Recurring Themes

Thomas Struth belongs to a group of artists known as the School of Düsseldorf. In 1976, Bernd Becher—who taught with his partner Hilla Becher—was awarded the first Chair of Photography at the Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf. A number of their students have become artists of international renown today, including Andreas Gursky, Candida Höfer, Thomas Ruff, and Struth himself. The Bechers were characterized by a liberal and heterogeneous practice, with clear, black-and white images, and seriality as one of the most outstanding features.

With their teaching as a base, Struth structures his own concerns into different groups of works dealing with different themes, such as the cities in Unconscious Places, families in Family Portraits, or technology and the
created landscape in Nature & Politics. At first glance, these works may seem disconnected, but after working on different pieces, Struth often finds new resonances between new themes and previous ones. He often revisits earlier topics, and it may take him years to finish them. For example, he created his first New York photographs at the end of the 1970s while the latest photographs of Jerusalem were taken in the 2010s. Working in series happens almost spontaneously in the arts, since it allows the artist to develop the theme over time. Struth’s themes are cumulative and mostly open.

Struth composes his photographs as if they were paintings. Let’s take a moment to think about what it is that ultimately transcends all the works within a similar theme. What is the question that the artist tries to answer through these very different works?

When organizing his exhibitions, in deciding the final composition of his works, Struth also stablishes a musical analogy:

“I often think of exhibitions as music pieces: you have themes, variations, and contrasts… There has to be moments for quietness and dynamism distributed in the exhibition space.”

He has also stated the following:

“Pictures of street scenes, on the other hand—I’m not sure I’ll ever do that again, or photograph the jungle... I won’t work in museums anymore, either, and the technology pictures will also surely come to an end sometime. But the family portraits, that’s something... Families are just always very interesting.”