Cruel + Tender, artists, Thomas Ruff

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.

See also

Cruel + Tender Thomas Ruff

Cruel and Tender at Tate Modern 5 June – 7 September 2003 Thomas Ruff
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Surface tension

Thomas Ruff insists that his photographs capture only 'the surface of things'. But is there more than meets the eye ...