Thomas Struth Retrospective – Whitechapel Gallery

It’s taken me five days to come to terms with what I saw last Saturday, 3rd September, at the Whitechapel Gallery when I, along with about thirty others, went along to see the Thomas Struth Retrospective exhibition. Why? Well, it’s quite mind-blowing.

You’re met with two, side-by-side, giant images from the ‘Audience’ series, of members of the public viewing Michelangelo’s sculpture ‘David’.  Totally unaware that they’re being photographed they stand there in awe of this masterpiece.  Now I don’t know that I was in awe of the subject matter of these two images, but I was in awe of their size and presence, they really are impressive.  Apparently Struth himself chose to open the exhibition with these images and there are a further fourteen similar somewhere else, not in this exhibition I might add.

Moving around the panel to the first hall proper, a series of similarly large images are hung.  Three images from three cities, Tiananmen Square, Las Vegas and Times Square, which although images appear regularly enough for them to be instantly recognisable, these three really ensure that if you’ve not been there in person you certainly feel as if you have when you view these, and the detail their size enable the viewer to study is amazing.

Like many others I was impressed by the images of the insides of cathedrals and places of worship, particularly the Parthenon, but I was left a little cold by the images of detailed engineering works.  They seemed to me to be images that would really appear in New Scientist, or some other similar journal, and I was unable to relate to them.

Moving up and into the ‘Paradise’ series was a revelation.  Everyone went quiet as they saw these images for the first time and the room remained virtually noise free all the time I studied these four photographs.  Even by the size of the rest of the images in the exhibition, these four are enormous, and made my spirits really lift to find that an artist whose style is apparently modernly eclectic, can also find natural subjects with such impact.

The final images of streets from various cities, shot in black & white, from dead centre of each road, without people were not to my taste and only confirmed that apart from some minor aesthetic differences in architectural style and vehicle design, all cities are essentially the same; maybe this was the point, who knows?

So what did I get out of it all?  It made me realise that photographs of this genre need the scale of an exhibition like this to bring them to real life as I always find that the smaller images impart a sense of ‘so what?’ to me, whereas these giant images show that detail makes the art come to life, and you really can see detail in this size of photograph.  Does it make me appreciate this genre any more than I did?  Only if it can be viewed at this size, and let’s face it, it’s not going to be very often that can happen.  Was it a worthwhile exercise to go?  Yes, it changed my attitude toward art that doesn’t come from the romantic style I’m more used to, so a step further along the art appreciation path has been made and a small conversion has happened.


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