/18 Family

Thomas Struth

Family Portraits

Excerpt from: Thomas Struth: Photographs 1977 – 2010, Schirmer Mosel, Munich 2010

Also on www.thomasstruth32.com

By Tobia Bezzola and James Lingwood

“The question of the family was precipitated largely through an attempt to analyse and understand my own family, my family’s history and myself within this context. Your own family is not something you have a choice about. The family was a very charged issue in the Germany I grew up in. The question of what your family did under fascism was never far away, why they accepted what was going on, how this affected them in the period of reconstruction and starting a family after the war and how, as a child, you can define a moral position towards the atrocities of the holocaust and the questions you have for your parents. (…)

“When you look at family photographs you understand through the traces something of what was going on, of the social structure of the time. I kept thinking about these questions when I was looking at my parents’ and grandparents’ family photographs. To say that photographs are a fiction, or that they lie, is not enough. The traces of structures, social and psychological, are legible.”

The making of one of Struth’s family portraits is always informed by the same set of conditions. The initial invitation comes from the artist; the family portraits are, with rare exceptions, not made on commission. The family decides together with Struth the location and framing of the photograph in their home or garden. They organise and pose themselves. They are always asked to look directly into the camera.

“The more family photographs I make, the more intriguing the project gets. I like the slow speed of the series and am interested in how my own development is somehow reflected in the atmosphere of the photographs.”

Familienleben/Family Life, a book bringing together 40 family photographs, was published in 2008 to accompany an exhibition at the SK Stiftung Kultur in Cologne. A second version of the exhibition was presented at the De Pont Stichting in Tilburg in the Netherlands, also in 2008. Within his oevre Struth considers only two bodies of work to be open-ended: the photographs of streets and cities, and his portraits of families.