Profiles in Black & White: Thomas Ruff

In Black and White Photography, Photo Print Collector, Photographer on October 21, 2013 at 1:12 pm

Photographs are still always depictions, it’s just that for my generation the model for the photograph is probably not reality any more, but images we have of that reality.”

-Thomas Ruff

Interieur 7 D, 1982

Interieur 7 D, 1982

Few photographers working today are as renowned for experimentation as Thomas Ruff. Originally a landscape photographer, he has never been one to fear change. Ruff has bounced from straight photography to three-dimensional imagery. He’s employed and transformed internet pornography and molded mathematical curves. He’s contrasted spanning the immenseness of space and with the acute realm of passport-esque portraiture. His amorphous stylings continually refocus how people might see an image. Yet his roots in photography are based in the far simpler age of the Bechler school, and it is here that we see a continued basis for his process.

One of many notable students to attend the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, Bernd and Hilla Becher preached to Ruff a highly analytical approach to photography. The Bechers were known for their due diligence, potentially spending months learning about their subject before actually following through. As such, Ruff mirrors the Becher’s approach to photography, albeit in an evolved format. For each subject, Ruff explores how it has been previously approached. He then explores the different techniques to see what they might offer him. From this, he can empirically understand what his final images might come to pass. Ultimately, Ruff’s work isn’t meant to be viewed in singular images but as a whole series. This way, the message of the work can be more effectively discerned. His first series, Interieurs, explored how homemakers can personalize their living quarters to their own tastes yet inevitably reflect the era and culture in which they are cultivated from.  The simple and direct atmosphere of his Portäts forces a viewer to consider how people are viewed and understood. Zeitungsfotos addressed the cliché of representation. In addition to being viewed as part of a series, Ruff likes his photographs to be physically imposing in person. This, according to Ruff, adds a dynamic to experiencing a photograph.

Unlike the Bechers, Ruff embraced color over the use of black and white film for much of his work. He came to the conclusion – whilst working on Interiors – that because the human eye can see in color, black and white images can be quite artificial.

Since his days at the Düsseldorf school, Ruff’s work has been displayed in dozens of solo and group exhibitions along with being collected by many of the most notable art museums in the world. At the turn of the millenia, Ruff returned to his alma mater to educate new minds until 2005. More recently, he produced his Photograms series, images derived from a virtual darkroom combined with custom computer software.

For more: Thomas Ruff Photographs.

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