Thomas Struth

Selected Works

Crosby Street, New York, Soho 1978

silver gelatin print
64 x 84 cm
edition of 10

[The] evocation of the city's material texture is conveyed by perhaps the most famous image Struth made in his early years, a picture of Crosby Street in lower Manhattan taken the year before the Düsseldorf photograph.[...] New York City was in the depths of a financial crisis in the late 1970s; places like Crosby street were neglected, but in their neglect offered cheap lofts for artists to live and work in.

„In February 1978, I went out early on a Sunday morning to work, when I stopped at the first corner, attracted by the contrast between the clean and elegant car, the dirt-covered snow on either side of the street, and the general dark atmosphere of the architecture. I was attracted by the homogeneity of the architecture [in contrast to] the glitzy, brand-new Fleetwood town car, … sensitized to the architecture's character.“

Richard Sennett, Thomas Struth's City in Thomas Struth. Unconscious Places, Schirmer/Mosel, Munich 2012

Düsselstrasse, Düsseldorf 1979

silver gelatin print
66 x 84 cm
edition of 10

Economics drove this divide: quality meant costly. Today the profession wants to put the vernacular ideal into practice – but how?
Struth's image, which prompts reflection on this question, is of the Düsselstrasse in Düsseldorf, the city in which the photographer spent part of his childhood and to which he had returned for art school. In biographical terms, the visual intensity of his adolescent years marks Struths´s way of looking at the city again as a young man; this scene was shot just around the corner from where the photographer lived in 1979; it's one of about 300 images he made with a 13 x 18 cm view-camera between 1976 and 1979. Struth says that this one image „summarizes my childhood experiences of building facades with no budget, no pride, and no desire for self-expression – really depressing.”

Richard Sennett, Thomas Struth's City in Thomas Struth. Unconscious Places, Schirmer/Mosel, Munich 2012

The Bernstein Family, Mündersbach 1990

chromogenic print
108 x 134 cm
edition of 10

Irrespective of the discussions of the day on family and government family policy, Thomas Struth has been producing family portraits since 1985 parallel to his other thematic groups, for example during his travels to China, England, Germany, Italy, Japan, Peru, Scotland, and the United States. He considers the theme as an on- going project repeatedly of relevance to him and, quite apart from the other areas in which he works, one that has been exceptionally focused by the current exhibition and publication.[...] In other words, the focus on the family portrait is an integral part of Struth's thematic world, alongside solo and two-person portraits; he does not develop one theme and then the next, series for series, but alternately and cyclically.

Gabriele Conrath, Introduction in Thomas Struth: Familienleben/Family Life, Schirmer/Mosel, Munich 2008

Paradise 09 , Xi Shuang Banna, Prov. Yunnan, China 1999

chromogenic print
269,4 x 339,4 cm
edition of 10

It is easy to lose yourself in the rainforest. And it is impossible to make your way through the vegetation without the right equipment. All of which could hardly be better demonstrated than in Paradise 9 (Xi Shuang Banna), China by Thomas Struth. Trees, undergrowth and plant come to meet the viewer who is directly confronted with a wall of impenetrable green. The photographer blocks our path and almost completely closes off the pictorial space as though to underline the fact that we are literally locked out of Paradise. It is only if, and when, we take the time to look more closely that the image reveals its intrinsic order and allows us in. Struth has brought order to chaos: a thin vertical branch running down the centre of the image divides the composition into two realms. As a result the foliage forms different zones and, beyond the wall of branches and leaves, lighter regions come into view. Rampant nature becomes carefully calculated pictorial architecture, in which light and dark zones have found their rightful place, down to the last detail. Struth manages to help us, the viewers, to similarly orient ourselves in the mayhem of reality, in the jungle of life.

