Thomas Struth ’s photographic work investigates the contemporary world through themes and contents that assume an anthropocentric view of reality, even when humans are not explicitly part of the subject in question.
Beginning with his early black-and-white photographs, which represent views of city streets shot within a central perspective, it seems clear that there is a human presence that is hidden: evoked by the traces left in the architectural landscape, and brought to mind by the observer ’s sense of belonging to the depicted scene. In fact, while Struth ’s application of a serial, conceptual approach is strikingly reminiscent of the images of industrial buildings by Bernd and Hilla Becher —with whom Struth studied at the Staatliche Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf in 1973 —the framing establishes a new and concomitant relationship with the observer ’s viewpoint. Indeed,Struth modifies the passive attitude of “those who are looking,” placing them at the center of the scene, through the illusion of their presence within it.
The two works in the collection of the Castello, Audience 09,Florence and Audience 11,Florence ,both 2004,belong to a series of photographs that investigate important and well-known museums in Europe and America. In these photographs, the participatory role of the viewer assumes even greater weight and meaning. They depict groups of visitors immortalized in the act of contemplating great masterpieces of art from the past. The images thus establish a direct and immediate relationship between the different realms of observation (outside and within the painting)and induce viewers, through their identification with the protagonists in the photograph, to “observe themselves while they observe,” in a sort of introspective path within their own egos. On a contextual interpretive level, the artist is also observing himself, a consequence of the comparison with the author of the masterpieces that, in turn, are depicted by him, and the relationship and equivalence between two different expressive means: photography and the more august medium of painting.
Unlike the Museum Photographs —where the camera, placed behind the visitors, also frames great masterpieces, identifying with the viewer ’s glance —the photographs in the collection, which depict the Accademia Gallery in Florence, belong to the Audience series, in which viewers are shown frontally.The visitors who are depicted, each unknowingly captured, form a heterogeneous and variegated multitude that perfectly reflects contemporary society. The pattern of red circles on the floor of the exhibition space confers a sense of circularity to the entire image, thereby adding to the illusion of complete identification between the depicted spectators and the observer, who is drawn by this deceptive embrace into the representation. Through the past time of the work of art that is represented and the just-concluded time of the visitors captured in the photograph, an inexorable play of reflections and references constructs a story of the present time that is taking place at the precise moment when we —as privileged observers —become an integral part of the narrative.