Biography. Thomas Struth
Thomas Struth was born in 1954 in Geldern, (Lower Rhine) Germany. He attended the Academy of Fine Arts Düsseldorf from 1973-1980. In 1978 he was the first artist in residence at P.S. 1 Studios, Long Island City. From 1993 to 1996 he was the first Professor of Photography at the newly founded Hochschule für Gestaltung, Karlsruhe. Struth was awarded the Spectrum International Prize for Photography, Stiftung Niedersachsen, Germany in 1997-1998.
Since the late 1970's, Thomas Struth has been internationally recognized for his photographs of cities, landscapes, portraits and architectural interiors. Struth's work considers how photography can at once engage and challenge the history of the medium and its traditional genres, as well as its role in contemporary art, and its function within a highly mediated , broader cultural context. Trained first in painting, he first took up photography in 1974 while a student at the Düsseldorf Academy where he studied with Gerhard Richter and since 1976 under Bernd Becher. During his studies with the Bechers, Struth was influenced by the idea of using a typological method in the study of the urban environment. However, although rigorous, his method was different from a strictly conceptual method inspired by the idea ofinventory.
First photographing people in the streets of Düsseldorf, and other cities, from 1974 to 1977, he later drew on this experience in an early body of work, the black and white cityscapes, taken with a large-format camera, which he began in 1977. An early example of these urban black and white images, in which architecture becomes the bearer of the world's histories past and present, is Crosby Street, New York, 1978 (Fig. 1). Many New York street scenes followed in 1978 while Struth was living there as an artist in residence.
He used a central point perspective that seems anonymous, as if the pictures arose from the camera's capacity to make clear, detailed records of the world. “I'm interested in photographs that have no personal signature, “ he declared in 1978. Absent of anecdote and incident, each street unfolds in its unique way, the difference between them - in structure, history, texture, and mood - becomes evident.
Photographs of New York were followed by cityscapes taken all over the world: Rome Campo dei Fiori, Rome, 1984, Bruselles, Geneva, Paris Rue de Beaugrenelle, Paris, 1979, Hannover, London, but also Yamaguchi, Tokyo Shinjuku-ku TDK, 1986, (fig. 2), Bejing and Wuhan and, more recently, Dallas Dallas Parking Lot, Dallas, 2001, (fig. 3) and Sao Paolo. Slowly, color was introduced and, starting with the Japanese and Chinese street-scenes in the early 90's, Struth began to allow people to re-appear in his photos, as in Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, 1991 or in Tien An Men, Bejing, 1997.
Early portraits of family and friends, which he began in 1983, launched a series of psychologically oriented (family) portraits in 1986, for example The Bernstein Family, Mündersbach, 1990 (fig. 4) or the later Ma Yue Liang (Seated), Shanghai, 1996. The origin of these portraits is quite unusual as it lies in a collaborative project Struth embarked upon with his friend and analyst, Ingo Hartmann, who encouraged his patients to collect and study family snapshots. Struth wanted to see what meaning could be read from photographs, and how the images conveyed these messages. It followed that the artist began to make his own portraits of families and individuals, sometimes fellow artists - images that emerged from months and sometimes years of on-off discussion in which the artist and subjects he knew well together developed precisely how they wished to be seen.
Struth's practice is essentially an investigative process of trying to comprehend and portray the connections and relationships that condition our experience of viewing the world. His work is characterized by an oblique vantage point and a clarity and neutrality which permits the universal subject to speak. In the past decade, Struth has worked in a variety of genres: flower 'still-lives', his museum pictures (1989-2004), and vast landscapes, including the Paradise pictures (1998-2001)-dense virgin forests in Brazil, Japan, China, Australia, and Germany; and also landscapes of the American West. The Museum photographs were preceded by two images, the portrait of the late Giles Robertson(with book), Edingburgh 1985 and the The Restorers in San Lorenzo, Naples 1988. (fig. 5). This first museum image was smaller in scale than the subsequent museum photographs, which double our own experience in front of the work of art. Since 1989, Struth's museum pictures, such as National Gallery 1, London, 1989, or Art Institute of Chicago II, Chicago 1990 (fig. 6), have depicted architectural monuments and museum interiors – rooms of history - in relation to their audience, in which the subjects themselves become the portrait.
In images like National Museum of Art, Tokyo, 1999 (fig. 7), or the older Stanze di Raffaelo 2, Rome, 1990, he focuses on more evident sites of cultural tourism, and yet the tourists themselves retain their integrity through Struth's characteristically detached and yet somehow symphatetic lens. In one of his newest bodies of work, Pergamon I-VI, 2001, (fig. 8) Struth continued his timeless portraits of human identity in relation to the past and to their places of representation. This was the first extensive series of photographs devoted to a single location, namely the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, which had become accessible again only after the collapse of the Berlin Wall.
In contrast, Struth began his landscape photographs in 1991 with a commission for a private hospital in Winterthur, Switzerland, for which he created a series of intimate small-scale photos of flowers of the surrounding landscape, which were placed in the patients' rooms, such as Garten am Lindberg, Winterthur 1991 (fig. 9). From this initial foray, his interest in nature as subject culminated in the Paradise series (1998 - 2001) (fig. 10). These large-scale photos depict aboriginal forests in Australia, Japan and Southwest China - landscapes largely unaltered by human intervention. More recent works present an odd hybrid of nature and culture, taking us into a place where the technology of the present becomes an overall landscape, such as in El Capitan, Yosemite National Park, California, 1999 or in the slightly older in Wushan, Yangtse Gorge, China, 2(fig. 11).
Thomas Struth's work has been exhibited widely in Europe and the United States at such institutions as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Dallas Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Sprengel Museum, Hannover; Carré d'Art, Nîmes; Kunstmuseum, Bonn; Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto; The Institute of Contemporary Art, London; Museum Haus Lange, Krefeld; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington; the Renaissance Society, Chicago; the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; and Portikus, Frankfurt. His work has also been exhibited at Documenta IX, Kassel; the Carnegie International, Pittsburgh, and the Skulptur Projecte Münster 87, Münster. In 2000-2001, a retrospective of his work, Thomas Struth: My Portrait, was shown at the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, and the National Museum of Art, Kyoto, Japan.