Thomas Ruff Self Portrait, 1987, Igal Ahouvi Art Collection

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Thomas Ruff Self Portrait, 1987, Igal Ahouvi Art Collection

Rather than try to capture reality with his portraits, Thomas Ruff uses them to create reality. His portraits are not an attempt to present any truth other than their own truth. That might sound banal to some, but when Ruff first began his work on portraits in the 1980s, photography was still heavily under the influence of Pop Art and Conceptual Art. Back then, several of the more prominent principles of photography such as truth, documentation, and even the scientific typology adopted by Bernd and Hilla Becher , were not part of the art discourse in Germany, that preferred Subjectivity.

Ruff essentially brought back the photographic portrait to its proper place, capitalizing on the prevailing disdain for traditional portraiture that was shown by his contemporaries in the 1980s. In addition to adopting a more traditionalist attitude towards photography, Ruff also chose to photograph “regular” people. He used the best that technology had to offer at the time to produce shots that had maximum sharpness, which he then printed on large scale paper. By doing so, he undermined Pop Art conventions, which sought to create abstract figures, roles, and archetypes instead of portraying individuals.


In this self-portrait Ruff has removed his glasses, the apparatus he uses to see things clearly. In one sense, that is a gesture of candor by the artist while, ironically, it may also be understood as a display of arrogance.

About Thomas Ruff

Thomas Ruff is a German photographer who lives and works in Düsseldorf, Germany. His body of work is primarily comprised of photographs of houses, grim-faced portraits, blurred erotica, and photograms. One of the recurring themes in many of his pieces is his decision to use photography not necessarily as a means to describe or capture a subject matter as it supposedly is, but instead to offer a thought-provoking vantage point.

Ruff was born in Germany in 1958 and began taking pictures when he was 16. His photographs were initially inspired by what he saw in amateur photography magazines, but after studying photography under Hilla and Bernd Becher at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, Ruff developed his own unique style that has endured over time. Ruff is an active artist whose works are on display at galleries and museums around the world.

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