Thomas Ruff takes photography as a medium for exploring a host of issues concerned with the visual environment. First, he is interested in it as a technique, as an apparatus; second, he is interested in the image, aware of its presence and importance in our societies; and third, his work studies how the gaze is enacted, how we perceive and through which models.
The successive series Ruff has worked in must be regarded as new approaches to old themes; the portrait, the city, the nude, photojournalism, etc., where the content is not in what is reflected but in what is projected. In his work an image always refers to another image, as he has said in an interview: “Our image models are the images in the media. For that reason my images are not depictions of reality, but show a kind of second reality, the image of the image”. And in this exercise he reveals the mechanisms by which the habits of perception are maintained and shaped.
An advanced student of Bern and Hilla Becher’s at the Düsseldorf Academy, Ruff began his career in the early eighties with a series of portraits where in a way he distances himself from the documentary precepts of his teachers: first, he decided to do portraits at a time when the portrait was practically irrelevant in art or photography; and second, he introduced colour, which removed him from the documentary tradition, firmly established in black and white.
Ruff’s work starts from the premise that all images are a construction and the manipulations to which he submits them are rightly selected to reflect the dialogue that is set up between an image and the gaze.