Thomas Struth (b. 1954, Geldern, Germany) is a contemporary photographer, who works on various subject matters ranging from cityscapes, natural landscapes to intimate portraits, different aspects and scenes of our society. As a student at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, Struth closely interacted with and was influenced by Andreas Gursky, Gerhard Richter, Bernd and Hilla Becher, whose methodological approaches in photography shaped young Struth’s interests in the potential role of photography and what it can capture and convey.
His earlier works from the 1970s show cityscapes and architectural structures. While the works’ compositional symmetry and stability (resonating the tradition of linear perspective) as well as topographical details may be familiar to the viewers, the disquieting silence and ghostly emptiness that are eternally frozen in time convey absence of motion, sound and people. The works were presented at his first solo exhibition at P.S. 1, Institute for Art and Urban Resources (present-day MoMA P.S. 1) in New York (1978), followed by similar series in Paris (1979), Rome (1984), Edinburgh (1985), and Tokyo (1986) among many other places.
Struth then began to produce portraits of individuals and families from the mid-1980s. As he believes that photography could be “a tool of scientific origin for psychological exploration,” he continues to explore the underlying social dynamics within a seemingly still photograph. Furthermore, the artist questions the relationship between the seer and the seen, as the figures in the works boldly stare at and thus directly engage with the viewers, as if they are aware of their potential spectators.
One of the best-known series from the 90s, Museum Photographs (1989-92), is a continuation of Struth’s interest in the relationship between seeing and being seen, and the dynamics between architectural space and people. Capturing visitors in the worldly-renowned museums looking at the canonical works in the Western art history, Struth “makes viewers ... aware of their own active participation in the completion of the work's meaning, not as passive consumers but as re-interpreters of the past.”
Struth’s recent projects focus on technical and industrial environments, show how they unconsciously dominate and influence the modern lifestyle, and address the resulting reality where important social and political issues are neglected.
Struth's work has been widely shown in solo and group exhibitions, amongst them the 44th Venice Biennale (1990) and Documenta IX (1992) at Kassel. Other major institutions around the world include Kunsthalle Bern; Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston; Carré d’Art, Musée d’Art Contemporain, Nîmes; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid; Kunsthaus Zürich; Museum Folkwang, Essen; High Museum of Art, Atlanta; and Haus der Kunst, Munich.
Struth lives and works in Berlin, Düsseldorf, Germany, and New York, USA.