Anette Kruszynski, A medium for capturing reality. On Pictorial Structures in the Work of Thomas Struth in Thomas Struth. Photographs 1978-2010, Schirmer/Mosel, Munich 2010

Pergamon Museum 1, Berlin 2001

chromogenic print
197,4 x 248,5 cm
edition of 10

Moreover, as viewers – be it of Struth's interiors in museums, street views, forests, temples, landscapes or portraits – we immediately have a clear sense of where we stand in relation to the subject matter. Struth proceeds exactly as Bernd and Hilla Becher once did: even when he is working with very large motifs, he ensures that the viewer has the feeling of being positioned at half the height of the motif. No matter where the camera was in reality, Struth conveys the impression that the viewer is „eye to eye“ with the subject matter.

Anette Kruszynski, A medium for capturing reality. On Pictorial Structures in the Work of Thomas Struth in Thomas Struth. Photographs 1978-2010, Schirmer/Mosel, Munich 2010

Museo Del Prado 4, Madrid 2005

chromogenic print
177,5 x 222,3 cm
edition of 10

In his museum photographs, Thomas Struth adds a third element to the discourse between motif and viewer. The people in these photographs, visiting museums, churches and historic buildings, have entered into a particular relationship with the works of art on show. And it is this connection that is the main focus of Struth's interest. The conjunction of spaces, cultures and mental attitudes that arises from the works of art, the public and the person viewing the photograph leads to a complex, confrontational entanglement of different periods. It is as though we had left the present, in a time machine, and were now able to participate in other, different events from the past. Struth manages to make this „leap in time“ by creating a single compositional entity from the events portrayed in the works of art and those currently unfolding in the exhibition space. He looks out for suitable matches and homes in on any affinity between the colours in the works of art and those in the clothing of the visitors. As a result it appears as though members of the public were commenting, in their gestures and poses, on the action in the paintings, or even intervening in scenes they portray.

Anette Kruszynski, „A medium for capturing reality“. On Pictorial Structures in the Work of Thomas Struth in Thomas Struth. Photographs 1978-2010, Schirmer/Mosel, Munich 2010

Semi Submersible Rig, DSME Shipyard, Geoje Island, 2007

chromogenic print
279,5 x 349 cm
edition of 6

In 2007, for instance, Struth made a large-format colour photograph entitled Semi Submersible Rig, DSME Shipyard, Geoje Island (fig. 1). The Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering shipyard is on the island of Geoje (also transcribed as Geojedo) on the outskirts of the city of Okpo on the southern coast of South Korea. This subject matter is unusual for Struth and could point to a new theme in his work, particularly since other very recent works of his address subjects from industry and cutting-edge technology. The view of the shipyard has faint echoes of photographs by Bernd and Hilla Becher. However, Struth's image could hardly be compared with the „anonymous sculptures“ associated with the mining industry that the Bechers captured in countless one-off shots, series and typologies of blast furnaces, winding, cooling and water towers. Nevertheless, the semi-submersible rig occupies a dominant position in the centre of the picture, although the pontoons are not as easy to make out as the four mighty pillars supporting the work platform. This by now ubiquitous mega-structure dominates the shot and takes on a monumental air insofar as the steel colossus reaches up towards the top edge of the picture.

Armin Zweite, ... a certain sense of placelessness … . Thomas Struth between Seoul, Cape Canaveral, Garching and Greifswald in Thomas Struth. Photographs 1978-2010, Schirmer/Mosel, Munich 2010

Space Shuttle 1, Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral 2008

chromogenic print
199,3 x 376,7 cm
edition of 6

In photographs by Thomas Struth we encounter the world we have made and are part of. He chooses his motifs from this world, and every detail retains its unique character. We see the world in Struth's photographs either in the form of ideal images or sometimes as alienating anti-worlds. As a whole, his motifs reflect the multiplicity of society.
Whatever the motif, be it reality itself, Struth lays bare an underlying structure. And in so doing he gives form to reality. Thomas Struth sets his sights on the world – not to issue a challenge or warning, and without regard for political, social or economic consequences. His experience of looking and seeing, and his ensuing capacity for discerning discrimination have given him a certain authority that anyone is welcome to share. Of course there is no saying whether the viewer – presented with the artistic material that can put him in a position to understand reality – will undertake the relevant analysis or recognise a need for change. Thomas Struth's interest is not in symbolic concentration, but rather in creating a new form of access to the world. He presents us with the chance to store the artistic content of his work on a symbolic level, but also to draw from it conclusions for our daily lives and behaviour.

