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DMA launches 25-year retrospective of Thomas Struth

By Bill Zeeble, KERA 90.1 reporter

Dallas, TX – Bill Zeeble, KERA 90.1 reporter: Thomas Struth, who's 47, says he was just a little boy when he started showing serious artistic talent.

Thomas Struth, photographer: Before I could say what I wanted to be, people all around me told me, "you'll be an artist anyway, so you don't have to work hard in school, you'll be a painter. Don't worry about the tests and all." So I didn't. It was a hobby.

Zeeble: Struth pursued painting for two years as a college art student before switching to photography, because he says painting was too personal. Critics say don't be misled by Struth's modesty; his intelligence infuses every single photo. His first major works from 1977 and 1978 focused on streets and buildings in major cities, including London, New York, Palermo, and his native Dusseldorf. Many were shot from the middle of the street, some in sharply focused black and white, others in color, often early in the morning, when no one was in around. But Senior Curator of the Los Angeles Contemporary Art Museum, Ann Goldstein, says these shots are all about humanity.

Ann Goldstein, Senior Curator, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles: They're all about a sense of place and how people interact with their surroundings and each other. And even though the street shots are often devoid of people, they're about the presence of people. We feel the presence of people in them?

Struth: If I had a chance to photograph the moon landscape, I would not be interested. No one was born on the moon, nobody lives there. So therefore I would find it uninteresting.

Zeeble: Struth still takes urban landscape photos, but in the late 70's he also started shooting friends and acquaintances, in individual and family portraits. Experts have praised them as intensely compelling. In a way, Struth says they're a return to the personal approach he rejected decades ago when he turned to photography from painting. Struth's relatively expressionless subjects stare directly at us, usually as they sit in their living rooms. The artist says the family photos represent a more psychological view of people as seen through the family structure.

Struth: It's like a small, miniature segment of society. That's a group where you first start to learn who you are and how to behave and what you want to do and how you feel, in some aspects, of being alive.

Zeeble: To convey that sense of life, Struth says getting the shot right is paramount. Over the years, he's refined his technique and matured as an artist, whether shooting portraits or landscapes. So these days, on an outdoor shoot for example, he'll scout days for the best shot instead of taking, say, several hundred pictures of a scene. One large photo in front of Notre Dame Cathedral took nearly a week to shoot. The Dallas Museum's curator of contemporary art, Charles Wylie, says Struth's skill as an artist can be deceiving.

Charles Wylie, Lupe Murchison Curator of Contemporary Art, Dallas Museum of Art: I was in Rome last summer and came across the Palazzo Augusto Imperatore and tried to take my own picture of it and failed miserably. It was something that taught me?what distinguishes a great photograph is the ability to fashion compositions out of something we all see.

Zeeble: Wylie says Struth's innate talent allows him to envision a world most of us cannot. The exhibition will remain on display at the Dallas Museum until August 18th. Then it travels to Los Angeles, the New York Metropolitan Museum, and on to Chicago. For KERA 90.1, I'm Bill Zeeble.

To contact Bill Zeeble, please send emails to bzeeble@kera.org.