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Thomas Ruff

German, born 1958

© 2010 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

Portrait (R. Eisch), 1999

Color print, edition 4/4
82 5/8 x 65 inches (209.9 x 165.1 cm)
Sarah Norton Goodyear Fund, 2001

Thomas Ruff believes that photography can show only the surface appearance of a person or thing. It is incapable of indicating anything below that surface, such as personality, mood, or meaning.

In the series of photographic portraits Ruff made of friends while studying in Dusseldorf, the figures are simply objects, represented rigidly frontal, with a neutral background, and often in pastel colors. They resemble large-scale passport photographs, taken with a flash that resulted in bright and impersonal light. Ruff’s friends looked directly at the camera when he snapped the pictures, helping to create the effect. As the artist said, “The people have to know what my portraits are like in order to behave in such a way that the result is like one of my portraits.” He was once asked if his goal was to elevate the ordinary person to a kind of celebrity status. His response was that he was representing his own interests: “My friends are more important to me than any president.”


Related Lesson Plan

What’s Fair? Can You Decide? (For Grades 3–12)


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