Thomas Struth @ the Whitechapel Gallery

Former Düsseldorf Academy student Thomas Struth’s photography work can currently be seen in Photographs 1978 – 2010 at the Whitechapel Gallery, London. Born in 1954 the show is a retrospective of his work, showing a range of subjects from his black & white empty streetscapes to busy museums to Paradise’s and families around the world.

The Whitechapel being a ‘smaller gallery’ for the show, the selection was cut from 120 works to what appears in the space, apparently featuring a higher proportion of his newer works than previous destinations – like at K20 Grabbeplatz which had more than 60,000 visitors.

(Eleonor and Giles Robertson, Edinburgh, 1987)

I recently attended a talk about his work. Here’s some notes of things I found interesting:

  • He likes the temporariness of Tokyo.
  • He had to be decisive at his shoot with Queen Elizabeth II & Prince Philip as usually he can spend all day with his subjects.
  • He has no current interest in going back to the same place twice – he says he is not documenting as evidence.
  • In terms of progress he believes that you ‘need to look backward before you can go forward’ and that there are two forms – technical and social-political progress.
  • The works in his Paradise series were named chronologically – so Paradise 1 (from Daintree/Australia) was taken first.
  • One of the first things that Bernd Becher said to him was ‘you have to notice who your friends are.’
  • He had tests of his work done small and large to see which ones he preferred.
  • He never used Photoshop, but now that he prints digitally he tends to play with saturation, lightening shadows and removing reflections.

Though I love his landscapes I was most captivated with some of his family portraits. It all started with the Johnstons who he stayed with in Edinburgh for three weeks. Another family – the Robertsons – involved a longer process of talking to them over time and showing them contact sheets of other shoots he had done. He finally photographed them after a lunch when he sent everyone else sent off on a walk. One family he photographed again at their request, but he found he preferred the images from that second shoot and that the narrative changes completely. They all fit quite nicely into one of the upstairs spaces.

Also featured in the show is newer work. This work shows his fascination with technology and architecture visiting destinations like the Kennedy Space Center, a nuclear fusion reactor and a submersible rig in South Korea (which he said reminds him of Gulliver from Gulliver’s Travels.)

Following the Paul Graham’s retrospective in the same location, it’s a must-see show with its large prints and a variety of subject matter. It only opened last week so can be viewed until the 16th September 2011. Tickets are: £9.50/£7.50 concessions (incl. Gift Aid donation) £8.50/£6.50 (excl. Gift Aid). Whilst you’re there you can also go and visit Government Art Collection: At Work

Some links for Thomas Struth:



Documentary Photography Grad Show


This year’s Doc Phoc Grad Show will be in Victoria



see you there.