Ruff, Thomas


German, geb. 1958; lives and works in Düsseldorf, Germany


Thomas Ruff was a student of Bernd and Hilla Becher at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf from 1977 to 1985. Like the Bechers, Ruff practiced a serial mode of Conceptual photography. In Ruff’s case, the distinctive sense of objectivity and detachment was demonstrated in the portraits he made beginning in 1981 while still a student. These sober color images of young German men and women, many his fellow students, are presented in the style of passport or identity card photos. Despite knowing each subject personally, Ruff said, "I worked on the basis that a photograph can’t represent a person or a character, that a person has too many layers to be depicted in a photograph. I can only show the surface." The structural similarity between each half-length portrait conveys a generation of youth under surveillance rather than a particular individual, which Ruff believes reflects the repressive political conditions in Germany at the time. During the same period, Ruff experimented with police identification camera equipment, using composite photographs to produce imaginary portraits of potential criminals. In 1986, Ruff began printing the student portraits as giant photo enlargements, some as large as twelve by seven feet. His subsequent experimental exercises on the technological components of photography have maintained a consistent analytical approach, refraining from any form of symbolism, narrative, or personalization.

Artworks by Ruff, Thomas

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