Saturday, 16 July 2011

Thomas Struth: Photographs 1978-2010....

....Kel & I visited the Whitechapel today for this show. Having written about Struth as part of my dissertation, (he one of the Dusseldorf school tutored by the brilliant Bechers'), I was very excited to see the exhibition announced.

Despite his vast body of work, the show is incredibly accessible and none too exhaustive. I'd usually say this is a good thing, but I could have happily walked around a whole lot more.

Thomas Struth

Struth's photographs are, more often than not, huge. Vast formats of intense colour and pristine detail. They swallow you up, suck you in, literally put you in the frame. Contemporary photography is often criticised for adopting this technique, (of size over substance), to hide the fact that the content is not at all interesting. This is not the case with Thomas Struth.

The exhibition showcases a range of projects, over a 32 year period. In the Family Portrait series, Struth encourages his subjects to assemble themselves how they want, with the only direction to look straight in to camera. Whilst this seems simple, it unwittingly portrays a lot about each family, their relationship and lifestyle.

The Smith Family, Fife, Scotland, 1989

Struth's studies of cities, largely taken in the 90s and in black & white, (the only monochromatic images in the show), are ghost-like studies, each with a beautiful depth of field. They seem to act more as documentation of the city, a frozen moment that would then be lost. And with that, they're absorbing.

In more recent work, Struth achieves his goal of 'wanting to be the eyes of a painting, looking out at all those people who are looking at it'. To realise this, he visited National Galleries and historic sites around the world and photographed tourists gawping at works of art, oblivious to the photographer's presence.

And in even newer work, 'Paradise', Struth has set up more of an installation - four vast images taken in dense Asian jungle foliage, hang on each wall that surround you. Once again, you're there. Consumed in the shot. The images have nothing to read in to - we're invited to determine from them what we choose, whether that be a certain paradise, or in fact a dense hell.

It is well worth a visit - even if you're not a photography fan, there is plenty to admire. But if you are, then it's a given.

Another exhibit of note, within the Whitechapel's grandiose Gallery 2, is that of Fred Sandback. I found this all the more rewarding, as it is an artist I had never heard of before. Trained as an architect, Sandback creates installations, using acrylic yarn, that produce what is effectively a 3d drawing.

One of Fred Sandback's installations at Whitechapel

Precise and perfectly realised, they act as an installation, but also an architectural structure, that can be walked around and through. Beautifully constructed and so simple, I loved it.

I also appreciated the examples of poster artwork, with detailed drawings and well thought typography that he created for each of his past shows. And, despite his books now being out of print, I managed to track one down and purchase it, before it was too late!

Go as soon as you can.

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