German photographer. He studied at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf (1977–85) under Bernd Becher. Ruff questioned the ‘truth-value' of the documentary image in his work of the 1980s and 1990s. After completing a series of photographs documenting domestic interiors (1979–81), Ruff embarked on the series of portraits with which he made his name. Monumental, highly detailed and immaculately finished, these were unglamorous portraits of ordinary people, devoid of expression. The Porträts suggest that it is impossible to photographically represent a subject's inner life, positing instead a more democratic, socially based mode of representation. Any residue of charm that these works may have had was entirely drained from the series Ruff began in 1987, Haus, images of grey apartment blocks from the era of post-war reconstruction. His intention to restrict himself to selection, manipulation and presentation found expression in the series Zeitungsphoto: images cut from newspapers, enlarged and presented without captions or explanations. His work took a more explicitly political turn in the 1990s, when his Night photographs were inspired by night-vision cameras used to relay television images during the Gulf War. A further series of screenprinted portraits, Anderes Porträts (1992–5), were created using police image fabrication technology and were shown at the 1995 Venice Biennale. Ruff abandoned conventional photography for digital image creation in the confrontational series of political propaganda posters Plakat, begun in 1997, in which he refers back to Russian photography of the 1930s and the photomontages of John Heartfield.
B. V. Brauchitsch: Thomas Ruff (Frankfurt am Main, 1992)
10 December 2000
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