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Photographer Thomas Ruff at Whitechapel Gallery

Visit our East London neighbours to see the first major retrospective from this contemporary German artist.

Haus Nr.11 III, 1990 © Thomas Ruff, Image Courtesy of Whitechapel Gallery
Haus Nr.11 III, 1990 © Thomas Ruff, Image Courtesy of Whitechapel Gallery

For nearly four decades Thomas Ruff has been investigating the role of the image in contemporary culture. Today in his first major retrospective, Ruff’s critical and conceptual approach to photography is explored in detail. From themes of suburbia to surveillance, this is an engaging exhibition not to be missed.

Curated by gallery director Iwona Blazwick, the exhibition opens with Ruff’s exploration of scale, the cosmos and the everyday. Sterne (Stars) (1989–92), his photographs taken with a high-performance telescope at the European Southern Observatory are situated alongside Porträts (Portraits) (1986–91; 1998–), a notable series of passport-style portraits, reproduced on a huge scale to reveal every surface detail. A warm welcome into the world of Ruff.

Portr&auml;t (P Stadtb&auml;umer), 1988 © Thomas Ruff.<br />
Image courtesy Whitechapel Gallery
Porträt (P Stadtbäumer), 1988 © Thomas Ruff.
Image courtesy Whitechapel Gallery
Interieur 1A, 1979 © Thomas Ruff.<br />
Image courtesy Whitechapel Gallery
Interieur 1A, 1979 © Thomas Ruff.
Image courtesy Whitechapel Gallery

A particular highlight is L’Empereur (1982) where Ruff turns the camera on himself in a sequence of eight still life images. The artist positions himself in a range of exaggerated poses with just two chairs and a yellow floor lamp. This amusing and stylish series explores exhibition-making through the idea of the artist as a still life prop.

One of Ruff’s earliest works Interieurs (Interiors) (1979–83) documents rooms of friends and acquaintances in his hometown of Düsseldorf. Photographed with a purposeful sense of detachment, the images reveal traces of inhabitants without the occupants themselves being present. Alongside sits Ruff’s series Häuser (Houses) (1987–91), studies of ordinary suburban buildings shot in his captivating style. It’s here in particular that his time studying alongside Andreas Gursky, Candida Hoffer and Thomas Struth becomes evident.

The show closes with the thought-provoking Zeitungsphotos (Newspaper Photographs) and press++ (2015–). These works are created from archival photographs from American and German newspapers and weekly magazines. Presenting these images out of context, the artist questions the documentary value of the press photograph, providing a lasting political focus that is resonant with the world today.

L’Empereur 06, 1982 © Thomas Ruff. Image courtesy Whitechapel Gallery
L’Empereur 06, 1982 © Thomas Ruff. Image courtesy Whitechapel Gallery

Thomas Ruff: Photographs 1979 – 2017
The Whitechapel Gallery
27 September 2017 – 21 January 2018
Further Information