Thomas Struth

Thomas Struth, a German photographer who trained at the Dusseldorf Academy of Fine Arts (1973 - 80), was influenced by Bernd and Hilla Becher's industrial landscape images. Some of his first exhibited works included capturing the streets of Japan, Europe and America in black and white. Struth's photographs were highly structured, to show what was specific and yet unremarkable about urban space. Taken on large-format cameras, the people, who inhabited his cityscapes, were dwarfed almost to non-existence.

It was during the mid-1980s that Struth created a series of portraits of individuals, and family groups, having collaborated with the psychoanalyst Ingo Hartmann exploring family snapshots. He used a large-format camera to capture the character of the people in his images. Struth's studentship in fine art is echoed in his use of tonal colour and composition. His family portraits are not uniform in their arrangement, but undulate in the same way that families can haphazardly co-exist. 

During his interest in portraiture, Struth became interested in the Renaissance paintings and the gallery's that they were exhibited in. This interest led to his best known work, Museum Photographs, being produced. This series of images set up a relationship between the viewer and the paintings that were visible in the photograph. He refers to this body of work by saying that:

"My question was: how can you not be restless? I can now see that the same question seeped somehow into the work insofar as I was trying to take the restlessness from inside myself and put it into the pictures and on to the walls."
Struth

Thomas Struth's work reveals how the photographer is very much part of the picture, giving the viewer an insight into his own mind. As a photographer sometimes it is not until you are in the middle, or nearing the end of a project, that you fully understand the desire to create such photographs. It is only through embarking on long term studies that enables the photographer to give something of themselves to a body of work. Maybe this is where the line is drawn between the tourist snapshot and something with more intrinsic value. The tourist is documenting, recording their presence at a particular location at a very basic surface level. However Struth attempts to reveal the invisible feelings of restlessness, calm and strangeness. There always seems to be the viewer's need to know more about what is beyond the frame.

Struth considers a gallery to have a sense of an in between space. An environment where people rarely spend their time, and when they do they are unsure how to act acceptably.  

In an interview with O'Hagan (2011) Thomas Struth explains the motives for his photographs:

"For me, initially, the question was: how do you live with history? Then I began to ask: how is history embedded in the architecture of a city? How does a community represent itself in its architecture, truthfully or otherwise?"
Struth

Life is an endless pursuit, to not only find answers, but to also understand the questions we ask and our reasons for asking them. This exploration of how a place's history can impact on the people that live there today. It is something I would like to explore further in my fifth assignment. Photography is Struth's method of communicating what concerns him, both socially and politically. Subsequently  O'Hagan (2011) refers to him as a political artist. 

With photography banned in many art galleries, to be able to view photographs that have been so openly executed, is in itself quite unique. Interestingly, the difficulty in preventing visitors taking selfies on their smartphones in the National Gallery has led to a photography ban being lifted. If the attraction of 'stealing' a rare self-portrait in the gallery, to post on social media, becomes more commonplace, then maybe less people will be encouraged to do it.

 

References

http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/thomas-struth-2339

http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2011/jul/03/thomas-struth-interview-photography-whitechapel

http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/aug/15/selfie-portrait-artist-national-gallery-surrenders-to-internet