This week the first major retrospective of the work of German photographer Thomas Ruff opens at Whitechapel Gallery. Eerily recognisable or conceptually rich, Ruff’s practice takes in a huge array of influences that encompass both the cosmic and the everyday.

Substrat 31 III 2007© Thomas Ruff

Born in 1958 in Zell am Harmersbach, Germany, Thomas Ruff attended the renowned Staatliche Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf from 1977 to 1985. For over forty years his work has been interrogating the role of the image in contemporary culture.

 Phg.07_II 2014 © Thomas Ruff

Ruff still resides and works in the city of Düsseldorf, which inspires some of his most recognisable photographs. Resonant with architectural stills, his uncanny cataloguing of ghostly, unpeopled suburbia is almost endlessly enthralling.

 Ma.r.s. 01_III 2011 © Thomas Ruff


Though people also become crucial subjects in the exhibition curated by Iwona Blazwick, director of the gallery. In a series of passport-style portraits, Ruff blows up the images to enormous sizes leaving every tiny feature open to scrutiny.

Nudes lk18 2000 © Thomas Ruff

Other aspects are more technologically experimental. The nudes series blurs pictures of online pornographic material. Other vividly colourful images influenced by Japanese manga and anime are adapted using software to create fluid, abstract facades. 

Neg◊india_01 2014 © Thomas Ruff

The exhibition plays perfectly to Ruff’s versatility, guiding the viewer through a sequence of themed rooms with new delights lying around every corner. To be able to see such a variety of this internationally renowned artist’s work is an opportunity not to be missed.

Press++21.11 2016 © Thomas Ruff

The show runs from 27 September 2017—21 January 2018 at Whitechapel Gallery, London. More information can be found here.

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