Thomas Struth’s Nature & Politics

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With Nature & Politics, Thomas Struth told BJP back in 2017, he hopes to “open doors to what our minds have materialised and transformed into sculpture, and to scrutinise what our contemporary world creates in places which are not accessible to most people”. Shot at industrial sites and scientific research centres throughout the world over the last 10 years, the large-scale colour images show the strange contraptions created at the cutting-edge of technology.

But these images also, he told BJP, say something about his own relationship to the world, and the place in which he finds himself at this particular point in time. “I am an observer and participant in contemporary culture, and what matters to me is that I can only being something new depending on my situation in my own life,” he said. “When I was at school, 1984 seemed like a futuristic date. To have reached the age of 62 feels incredibly strange and choking, and to acknowledge the reality that I have perhaps 20 or 25 years left. There are complex evaluations that play a role in what I am attracted to, and I try to find the pictorial equivalent.”

Chemistry Fume Cabinet, The University of Edinburgh, 2010 © Thomas Struth

Born in 1954 in Germany, Struth went to the Düsseldorf Academy from 1973 until 1980, studying painting under Gerhard Richter and then, from 1976, joining the first year of the new – and now legendary – photography class run by Bernd and Hilla Becher. Along with fellow classmates Candida Höfer, Thomas Ruff, and Axel Hütte (and later Andreas Gursky), he became associated with a conceptual take on photography drawing on the Neue Sachlichkeit movement from 1920s Germany.

“The Bechers were open and discursive,” Struth told BJP. “They encouraged a wide-ranging reflection extending from the practice of photography out into the world. By the very nature of photography, the choice of subject is always related to other issues. The Bechers made connections between different fields – literature, politics, economics, painting and film; between Proust and Atget, for example, or the technical development of the blast furnace and its social and historical contexts.”

Nature & Politics by Thomas Struth is on show at MAST.PHOTOGALLERY until 22 April. MAST Foundation, via Speranza 42, I-40133 Bologna, CF 91361890378 Thomas Struth was interviewed by BJP for the July 2017 issue. 

Grazing Incidence Spectrometer, Max Planck IPP, Garching, 2010 © Thomas Struth
Golems Playground, Georgia Tech, Atlanta, 2013 © Thomas Struth
GRACE-Follow-On Bottom View, IABG, Ottobrunn, 2017 © Thomas Struth
Bronchial Tree with Support Structure, MMM, Wildau 2016 © Thomas Struth
Sorghum, Danforth Plant Science Center, St Louis 2017 © Thomas Struth
Diane Smyth

Diane Smyth is a freelance journalist who contributes to publications such as The Guardian, The Observer, The FT Weekend Magazine, Creative Review, The Calvert Journal, Aperture, FOAM, IMA, Aesthetica and Apollo Magazine. Prior to going freelance, she wrote and edited at BJP for 15 years. She has also curated exhibitions for institutions such as The Photographers Gallery and Lianzhou Foto Festival. You can follow her on instagram @dismy