Ruff first explored the genre of the portrait in 1981 with his Porträts (Portraits) series (1981–1991/1998–2001). Here, he instructed his sitters to adopt a neutral expression that would convey as little personality as possible, and photographed them with nondescript backgrounds and even lighting. The idea was to emphasize that a photographic print only captures surfaces and cannot be simplistically equated with its subject. In Andere Porträts (Other Portraits), the artist employs a different approach to explore a similar point. To create each work, Ruff superimposed two photographs on top of one another, using a technique sometimes employed by police to produce imagery of likely suspects. The results are evocative of composite photography, a practice popular in the late nineteenth century. In the hands of eugenically-inclined scientists, composites were created in the effort to show affinities between specific “types” of people, for example mental health patients, intelligent students, or criminal offenders. These images, in turn, became tools for fascist agendas seeking to prove a connection between character and appearance.
Ruff borrowed a Minolta Montage Unit from the Polizeihistorische Sammlung (Police History Collection) in Berlin to combine pairs of portraits from his own archive and created silkscreen prints of the composites. Neither “fake” nor “real,” these portraits are rather possibilities—faces that could exist.