Monday, 5 September 2011

Thomas Struth Exhibition

I've put off doing a write up on Struth because not quite sure how to frame what I wanted to say. Even now I'm not quite sure but if I let my fingers do the walking over the keyboard I guess I can add bits later, or amend in a few days when I finally get my head around it.

Introduced to Struth a while back his images never really spoke to me much, he is from the Dusseldorf Kunstakademie, tutored by Becher and it shows. Is that good or bad? Hmmmmmmm depends on how much you learn and then just duplicate or learn and move on from. I went along with an open mind hoping to be converted, as with some of Paul Graham's work. Some reviewers remark on how he captures people observing and therefore we connect with the people and places he portrays. I don't :o/ The monuments I agree are amazing, the tones are wonderful, but they do leave me cold. His earlier city scapes had definite overtones of Becher, even in the latest series there is a precise methodology to them.

The work was not exhibited in chronological order and jumped about in not only time but also subjects, maybe this was another reason I found no real coherence to his work, or had difficulty in trying to ascertain what his motives were. Possibly compounded by the fact only a few images from each series was shown.

His earlier work was typological, black and white shots of city streets with central focal points. They came across to me like a students portfolio, something which I think it was Clive also vocalised and this registered with the impression I got from them. For me there were feelings of deja vu, that I was looking at another photographers work, but not their best. His images seem to lack something I can't put my finger on. With other more recent exhibitions and other photographers, David Goldblatt to name one, there seemed to be a crispness about the black and white images that were lacking here. I got the overall impression of grey, and more grey, no real contrast.

Unable to post on my blog Clive elaborated more

'Struth is a contemporary of mine and when I saw that work I went straight to look at the date because I recognised it as being in the style we were shooting in as just graduated students, photography has its fashions, but with the difference that we would have been looking for something a little less deadpan.

Probably would have shot it, maybe even printed it, but decided not to use it.'

What I was trying put across was, as a student of the Bechers his earlier work still was very influenced by them,  as if he was still trying to find something different but not quite there.

Of the black and white images this one seemed to stand out for me. Maybe because it was a forerunner to the type of images he went onto produce; examining scale and perspective looking at the smaller detail within the images. This photograph was still produced in a small size and proved that bigger is not always better. You could see the details and it was tack sharp. I wasn't so overwhelmed by the size, I took my time to look, all I had to move was my eyes, rather than my entire head or feet.

I jotted down names and dates but none really stick out other than the famous Museum series, which were so much better 'in the flesh' than as small online thumbnails. Having said that I found myself questioning the overall quality of many of his prints; soft ,blurry, other nit picky things which the images didn't grab me enough to stand and look at long enough to work out quite what. Whilst appreciating that the motion blur worked with the museum scenes it was disconcerting to see in the family portraits.

Thomas Struth Pantheon Rome 1990
The technology series, came across as a jumble, I listened the the explanations of Pollokesque leanings, not wanting to have a centre of focus, (something that Meyeorwitz explored in his early street photography) our lack of understanding the image echoing the lack of comprehending how modern technology worked; even with the titles supplied do we really know what a Wendelstein 7-X Stellarator or Grazing Incidence Spectrometer is? His images didn't make me go WOW or want to rush to find out either. I found that sad. Other photographers seem to capture emotion as well as the high tech quality. Although Struths images did make me wonder how a jumble of objects looking as if they were thrown together worked it, was more the object itself I found fascinating rather than the way it was portrayed; clinical, no nonsense, it is what it is, which is Struths style to most of his subjects.

Grazing Incidence Spectrometer Thomas Struth
Taryn Simon
Dynamo III, Studying Magnetic Fields and Impending Pole Reversal

Taryn Simon Cryopreservation Unit 

Hoping that the Paradise images would be better than online and more inspiring, they were a disappointment too. Having said that there are possibly better images from the series had not been included. Once more they reminded me of things I had seen before and yet presented in a better way.

Paradise 27 Thomas Struth

Taryn Simon The Hoh Rain Forest

The Korean Semi Submersible Rig, 2007 was impressive, in the small thumbnail you don't appreciate the angles or perspective of the cables..., this reminded me of Burtynsky whose large scale prints seem to ask the questions what are we doing to the earth and mans relationship to the world with more humanity than Struth. I loved the humour on the Chemistry Frame Cupboard (however the humour belonged to the graffitti provided by the chemistry students rather than the photograph itself) so it wasn't all bad, but whereas other exhibitions have had me bouncing with this I felt deflated, a sense of 'and' 'so'?

Semi Submersible Rig DSME Shipyard Thomas Struth 2007

Going back to some of my scribbled notes I had intended to really take note of the intended use, situations faced by the photographer, were they planned or unplanned, technical details style and mannerisms. Due to the vast amount of images and the fact Struth tended to break his own rules, it was tricky to say even within series 'Struth always does this.' As Michael Lawton explained he never uses flash, but he did on Audience 2004 Florence, never stages his work, apart from the Pergamon Museum in Berlin where he drafted in 150 extras, never uses photoshop, but sometimes does ( although we were not told on which images) never takes commissioned portraits, they are always people he built a relationship with, oh apart from the Richter family and of course more recently Liz n Phil ;o)

As others have said maybe it was the size of the gallery, but don't think so, for some reason at this moment in time I cannot connect with Struth even if I can apprecate the muted tones of Tianaman 1997, or the minute figures in Times Square. Seeing other's describe his work with such high praise makes me feel I am missing his point... Does that make him unsuccessful? Well you can't please all of the people all of the time.

What did I take away from this? I only seem to write full notes if the images appeal, which is not a good thing and need to alter, that bigger isn't always better, I prefer other photographers, photographs mounted by means of bonding onto acrylic may have benefits; easy to clean, protects the image, enhances colour but can have the disadvantages of reflections of the lights and audience.Oh and that it doesn't matter how many long words you throw at the page in an interview or associated blurb, if I don't like it, I don't like it ;o)

Print out of on-line Struth review with my notes for learning log


  1. An honest assessment Jan. I liked the rig as well and the way that the anchor cables leap out from the image.


  2. Well written, Jan.

    Errol Sawyer