Photographer Thomas Struth: “My work is about the theatre of life.” | Louisiana Channel

We met great German photographer Thomas Struth for an in-depth conversation about his works, career and view on life.

“You have to have a reason. That’s the starting point. It has to come from within. You cannot calculate art. I mean, you can. But then it will not survive.”

Struth started as a painter and studied at the famous Düsseldorf Academy under Gerhard Richter.

“Artists work independently. From when I was 13 years old, I could not imagine working in an environment where somebody else would tell me what to do. I wanted to make my own decisions.”

Already as a student, Struth discovered his interest in photography and switched departments to study under Hilla and Bernd Becher.

“I pointed my camera at things that were covered and could not be seen clearly. Showing something others don’t see is a principal idea of art.”

An early scholarship brought Struth to New York, where he photographed his famous empty street pictures and sold his first works ever. Here, he also became aware of the enormous difference in attitude between post-war Germany and the United States:

“In New York, I experienced generous, liberal behaviour of people. In Düsseldorf, people often came up to me and asked: ‘Who gave you permission to do this? Who gave you permission to set the camera here?’ Just normal citizens. Whereas people in New York would come up to me asking what I was doing, and when I told them, they would say: ‘This is fantastic.’ It was a very rewarding time.”

Ever since, Struth has travelled the world and devoted himself to numerous projects – from family portraits over the series of museum pictures to images of more technical surroundings in recent years, just to mention a few.

“For a particular moment, I can devote myself to what I look at. I can become like a chameleon and become this place. In that respect, photography has the ability to bring places together that are not even close to each other. You talk about the other existence, the other mentality, the other time, the other people, the other identity that is not mine.”

“Now, I am very much under the impression of what has been going on politically during the last few years. It was very intentional that during the Trump years, I wanted to show the dead animals photographs for the first time in New York. Because I felt it was important to remind people that we all have to die. Also the bad people will die. It will not last forever.”

Summing up his long career and devotion to the power of images, Struth concludes:
“Pictures can be like batteries. All the love, devotion, and intuition that went into the picture is like a battery. And when you look at it, it gives you energy. The energy jumps over and becomes nourishing.”

Thomas Struth was born in 1954 in Geldern, Germany and studied at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf. He was part of the first generation of artists to study photography with Bernd and Hilla Becher. Comprehensive solo exhibitions of Struth’s work have been presented at institutions including the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, The Tokyo National Museum of Modern Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Museo del Prado in Madrid, the Museum Folkwang in Essen and Haus der Kunst in Munich. Between 1993-1996 Struth was the first Professor of Photography at the Staatliche Hochschule für Gestaltung in Karlsruhe. Struth was awarded the Spectrum International Prize for Photography by Kulturstiftung Lower Saxony. He is an Honorary Fellow of The Royal Photographic Society and a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Struth’s work is featured in various public art collections, including Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich, the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, the Tate Gallery, London, the Galleria d’Accademia, Florence, the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. The artist lives in Berlin.

Thomas Struth was interviewed by Marc-Christoph Wagner in November 2022. The interview took place in Struth’s studio in Berlin, Germany.

Camera: Simon Weyhe
Edited by: Helle Pagter
Produced by: Marc-Christoph Wagner
Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2023

Louisiana Channel is supported by Den A.P. Møllerske Støttefond, Ny Carlsbergfondet and C.L. Davids Fond og Samling.

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