Anette Kruszynski, A medium for capturing reality. On Pictorial Structures in the Work of Thomas Struth in Thomas Struth. Photographs 1978-2010, Schirmer/Mosel, Munich 2010

Har Homa, East Jerusalem 2009

inkjet print
148,6 x 185 cm
edition of 6

The initial difficulty that emerged in the street, family and museum pictures of photographing socially constructed individuals is shown by the apparent need of pre-existing pictures into which Struth's exposures can be inscribed. This difficulty is particularly marked in the pictures from Israel/Palestine. The irreconcilable coexistence of two nations determines every aspect of reality: the social formation is based on exclusion; there is nothing that unites the two nations, apart from appalling duress. No image already exists that overcomes this division. The exposures of Silwan and Har Homa reflect incompatibility and confrontation. [...] Although the devastation has been photographed, the images refuse any kind of explanation that might be gained by a knowledge of the circumstances. It is as if they are subject to an uncanny power - an inversion of the promise that is evoked as an unphotographable sublime by the images of high technology and the churches in Jerusalem and Nazareth. [...] Struth's photographs do not provide any details for its analysis. Rather they expose the fundamental condition of this reality by giving form to the failure of photography with regard to its claims to comprehensive representation.

Ulrich Loock, Thomas Struth's Photographs. From Israel/Palestine in Thomas Struth, Mack, London 2014

Ride, Anaheim 2013

chromogenic print
218 x 331,3 cm
edition of 6

Visionary airs and symbolic extremes were thus of as little interest to Struth as metaphoric accumulation, radical alienation and „spectacular“ transformation. On the contrary, from the outset he has been driven by the urge to grapple at the most fundamental level with the act of seeing and its meaning – always in the knowledge that in any photograph reality is reduced to visual phenomena and signs. This, not least, accounts for the fact that Thomas Struth has largely remained faithful to analogue photography. In his view, he would gain nothing, indeed he would only lose from digital manipulation. This also cuts out the possibility of compiling images from different sources in order to create something new, a fictive image in which the correlation to reality is largely unverifiable. Consequently his own work, as he sees it, occupies a force field located between passionate commitment and the urge to allow his subject matter to speak for itself. And this may very well mean that in certain circumstances Struth edits together a sequence of separate shots in order to attain the widest possible angle of vision.

Armin Zweite, ... a certain sense of placelessness … . Thomas Struth between Seoul, Cape Canaveral, Garching and Greifswald in Thomas Struth. Photographs 1978-2010, Schirmer/Mosel, Munich 2010

Aquarium, Atlanta 2013

chromogenic print
207,5 x 357 cm
edition of 6

That a photograph per se cannot mediate an exact likeness of reality, and thus cannot be regarded as objective, is largely accepted nowadays. Thomas Struth shares this view, only he also casts it in a political light: „Just as it is not possible to take photographs 'objectively', and any approach is innately subjective, it is also innately political. Unpolitical practically doesn't exist.“ Because this could only be clarified with reference to individual cases, it is not possible here to go into the actual consequences of this view, nor is it possible to explore the ensuing implications for the evaluation of the reality content of the photographs. One might assume, for instance, that an artist's photographs communicate visual moments, experiences and insights that correspond to reality, or rather differently, that – after decades of being swamped with photographic images – we have got into the habit of only being able to see reality as it is presented to us in photographs.

Armin Zweite, ... a certain sense of placelessness … . Thomas Struth between Seoul, Cape Canaveral, Garching and Greifswald in Thomas Struth. Photographs 1978-2010, Schirmer/Mosel, Munich 2010