Biography of Thomas Ruff
Thomas Ruff’s beautiful and often detached artworks pull back the curtain on the deceptions and limitations of photography—but also reveal its astonishing possibilities too. His search for new directions in photographic expression is enormous, spanning digital internet jpegs, NASA space images, even old photographs.
Born in Zell am Hammersbach in Germany, Thomas Ruff lives and works in Dusseldorf, sharing the same studio complex as Andreas Gursky. He studied under Bernd and Hilla Becher at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, and later taught there himself. In his early works, Ruff uses black-and-white photography to produce portraits of his friends and fellow students, who pose for him with emotionless faces. In his later series, Ruff turned his focus to buildings, taking photographs in the same style as previously but then retouching them digitally to create the final product, such as his series documenting Mies van der Rohe buildings.
In 2001 Thomas Ruff happened to be wandering the streets of New York taken photographs when 9/11 happened. Unfortunately, when he returned to Germany to develop the film it was completely blank. Instead he began searching the internet for images like “crazy”. So began his radical series Jpegs. Using compressed images he came across on the internet, Thomas Ruff became one of the first photographers to turn his attention to the vast alterations and possibilities happening online. He soon realized that as “technology constantly changes, so does our perception of the world.”
Thomas Ruff finds inspiration in digital editing, 3D software, as well as in darkrooms, and has been instrumental in establishing the medium of photography as a recognized art form. The significance of his works is not the portrayal of everyday life, but the demonstration of differing interpretations of photography.
In 1992 Thomas Ruff exhibited at documenta IX in Germany and in 1995 he played a prominent role at the Venice Biennale. He has exhibited around the world with solo shows at Tate Liverpool in 2003, Moderna Museet in Stockholm in 2007, Haus der Kunst, Munich in 2012 and Stedelijk Museum in Gent, Belgium in 2014. Most recently he has had a large-scale show at the Whitechapel Gallery in London in 2017.