Born in Zell am Harmersbach, west Germany in 1958, Ruff trained at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf between 1977 and 1985. His teachers were the German conceptual art and photography duo Bernd and Hilla Becher. Their conceptual work, including an archive of German Modernist industrial buildings, had a profound effect on Ruff, as well his classmates Andreas Gursky and Thomas Struth.
Ruff first gained critical acclaim in the 1980s with his colour portraits that took the appearance of passport photographs blown up to more than two metres in height. This effect provided the images with the monumentality of oil paintings and startling legibility.
Ruff’s following series have touched on subjects including landscapes, architecture, interiors and nudes. One of his most notable projects was the 2012 work m.a.r.s., which saw the artist collage satellite images of Mars and Saturn, then render them with 3D-effect software and print them as large-scale Chromogenic prints.
Between 2000 and 2005, Ruff returned to the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf as a teacher. He currently shares a studio in the same city with the fellow German photographers Laurenz Berges, Axel Hütte and Andreas Gursky.
Ruff’s work has been the subject of more than 100 solo shows, including exhibits at the Whitechapel Gallery in London, the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo and the Haus der Kunst in Munich. His work is also held in the permanent collections of Tate in London, the Kunstmuseum in Basel, the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Art Institute of Chicago.
At auction, Ruff’s record stands at £197,000, paid for Jpeg pt01 (2006) at Christie’s in 2017. Executed in an edition of three, the work, which belongs to series of images of pixelated tree branches, is a C-print face mounted on plexiglass nearly 2.5 metres in height.