Thomas Struth

Galerie Rudiger Schottle

This show was comprised of 21 photographs taken in Naples, Tokyo, and Rome. Thomas Struth’s photographs of Neapolitan streets do not correspond to our image of this city, for almost no one is to be seen in them. Like the photographer who fills books with pictures of significant architectural monuments, Struth arrives at his locations at dawn in order to experience the architecture in its pure state. His creative principle is rooted in an abstract, formal thinking. The edges of buildings are straightened by the large-format camera, and the viewpoint is selected in such a way as to produce compositions of planes that adhere to classical compositional principles. In his earlier works, Struth preferred a central perspective. In more recent pieces, however, the horizon keeps moving farther and farther to the side—or it is made almost invisible by the interlocking structures of the architectural planes, as in the Neapolitan pictures. Indeed, Naples must have been challenging to Struth, for it is difficult to find a viewpoint here that enables a photographer to articulate the architectural surfaces. Clotheslines, power lines, or TV antennas generally interfere with a homogeneous structuring. Nevertheless, Struth’s polished technique manages to freeze even these phenomena of uncontrolled reality in a photographic scale of grays and to integrate them into an ordered system.

In this manner, Struth emphasizes the relentless, machinelike nature of the camera. He attempts to exclude subjectivity as much as he can. Yet for him, an urban neighborhood has an identity that is manifested in specific buildings and architectural forms. In his work, Struth tries to strike a balance between the architectural features of a given area and his esthetic demand for a harmonious pictorial structure.

His pictures of Tokyo, for instance, evince none of the qualities usually found in travel guides. We can tell that this is Tokyo only because of the Japanese characters on signs. The specific nature of this cityscape is experienced on a second level of perception. We see a Tokyo with ugly postwar buildings, covered with advertisements. Because of the sharpness of Struth’s photographs, the details almost invite the viewer’s eye to grope along every part of the overall image, every cluster of buildings, indeed every single detail.When Struth photographs Rome, the results are altogether different from, say, Gunther Förg’s architectural photographs of the same city. In Struth’s pictures, technique is paramount in importance. He focuses again here on quotidian reality.

This emphasis on craft may be seen as conservative, for Struth never challenges the representational ability or documentary possibilities of photography. Yet Struth makes this conservativeness work for him.

Justin Hoffman

Translated from the German by Joachim Neugroschel.