One of my objectives in undertaking the OCA course is to increase the range of photographers I have been exposed to, and in so doing, obtain a deeper understanding of that work. This naturally sets in motion a process of making links between the work of many photographers. Attending the OCA study visits, (this is the second one I have attended), helps a great deal:
- I get to hear the expert views of the gallery staff which definitely helps with understanding the contexts and background to the work
- I meet up with some of the other students and hear their views and their experiences
- I am introduced to photographers and galleries I might not otherwise have visited.
Experiencing the real without the narrative
Struth’s 2010 images of high technology , for example Stellarator Wendelstein 7-X Detail, Max Planck IPP, Greifswaldplace, place the viewer in a situation where even though the photograph’s label states what it is, this does not help the viewer to understand the image. The viewer is unable to relate any ‘story’ or narrative to the scene before them and as a result finds the mind struggling to find its way around the image. This approach is also strongly apparent in the more recent work, “The New Pictures from Paradise”. I’m not sure however, what the logical outcome of this approach might be. In the Paradise images, one can imagine a future reality where the Earth has returned to primordial jungle and little or no trace of man and the “order” imposed by mankind remains. Does a similar idea apply to the technology images – perhaps they serve to highlight our own lack of understanding, perhaps they show technology as a means to an end but then leave the question of “to what end and what ultimate purpose?” hanging in the air.
Struth’s colour images are large, very large. I estimated the size of “Semi Submersible Rig DSME Shipyard” as approximately 6m wide by 4m high. This huge image makes the viewer feel that they are viewing some Lilliputian scene as the huge rig strains at the relatively feeble looking, (but probably immense in reality), chains that hold it in place. Similarly, the images in the Museum series, often from an elevated viewpoint, render the scale of the onlookers very small in comparison to the monumental structures they are viewing. This is particularly true in the images of the Pantheon and Notre Dame.
Making links to the work of other photographers
As I viewed Struth’s work I made connections to other photographer’s I have studied. In Struth’s early black and white images of streets I could detect echoes of Atget in the central perspective people free photographs. I particularly liked “Clinton Road, London” which is one of the thumbnails available on this page. Naturally, I could also see links to his contemporary Andreas Gursky, particularly in the images Struth made in Korea with the repetition of windows and muted colours. However, unlike Gursky’s work – which is substantially created within Photoshop, Struth is presenting the real scene, as he found it. Finally, I could also make links to the work of other photographers I have studied, John Davies and Thomas Joshua Cooper. I don’t necessarily think that these are explicit links but I could see common ground in the approaches and preoccupations. Davies with his monochrome landscapes of the North West of England has some commonality with Struth’s early street work. Thomas Joshua Cooper’s “Point of No Return”, although different, has some thinking in common with Struth’s “The New Pictures from Paradise”.
Overall this was a very worthwhile study visit, I learnt a great deal and made progress against my objectives. A day well spent!