Ruff believes that photography can only capture the surface of things, conveying what he describes as the authenticity of a manipulated and prearranged reality. In 1981, he began a series of colour portraits of his friends and fellow students at the Düsseldorf Academy (where he studied under Bernd Becher).
Each subject is framed like a passport photo, appearing face-on and in profile, against a plain background. The portraits resolutely refuse to provide any psychological insights into the sitters, who wear unremarkable clothes, with a neutral expression. In the late 1980s, Ruff began photographing ordinary buildings in and around Düsseldorf. With few signs of human presence, these precisely-detailed pictures are as enigmatic as his portraits. Together, the two series suggest a cross-section of the mundane surface of contemporary Germany.