Jo Ractliffe was born in 1961 in Cape Town, and lives and works in Johannesburg. Her work is largely concerned with landscape and how it figures in the South African imaginary, particularly in relation to the violent legacies of apartheid and spaces that hold the memory of violence and loss. Her work engages photography beyond its documentary status, however, to explore its expressive and evocative potentials. Her photographs frequently portray the “after event”—spaces discharged of their human subjects, haunted by the presence of the past. In so doing, she draws attention to the absent and unseen, alluding to the traces of meaning beyond the evidentiary. Most recently, she has turned her attention to the aftermath of the war in Angola. Ractliffe was one of the founding members and curator of the Joubert Park Project, a socially directed public art initiative located in the inner city of Johannesburg (2000–2001).

In 2010, Ractliffe was a Writing Fellow at the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research, Johannesburg, and an invited artist at the Phillips Exeter Academy, New Hampshire. She was nominated for the 2011 Discovery Prize at the Rencontres d’Arles photography festival, and her As Terras do Fim do Mundo was nominated as best photobook of 2010 at the International Photobook Festival in Kassel, Germany (2011). She has participated in solo and group exhibitions internationally, including at the Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts (2014), MuseuMAfricA, Johannesburg (2014), the Walther Collection, Ulm, Germany (2013, 2011, and 2010), the Smithsonian National Museum for African Art, Washington DC (2013), Haus der Kunst, Munich (2013), Museet for Fotokunst, Odense, Denmark (2013), La Maison Rouge, Paris (2013), Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon (2013), Galerie Fotohof, Salzburg, Austria (2012), Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt, Germany (2012), the International Center of Photography, New York (2012 and 2006), Le Bal, Paris (2011), Iziko South African National Gallery, Cape Town (2011 and 2010), the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (2011), the Museum of Modern Art, New York (2011), the 7th Gwangju Biennale, South Korea (2008), and the Second International Biennial of Contemporary Art of Seville, Spain (2006).