Ractliffe was born in 1961 in Cape Town and lives there.
Recent solo exhibitions include Hay Tiempo, No Hay Tiempo, Centro Fotográfico Álvarez Bravo, as part of Hacer Noche, Oaxaca (2018); Everything is Everything, Stevenson, Johannesburg (2017); After War, Fondation A Stichting, Brussels (2015); The Aftermath of Conflict: Jo Ractliffe's Photographs of Angola and South Africa, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (2015); Someone Else's Country, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts (2014); and The Borderlands, Stevenson, Cape Town (2013).
Group exhibitions include More for Less, A4 Foundation, Cape Town (2018); A Short History of South African Photography, Fotografia Europea (2017); Sea Views, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam (2017); Gestures and Archives of the Present, Genealogies of the Future, the 10th Taipei Biennial (2016); Things Fall Apart, Calvert 22, London, and other venues (2016); Conflict, Time, Photography, Tate Modern, London (2015); Disputed Landscape: Uncovering History, Camera Austria, Graz (2015); THEOREM: You Simply Destroy the Image I Always Had of Myself, Mana Contemporary, New Jersey (2015); Public Intimacy: Art and Other Ordinary Acts in South Africa, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco (2014); Apartheid and After, Huis Marseille, Amsterdam (2014); Distance and Desire: Encounters with the African Archive, Walther Collection, Ulm (2013); Making History, Museum Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt (2012); Rise and Fall of Apartheid: Photography and the Bureaucracy of Everyday Life, International Centre of Photography, New York (2012); Appropriated Landscapes, Walther Collection, Ulm (2011); Topography of War, Le Bal, Paris (2011); Events of the Self: Portraiture and Social Identity, Walther Collection, Ulm (2010); Annual Report, 7th Gwangju Biennale, Korea (2008); Snap Judgments: New Positions in Contemporary African Photography, International Centre for Photography, New York, and other venues (2006-8); and The Unhomely: Phantom Scenes in Global Society, 2nd International Biennial of Contemporary Art (Biacs 2), Seville (2006).
Ractliffe has held fellowships at the Centre for Curating the Archive, University of Cape Town (2014); Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research, Johannesburg (2010); Ampersand Foundation, New York (2008); the Christian Merian Stiftung fellowship at iaab studios, Basel, Switzerland (2001); and the Ecole Cantonale d'Art du Vallais fellowship in Sierre, Switzerland (2001). She was nominated for the Discovery Prize at the Rencontres d'Arles photography festival (2011).
Her photo-books include Everything is Everything (2017); The Borderlands (2015), As Terras do Fim do Mundo (2010) and Terreno Ocupado (2008). As Terras do Fim do Mundo was shortlisted in the category of 'Best Photobook of 2010' at the International Photobook Festival in Kassel (2011).