them, except as the master for printing. Yet, Tripe’s negatives have a pictorial quality that is really incredible.
"Tripe/Ruff is about the history, the different processes, techniques and technology of photography, and how rich the photographic world really is. The series is about curiosity, discovering something new and beautiful, and wanting to share it with the world."
Opening today, on 12 October, the new V&A Photography Centre opens its doors with the exhibition, Tripe/Ruff, accompanied by a new publication by Martin Barnes and Thomas Ruff. A series of limited edition prints will be available from the V&A Shop.