Several works in this room use the blank setting of the studio to create a sense of psychological distance. In the early 1980s, Thomas Ruff asked friends from art school to pose in unremarkable clothes with a neutral expression and shot them in the conventional style of the ID-photo. Presented in a very standardised way, they resist any psychological interpretation. Several years later, Sarah Jones made her Actor series, in which two characters stand together against a neutral backdrop but seem wholly unaware of each other.

Other works use the street to explore themes of isolation and society’s indifference to the weak and suffering. Boris Mikhailov’s photographs present a wretched portrait of urban destitution. Following the demise of the Soviet Union, Mikhailov documented the poverty and social collapse that he saw every day in his home city of Kharkov. He paid his subjects to pose for him, often exposing their ravaged bodies with their tattoos, scars, bulging bellies and sagging breasts. Bruno Serralongue also draws attention to the most marginal in society. Over sixteen months, he photographed the repeated demonstrations of a group of immigrants calling for legal recognition in France. His documentation of the whole campaign contrasts with official press coverage, which mentioned the demonstrations only once. Valérie Jouve’s The Characters presents people in the street, but refuses to offer any insight into their personal worlds.

Sunil Gupta From Mr Malhotra’s Party Pavitr 2007

Sunil Gupta 1953
Born India, works India and Britain
From Mr Malhotra’s Party Pavitr 2007
Inkjet print
Collection of Rudolph Leuthold © Sunil Gupta

Suzanne Lafont Marcheur no. 1 (Passer-by no. 1) 1995-98

Suzanne Lafont 1949
Born and works France
Marcheur no. 1 (Passer-by no. 1) 1995–8
Collection of the artist 
© Suzanne Lafont