Connect>Create 2008

Thomas Ruff, 'Portrait (V Levchenya)' 2000

Thomas Ruff was born in 1958, in Harmsersbach, Germany. He attended the Kunstakademie, Dusseldorf from 1977 to 1985, where he studied under Bernd and Hilla Becher.  His early work largely consisted of landscape photography and domestic interiors, his methods were experimental and included the use of infra red lens, hand tinting, photomontage and digital retouching. The influence of the Becher’s documentary style was very apparent in Ruff’s own work.


By the late 1980s Ruff had switched to portraiture and was playing around with large format printing, producing photographs up to 7ft x 5ft in size. In these head and shoulder shots, Ruff photographed his friends and colleagues facing the camera without expression. The subjects’ neutral expression coupled with the use of a plain, neutral background, and a flat “all over” fluorescent light is reminiscent of a passport photo or some sort of ‘cold’ official identification photo. 

Any individual personality or story behind the appearance of the subject is quite devoid. It seems we are only given a surface appearance and are denied by the artist, and his medium, any hint of who the person is on a deeper level. This ‘depersonalised’ portrait goes against everything that portraiture traditionally stood for, it denies you, through lack of expression, any hint of their personality, who they are, why they are there, and thousands of possible stories relating to the individual.


By Sharon Coals, a student from the BA(hons) Contemporary Fine Art, Hull School of Art and Design 2009. 

Document icon Learning article provided by: Ferens Art Gallery, Hull | 
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