by Sue Hubbard
When is a painting not a painting? When it’s a photograph. Many of Thomas Ruff’s images might, at first glance, be paintings by an American abstract expressionist. There is an irony that while so much contemporary painting aims to look hyperreal much current photography has the gestural appearance of painting. The old chestnut that the camera never lies is stood on its head by Ruff’s work. “A photo journalist has to be really honest. The artist does not”, he says. “The difference between my predecessors and me is that they believed to have captured reality and I believe to have created a picture.”
Ruff has been taking photographs for more than thirty years and is one of those responsible for photography’s enhanced status; its shift from the twilight zone of the art world to high priced commodity. His studies at the Düsseldorf Kunstakademie in the 1970s coincided with the political terrorism waged by the anarchic Red Army Faction and his ensuing Portraits made during this period reflect a preoccupation with surveillance. It is as if his subjects had been shot by Big Brother’s camera. No emotion is shown, no flicker of a thought is revealed.