The Photograph Five

Thomas Struth

July 1, 2024

The German photographer Thomas Struth, a student of Bernd and Hilla Becher in the late 1970s, is known for his large-scale observational photographs: his Museum series, from the late 1980s and 1990s, of people visiting museums and other cultural sites, or his wall-sized architectural studies in places like Las Vegas or Times Square. In 2007, he began working on the series Nature & Politics, photographing at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), the world’s largest particle-physics center, and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW), both of which are inaccessible to the general public. Through July 26, the Marian Goodman Gallery in Paris is showing works from that series, which include immersive, panoramic views of rooms containing intricate, often chaotic-looking technological structures at CERN, as well as smaller-scale photographs of containers holding temporarily discarded jumbles of material that may be used in future experiments. Also on view: portraits of animals from the Leibniz Institute, where the animals are dissected to uncover the cause of death in order to examine the impact of climate change on various species. “These images should be like punches,” he has said, “the memory of death like a wake-up call.”

Thomas Struth answered five questions from photograph:

Domingo Milella, La Pasiega, Finale, Spain, 2016. Courtesy the artist

Name a photograph that brings you joy

I’m fond of the photographs by the Italian photographer Domingo Milella, who undertook amazing efforts to delve into ancient caves in Italy, France, and Spain to bring the drawings to the surface in his photographs. I came to know Domingo during a class I gave some 20 years ago at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in Florida and have been following his development ever since. His honesty, patience, and philosophical eye work well together. 

Cover of Walker Evans: First and Last

Favorite photo book: 

Walker Evans: First and Last [Harper & Row, 1978]. Walker Evans is one of my favorite artists of all time. This particular book, which I acquired when I was 21, with its mesmerizing sequence of photographs, with no text but a list of titles in the back, kept me fascinated for decades. Who was this person who captured such different subject matter with the same dignity? His empathy, his ability to turn what he saw into compositions of quasi-musical quality, always keeps me wondering. It certainly sharpened my reading of photographs.

Constantin Brancusi, La Muse endormie, 1910. ©Succession Brancusi, Adagp Paris 2024.

Last exhibition you saw:

To install and open my first solo exhibition after 20 years at Galerie Marian Goodman in Paris, I traveled to Paris in May. The exhibition Brancusi at the Centre Pompidou was incredibly well done. It was comprehensive in every detail. From handwritten correspondence with Stieglitz, to a short footage with artist friends at a studio party, to countless photographs which the artists had made of his own sculptures to analyze their most perfect angle, one could experience the artist and the man in general, in an unusual manner. 

I also had a tour of the exhibition Le monde comme il va, by its curator Jean-Marie Gallais at the Bourse de Commerce. The Pinault Collection is absolutely stunning and a visit to the Bourse is always worthwhile. 

Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara in “Water Moon” Form (Shuiyue Guanyin), 11th century, China, Liao dynasty (907–1125). ©The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Favorite work of art that’s not a photograph

The room with large Buddhist sculptures from China and Japan at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York – time and again! 

Wols, Schlafende am Quai der Seine, 1930s. Courtesy Galerie Karsten Greve

Name a photographer who has influenced you:

There are actually two: Eugène Atget and Wols (the painter Wolfgang Schulze’s photographs). Atget’s photographs of architecture and street scenes have affected me from the very beginning. And I totally agree with Wols’s point of view: “In the act of seeing, one should not fixate upon what could be made of what one sees. One should see what actually is.”