Photographer Thomas Ruff’s work displays today’s heavy internet and media-saturated age. His monolithic, massive sized portraits of anonymous, unfamiliar subjects create an almost celebrity-like status for the subjects. There is a sense of ease and comfort between the lens and subject, reflecting today’s fluid permeation of media in daily lives. The large size of the portraits blur the line between commerciality-like fame and the average subject in his unvaried pattern of identity card-like portraits. Ruff has connected these series to German police surveillance, particularly in the 1970s during the hysteria and turmoil of the German Autumn. The unembellished portraits with an austere and complex simplicity highlight this idea of oppressive observation and ironic familiarity and comfort with it.
Thomas Ruff was born on February 10, 1958 in Zell am Harmersbach in the Black Forest, Germany. He currently lives and works in Düsseldorf. He studied photography under Bernd and Hilla Beacher at Kunstakademie Düsseldorf or the Düsseldorf Art Academy from 1977 to 1985. He continued to study at Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris in 1982 and in 1993 at Villa Massimo in Rome. The German photographer has participated in the Venice Biennale (1995, 2005), Biennale of Sydney (1996), and Bienal de São Paulo (2002). His most recent exhibits were in 2014 at Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst in Gent, Belgium and Kunsthalle in Düsseldorf, Germany. His work has been featured in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Moderna Museet in Stockholm, National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, and many more. In 2006, he was awarded the Infinity Award for Art by the International Center of Photography in New York. Ruff is represented by the Gagosian Gallery and David Zwirner in New York, Johnen Galerie in Berlin, and Galerie Wilma Tolksdorf in Frankfurt.
Text by Perwana Nazif
Images courtesy of Thomas Ruff