Thomas Ruff

If photography is characterized from its outset by the tension between realism and fiction, the German photographer Thomas Ruff entirely dedicates his approach to denouncing the ambivalence of the medium. In 1984, he produces a series of portraits of his friends at the Düsseldorf Academy, inspired by the aesthetic model of identity photography. According to these standards, the models face the camera in front of a neutral background and are exposed to frontal and diffused lighting. The symmetrical and central framing meets the same requirements. Despite the shared intimacy between the photographer and his models, the faces are void of emotions. These portraits presented in monumental size seem as slick as the surface of the photographic paper, and demonstrate that photography can only reproduce “the authenticity of a pre-arranged and manipulated reality.” In 1991, Ruff works over a dozen of these photographs and changes the color of his models’ eyes in blue. The series entitled Blaue Augen [Blue Eyes] is a reference to 19th century anthropological photography. (Credit: Portrait (Petra Lappat) © 2011, ProLitteris, Zürich / Courtesy Victor & Karin Gisler, Mai 36 Galerie, Zürich)