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  • Writer's pictureJo Sutherst

Surfaces and Strategies – Considering Other Photographers – Ernestine Ruben

“Photography is abstract because it starts with a given — what the camera records. The challenge is to transcend that. If you think about it, photography is really deductive, because what makes it interesting — and abstract — is what you take away. It’s very much the way a sculptor works… While photographing bodies, for instance, I want to create new bodies in the shadows.”

– Ernestine Ruben (LensCulture, 2017)

Ernestine Ruben has successfully used the studio environment to create her images of the human body. Ruben crops tightly and seems to embrace the bodies with her camera, creating geometric forms from the body with emphasis on the imperfect, sensuous texture of skin.


Figure 1: Ernestine Ruben. Choke (detail). 1987

Ruben is quite inspirational to me.  Like me, she came to her photography career later in life.  She is energetic and restless in her exploration and development of her photographic practice.  She continually experiments and exploring new ideas.  This is familiar to me as I take a similar approach.

For over 25 years she has continued to push the limits of photography, break new ground and to reinvent herself and her work.

Her images are quite playful which helps the viewer to be drawn in and engage with the work.

Each image invites the viewer to carefully study and engage the content.  The work has an air of simplicity about it. The richness of each image gives the impression that it has been achieved simply with shadows and light.  What the viewer is not aware that Ruben has meticulously planned each image.


Figure 2: Ernestine Ruben. Upside Down. 1981

She has carefully considered the impact of the crop and frame.  Working in line with Szarkowski’s thoughts that framing is “the central act of photography, the act of choosing and eliminating” (Szarkowski, 2012:70), Ruben has deliberately chosen to frame these images so that the viewer must concentrate on the content.  The black background in the images removes distraction and isolates the parts so that the viewer can be clear about what is being photographed and can attune themselves to the physicality of the subject in the image.

I take great inspiration from Ruben’s attitude to and her dedication towards her work.


LensCulture, E. (2017). Bodies in Abstract – Photographs and text by Ernestine Ruben | LensCulture. [online] LensCulture. Available at: [Accessed 1 Aug. 2017].Szarkowski, J. (2012).

Szarkowski, J. (2012). The photographer’s eye. New York: Museum of Modern Art.


Figure 1: (2017). University of Michigan | Museum of Art (UMMA). [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Aug. 2017].

Figure 2: (2017). Ernestine Ruben Portfolios. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Aug. 2017].

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