During the late 1980s Ruff photographed his fellow students at the Düsseldorf Academy of Art, combining the typological mode of his teacher Bernd Becher with the serial progressions and primary structures of Minimalism. The large scale and technical perfection of Ruff's portraits refer to both the museum and the street—to billboards and heroic painting—while elevating the anonymous sitter to the stature and visibility of a public figure. Instead of presuming to depict the transcendent, individual essence of the sitter, however, Ruff's portraits deliberately assume the neutrality of the mug shot, physiognomic study, and identity card, and, by extension, the entire brightly lit world of surveillance in which his subjects were raised. The age and milieu of his sitters are crucial to the pictures' meaning: these young media-savvy people are not threatened by the camera eye but adjust themselves comfortably yet firmly to its probing vision. The results are both seductive and subtly disquieting, like studying a human specimen whose every pore and hair is available for careful study, yet whose thoughts and feelings are always just out of reach.
Inscription: Signed, dated, and numbered in ink on print, verso, bottom center: "T Ruff // 1987 // 1/4"
[303 Gallery, New York]; (sold, Christie's, New York, May 20, 1999, lot 234)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Modern Photographs from the Collection VI," January 14, 2003–June 13, 2003.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Photography on Photography, from the 1960s to the Present," April 8, 2008–October 19, 2008.