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Thomas Struth - Family Life at Die Photographische Sammlung
The Tilly Family, Cologne, 1989. © Thomas Struth

COLOGNE, GERMANY.- Die Photographische Sammlung will present Thomas Struth - Family Life, an exhibition by Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur, Cologne, in co-operation with the artist, on view 10 January - 20 April 2008. In the exhibition and book project Family Life by Thomas Struth, Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur is presenting an important thematic area within the artist's work, which he has been extending since 1985. For Struth (b. 1954), who studied at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf from 1973 to 1980, first with Gerhard Richter, then with Bernd and Hilla Becher, the work on the family portrait, alongside individual and two-person portraits forms an integral part of his multi-faceted spectrum of motifs. He does not develop one theme and then the next, series for series, but alternately and cyclically. In the process, he repeatedly subjects the individual images and sets of images in his archive (and it has now been growing for over 30 years, containing city, street and architectural views, landscapes, studies of nature, interior views of museums, churches and, accordingly, studies of viewers of/in these) to new approaches and critical sorting. This procedure itself attests to his general interest in developmental and perceptual processes, in the respectively different effect of interaction. In this regard, family portraits as a theme offers him an additional dimension.

Thomas Struth's family images were taken in various countries during travels in Scotland, England, Japan, Italy, Germany, China, America and Peru. The families he photographs belong primarily to groups with whom he has close contact in a personal or work environment, for example people he knows from the world of art and culture. In this way the photographs relate details about the artist himself as well as his social context, placing him at the same time within an international circle of acquaintances and work and thus indirectly forming a portrait of the artist himself. The creation of a family photograph is based on a clearly defined, yet casual process which can be spread over a number of meetings spaced far apart. Up to 60 negatives can be developed at one of these meetings, later a selection is made together, and only one of two photographs will be finally enlarged.

In each of his family pictures Struth aims to endow the group a unique face, created by the present moment, in which the histories and individual fates of those portrayed combine and focus. They reveal forms of life which are composed of hierarchical or neutralizing forces and temperaments, of joyful, sad, serious or hidden moods. The viewer may be able to recognize the relative stages of life from the portrait stills or typogrammes, which - even with a knowledge of the cultural or private background the signs are only decipherable to a certain extent – prove immensely stimulating, and offer directions for reflection and investigation. Struth's preference for the vitality of the title "Family Life" rather than "Family Portraits", which merely describes an object, is quite understandable. His use of this title forms a link to an early study on private family photos which, together with Ingo Hartmann, a psychoanalyst friend, he evaluated as to their expressive content, and now refers to with his own photographs.

With his desire for an unprejudiced and precisely depicted image, which not only provides information about the individual situation of those portrayed, but also provides historically relevant, undogmatic artistic signals about the creation and changes in station, relationship and personal interaction, Thomas Struth follows an important tradition in art history. Painting in the 17th century had already attained its peak with family portraits which mirrored individual alongside shared cultural, economic and social events. Since the beginning, photography has played a central role in the presentation of people and therefore also of the group portrait. In this context family portraits are contrasted with a great range of ways of viewing, encouraged, for example, by aesthetic, art history, historical, psychological, pedagogical, social and also private fields of interest.

Thomas Struth presents his view of "Family Life" on two levels. On the one hand in the present catalogue which begins with his early family portrait work from 1985 in Scotland and 1986 from Japan. A chronological development of the theme is not intended, but because they refer to cultural images which with all their contrasts highlight similar aspects and thus present an ideal point of reference for a series of images whose relevance is to be investigated in great detail, when leafing through the pages. On the other hand, Thomas Struth has chosen a form of presentation in which the alternation between very large and slightly smaller formats enables the viewer to take on a distanced or partner-like gaze at those portrayed and the communicative moment, such as the possibility of identification, is given special relevance. By selecting a specific place for each photo, but also creating gaps within the groups- as a visual symbol for a pause - he places them in relationship to each other as if on a stage. In this way an individual artistic space or cosmos is created, inviting the viewer to tarry, puzzle over the images or deliberate.

A catalogue with texts by Gabriele Conrath-Scholl, the American author and journalist Eric Konigsberg, and Thomas Struth is published by Schirmer/Mosel and costs € 49.80.

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