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david ebony's new york top ten

thomas struth
at marian goodman

May 22-June 28, 1997

Thomas Struth
Todai-Ji, Daibutsu-den, Nara

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in Galleries Online
   The subjects of Thomas Struth's photographs may be simple, but his work resonates with an almost Hegelian sense of history, time, place and meaning. On view in this show are Struth's recent images from Japan. Nagato Bay is a dreamy landscape that references ancient Japanese painting. The human condition is the overriding theme of his portraits of his Japanese friends. The Okustsu Family in Tatami Room, Yamaguchi features a family of four seated in quiet repose on a reed mat, gazing into infinity. The most spectacular of the images on view is the nearly 6-by-8-foot Todai-Ji, Daibutsu- den, Nara, an image of the famous temple glowing in a serene gray-white light. Perhaps the most haunting works are the unpeopled black-and-white urban street scenes hung in the gallery's back room.

Struth's photographs are often permeated by this peculiar gray-white light, which seems to lend them a quiet, almost melancholy serenity. In the past, it seemed to me that the images are somehow enhanced with either special lights or in the darkroom. However, while visiting the exhibition, I had the opportunity to ask the artist about his process and about the light in his recent works. He denied the use of any technical tricks. "I wait," he said. "I wait for the right light. I would never have photographed the temple, for instance, on a sunny day against a bright blue sky."

Struth is well known as a member of the group of German photographers, including Andreas Gursky and Thomas Ruff, who were inspired in the early '80s by Bernd and Hilla Becher, whose sharp-focus black-and-white studies of industrial architecture are bathed in a crisp, clear light. Struth's next big exhibition is a show of recent portraits and a new video work that opens later this year at the Sprengel Museum in Hannover, Germany.