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Thomas Struth, "Har Homa, East Jerusalem" (2009, inkjet print), 148.6 x 185 cm


In Conversation with Thomas Struth

By Muriel Perez

Photos Courtesy of the Aspen Art Museum


Acclaimed German artist Thomas Struth’s 18 monumental photographs of Israel and Palestine, six years in the making, are on view at the Aspen Art Museum until June 10.

During a walk-through at the Aspen Art Museum, Thomas Struth shared thoughts on his self-titled exhibition. 

When taking into account the political climates that exist among the Middle East, Struth’s photographs offer a unique point of view. “As an artist who has always been politically conscious and interested in the organization of society, I was not sure what it meant to work in a conflict zone, or if you can do justice to it at all," he shares. "Moral and ethical questions are impossible to avoid; you have to acknowledge social and political injustices in this area. ... You can only look at a landscape as a potential location for human experience ... a landscape doesn’t need me, you or anybody. It becomes interesting if it can be the ground plan for human experience, projection or desire.”

The image above, "Har Homa, East Jerusalem," captures a space between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. It reminds him of a painting he saw in Vienna. He found the image bizarre and unfitting; it looked like a castle. He went back to this spot repeatedly to find a solution. The result is part archaic landscape and development and progress. He finds the juxtaposition unbeatable.

Thomas Struth, "Front Yard, Tel Aviv" (2014, inkjet print), 90 x 125.8 cm

Struth feels that the strong blues and greens in "Front Yard, Tel Aviv" offer an expression of hope and persistence. When asked about his body of work being an ambassador of subject matter and certain messages, Struth responded by saying that he does not see art as being limited to an artistic reference. What it does in relation to X is not so much important. He urges the spectators of his work to look at a photograph in itself, by itself. Look at the circumstance from which the work was made—the country, continent, types of people. Pay attention to the context in which it was made and in which it is shown. This exhibition is received differently in Aspen than in Tel Aviv.

“What the exhibition space looks like is important to me. I pay attention to that,” he says. He enjoys the rectangular divisions that break apart Gallery 1 at the AAM. Some images are read left to right, right to left, or full frontal. The gallery space allows the curator to play with the way a spectator's eyes move. An audience should remember that exhibits are an experience for the artists as well. Many combinations were tested for this exhibit. He believes there really is only one answer to the puzzle—this is it.

Struth is well traveled and observant. When everything is new, he finds that his eyes are very clear. He relates this to experiencing a new place and learning how and what to photograph. He made a total of 60 photos throughout his trip, 18 of which were chosen for the all-encompassing exhibit. He claims that just as when one speaks too much and they lose momentum/weight, the same is true for a gallery with too many photos.

Thomas Struth, “Off Al-Shuhada Street 1, Al-Khalil/Hebron” (2009, inkjet print), 65.4 x 81.2 cm

In the exhibition, one wall features an image of a building at dawn. To Struth, dawn is a time to reconsider the day past. What did you do or not do? It is a time to ponder and reflect. Struth also feels that there is only one right time to capture the clouds. The sky can act as a salute to the narrative of an image. He often waits for hours to capture the sky when it is just right—for him. If the clouds in his images were different than what he chose, they would be completely different images.

On the topic of social media, Struth says he does not use it. When he hears his work was seen on Instragram, it makes him crazy. To him, it begs the question, "How are these images different to an Instagrammer who takes photos all of the time?" Those people probably view his work differently. If he tries to put himself in their eyes, he would feel this body of work is determined, stable. On the other hand, the exhibition is a small curation of photographs that allow for more critical subject matter. He says it is a gem.