Thomas Struth

11th January 2020

Before you start, research Thomas Struth’s portraits on the Tate website.

OCA Foundations in Photography course folder pg116
The Smith Family, Fife, Scotland 1989 1989 Thomas Struth born 1954 Purchased with assistance from the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1995

This is an extract of the accompanying text on the Tates website:

Struth also makes portraits of friends and acquaintances, usually in intimate gatherings, as if contrasting the public environment of architecture with the private space of the family. These photographs are explorations of social dynamics, showing how people within a tightly-knit group arrange themselves in front of the camera.

I can totally understand and appreciate this concept, but I think looking at the photograph for the first time and not reading any synopsis about Struth and his work, I feel there is more going on.

This is how I interpret the image. It reflects an opposite, that is the subject ‘v’ the viewer (audience).

  • Environment: Home ‘v’ Gallery
  • Subject: Family ‘v’ Audience
  • Colour: Blue ‘v’ Miscellaneous
  • Clothes: Indoor casual ‘v’ Miscellaneous depending on weather and status
  • Essence: Non facial expressions of sitters ‘v’ inquisitiveness and studying expressions of audience.

The description from the Tate tells us that the ‘tightly knit group arrange themselves in front of the camera.’ This means that the image shows us a hierarchy in the family, who sits where, who stands where etc…

I am also wondering if part of the concept the sitters are asked not to have any facial expressions but to look out at the viewer through the lens of the camera so that the audience feels as though they are being watched – viewed.

Or are they asked to look as they feel?

On asking these questions I looked up further sitter work of Struth’s. On his website there are two such projects, ‘ Family Portraits 1, 1987-90 and ‘Family Portraits 2’ 2001-08.

On looking at multiple photographs in these series I find that the sitters are actual giving off a totally different vibe to the photograph we were looking at within the course folder.

In these series we have more casual body language and facial expressions, the sitters look relaxed and gelled together. I have included two examples below:

The Falletti Family, Florence 2005, ‘Family Portraits 1’
(Link to Struth’s website page for Family Portraits 1)

I find this work quite bemusing, in that I am really stumped to know what my feelings and thoughts are on the subject matter combined with the concept. They remind me of magazine family shots of famous people in their homes but other than that I cannot seem to warm or relate to them on a personal level like I usually do. They also have quite a Victorian feel to them where the sitters are posed leaning in towards specific family members or standing with their hands behind their back, coupled with a table with objects on them or familiar backgrounds that you would find in a typical home, for example long curtain traps, wooden writing table etc…

On reading more from the Tate website I found out that the sitters were asked to look directly at the camera and had to choose poses that they would be able to hold for a period of time so that the photograph would not blur because he was using long exposures.

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