thomas struth: photographs 1978 – 2010 – the whitechapel gallery

20 July 2011 § Leave a comment

Thomas Struth seems to photograph structures – cultural, natural, artificial, historical and probably lots more I’ve not even noticed. Except he does not always. You could also say his work is about relationships. And its also about the nature of looking. And… well, the thing is, just when you think you have put your finger on exactly what you believe Struth is doing it slips away from you. There is always just a litttle bit more than meets the eye.

This retrotrospective at the Whitechapel looks at his work from 1978 to the present day – effectively his whole working career. Given the 30 years or so covered and the vast scale of many of his works the show barely skims over the surface but despite this you do not feel short-changed – this is a well curated and wide-ranging overview of his work.

Learning his trade under the influential tutelage of Berndt and Hilla Becher Struth began taking small scale city shots, absent of people in places like Dusseldorf and New York and by photographing similar scenes he emphasies their differences. Soon the images become monumental and large scale. In one series he captures both museum visitors and artworks examining not just one but both of them as well as their relationships to each other. The curve-ball he throws in is our position as observers – what are we doing, what are we looking at and why?

Back to the structures. There are cathedrals and places or worship, tangles of wires and industrial scenes, jungles and forests. All in immaculate detail, verticals miraculously straight (how does he do it?). They are often beautiful, impressive and aesthetically pleasing, but there are always more questions being asked – what are we being asked about the nature of religion or the role of technology?

Even when Struth takes what appear to be straight-forward family snapshots they are not quite what they seem.  It turns out that the subjects arrange themselves in a location also chosen by themselves. These shots are more then about family structures and personal relationships than a simple photographic record.

An impressively curated show about a very important artist. Do not miss. Another recommendation? The little curry house on the corner does a great lunch….

Until 16 September 2011 at the Whitechapel Gallery

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