Thomas Struth

Thomas Struth

“A scan of a family moment in time, like opening a novel to a particular page and reading only that page.”


The Felsenfeld / Gold Families, Philadelphia (detail), 2007
179,2 x 217,0 cm
Courtesy the artist and Galerie Rüdiger Schöttle, München
© Thomas Struth

The series Familienleben is a sort of fil rouge in the artistic career of the German photographer. None of these artworks is commissioned or planned: they are all generated from relationships with friends, acquaintances, and colleagues, with whom he decides to create a portrait in the context of the most immediate and indispensable reference, that of their own families. Struth leaves the choice of the photograph’s location to the family, which is almost always inside their home. The subjects also decide on their positioning, and they are asked to look straight at the camera and to remain perfectly still and concentrated. Each photograph puts forth the self-representation of a family that chooses to publicly show its own image from within its own private world but one that also assumes a strong exemplary quality.

The fact that Struth prefers to use the term Familienleben (family lives) instead of Familienportraits (family portraits) is not accidental. Initiated as a scientific project with the German psychoanalyst Ingo Hartmann, who in 1982 asked the photographer to create a series of photographic portraits of different family contexts, Struth has created over sixty family portraits from 1985 to the present day. The series becomes a journey among geographical contexts, social conditions, and different cultural spheres but also a sort of large fresco where Struth is the subject, an experimental analysis of his relationships, friendships, and bonds.

Each image originates from the natural empathy among the subjects and from the solidarity that is generated between them and the photographer. The construction of each artwork nonetheless demonstrates a strong sense of formal control. There is not spontaneity, but instead a rigorous composition of colours and shapes that Struth employs in a dynamic of hierarchy, proximity and distances between the various figures. A typical element throughout Struth’s work is the photographic technique that focuses on every single detail in order to capture the looks and expressions of his subjects, their attire, and the space. Looking at the different images, one presumes to be able to recognize and identify the roles or the particular temperaments of the single members of each of the families. However these family compositions remain closed in on themselves, in their private spaces, with their own symbols and internal dynamics, at a distance impossible to bridge.

Thomas Struth (born 1954, Germany; lives and works in Düsseldorf) studied with Gerhard Richter and the Bechers at the Kunstakademie of Düsseldorf between 1973 and 1980. After his debut as a painter, in 1976 Struth moved to photography. The series of black and white photographs of urban landscapes was shot in New York in 1978. Presented the same year in his first solo exhibition at the P.S.1, this series inaugurates the artist’s later production in other cities throughout the world: Paris (1979), Rome (1984), Edinburgh (1985), and Tokyo (1986). In the 1980s, Struth began creating, in both colour and black and white, photographic portraits of individuals and families. In the 1990s, he focused on other types of subjects such as, natural landscapes of forests and jungles, and large architectural monuments and museums – places where a ritual-of-sight occurs. His style, besides the portrayed subject, is characterised by a defi nite control of forms and a clear focus on each detail. He is considered among the major exponents of German contemporary photography and his artworks are highly appreciated and exhibited throughout the world. In 1990, he was invited to participate in the Venice Biennale, and in 1992, in Documenta IX. His most recent retrospectives were held at: the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston (1994); the Carré d’Art Musée d’Art Contemporain in Nîmes (1998); the Dallas Museum of Art (2002); the Museum für Gegenwart in Berlin (2004); the Museo de Art de Lima (2005), and, Making Time, held at the Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid (2007); the Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Donna Regina in Naples (2008). His travelling retrospective, Thomas Struth 1978-2010, was held at the Kunsthaus in Zurich, the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen in Düsseldorf, the Whitechapel Gallery in London, and the Museu de Serralves in Porto. Among his most recent joint exhibitions are: in 2007, Der Hinmel auf Erden, Lehnbachhaus, Munich; in 2008, Museum as a Medium, MARCO–Museo de Arte Contemporanea, Vigo; in 2009, Horizons, Beyerle Foundation, Basel – Urban Spaces, Geography, Identity, Urbanism, Fundación Proa, Buenos Aires; in 2010, Dreamlands, Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; in 2011, Photography is Calling, Sprengel Museum, Hanover; in 2012, The Queen: Art and Image, National Portrait Gallery, London, Edinburgh, Belfast, and Cardiff – Intense Proximité, Palais de Tokyo, Paris; in 2013, AGES. Portraits vom Älterwerden, Die Photographische Sammlung / SK Stiftung Kultur, Cologne – How is the World? Recent Acquisitions of Contemporary Photography, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. – Concrete: Photography and Architecture, Jubilee Exhibition 1, Fotomuseum, Winterthur – Seduced by Art: Photography Past and Present, CaixaForum, Madrid and Barcelona – Gustave Caillebotte. Ein Impressionist und die Fotografi e, Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, The Hague.

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