Thomas Struth at the Whitechapel Gallery in London

By Silvia Vatta on September 9, 2011 in Place Not Place

Since when I went to University, I love a certain kind of photography. I mean the one that is able to look at things objectively, that slams the world in your face with offish gaze, with an aseptic but at the same time personal point of view. Quite a hard kind of photography to many, but to me, just beautiful.

For this reason, the School of Düsseldorf photographers – avant-garde born in 1976 and founded by Bernard and Hilla Becher – has always given to me everything I wanted in a picture with a sharp simplicity. I love the seriality of architectural subjects by Becher and the social spaces by Candida Höfer. She portrayed public spaces, such as museums, libraries and offices, in synthesis architectures narrating real places and real human experiences, but – and this is the main point of her art – without showing any human beings.

I liked them because these pictures deeply reflect on the place, the place looked, lived, the aesthetics of it, an empty place without “us”, but at the same time referring to and recalling “us”.

The place where I live, London, made me this summer a nice surprise: the Whitechapel Gallery has been hosting an exhibition by the German photographer Thomas Struth, one of the most brilliant and young members of the School of Düsseldorf.

He caught my attention with the pictures that made him famous, images of visitors in a museum, observers lost in the fascination of the most important masterpieces in the world. The place dedicated to art par excellence – the museum – up to now just the object containing art, turns to be the subject.

In this exhibition (still on in London until September 16th) we can see more than 20 years of Struth’s career – 1978/2000 – through his twisted visions of industrial technologies, almost always empty spaces that just evoke the human presence, moving to an equally intricate tangle of jungle – the series Paradise - one of the most recent works and the most unexpected, even though I would say at the end predictable. What I like the most in this latest series is that Struth gives space to the apparently uncontrolled nature encapsulating it in an highly precise architectural space. In this sense I can see a paradox and an open question about the essence of a place.


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