9 December 1994 – 7 January 1995
White Cube presented photographs from Thomas Ruff's ‘Nacht’ series (1992-96), shot at night using a camera with the ability to amplify available light. These images feature external scenes of suburbia photographed in and around the Düsseldorf area, where the artist lives. The works employ the visual vocabulary of long-lens night-vision surveillance photography, the camera’s light-intensifier producing a signature, greenish glow. This technology was used during the Gulf War to identify targets and gather intelligence. As with much of Ruff’s work, there is a political implication in the use of the camera to observe and document, and in these works in particular, the ability to make the invisible visible. Ruff also used a two-meter-wide-format camera to elevate the images beyond the status of functional photography, their smoky-green tint lending the images an ethereal beauty.
Ruff is known for a series of uniform portraits he began taking in 1990. Each photograph is carefully staged in a studio to recreate the same narrow depth-of-field, sharp focus, white background and blank expression of the sitter. The neutrality of the images recall the kind of shots used in passports for purposes of identification; the sitters become generic types, their existence as individuals blocked by the blank charisma of the picture’s style. Using a rigorous method, Ruff directs attention away from the subjects and to their aesthetic conditions. In turn, he also makes the viewer aware of our reaction to the physiognomy of each face, as we scour every detail, down to the last pore and hair, for information that will help us to register an individual personality.
By adhering to a set of strict, self-imposed guidelines, the images declare the conditions of their making – a characteristic used by Ruff to call into question the notion of photographic truth. ‘Photography lies because it purports to represent reality,’ he has said, ‘but a photograph remains a picture, and photography is merely a technique for the creation of pictures – just like painting.’