Thomas Struth: Talks About His “Paradise” Series
Originally published in ArtForum, May, 2002
At this point, Paradise consists of twenty-five photographs I’m just beginning to understand. intuition is an old word, but many things sprout from inner processes and needs and then take on a form. My approach to the jungle pictures might be said to be new, in that my initial impulses were pictorial and emotional, rather than theoretical. They are “unconscious places” and thus seem to follow my early city pictures. The photographs taken in the jungles of Australia, Japan, and China, as well as in the California woods, contain a wealth of delicately branched information, which makes it almost impossible, especially in large formats, to isolate single forms. One can spend a lot of time in front of these pictures and remain helpless in terms of knowing how to deal with them. There is no sociocultural context to be read or discovered, unlike in the photographs of people in front of paintings in museums. Standing in front of the facade of the cathedral in Milan, one experiences oneself as a human being defined by specific social and historical conditions. The jungle pictures, on the other hand, emphasize the self. Because of their consistent “allover” nature, Paradise numbers 9 and 4 could be understood as membranes for meditation. They present a kind of empty space: emptied to elicit a moment of stillness and internal dialogue. You have to be able to enjoy this silence in order to communicate with yourself–and eventually with others…
I don’t understand why so many people equate the notion of paradise with escapism. Paradise was never a place one could enter–though, in this global moment, escapism is no longer an issue either. The disappearance of the social debate about utopia, which the title “Paradise” alludes to, is an impoverishment and banalization. I focus exclusively on the experience of proximity. Nowadays the human being is reduced to a consumer and therefore to an instrument of a global economic mechanism. I, on the other hand, am interested in peculiarity, the individual ways of people and what goes on inside them when their historical bearings are disoriented. Certain aspects of cities now strike me as being straight out of science fiction, such as a particular intersection in Tokyo’s Shibuya district, where everything revolves around the increase and intensification of information. Then I notice a growing confinement, not only in a physical sense but also in terms of vital energy. We must look elsewhere if we want to expand the individual’s space. Understanding and communication have increasingly become inner processes originating in silence. As sources of air and space, the jungle pictures offer me an even deeper purchase on another of my ongoing subjects–the city.
I like the idea of having no particular focal point or “isolate single forms” in my images- just allowing the viewer to be swamped by the scene before them, their own eyes choosing where to rest, move on and intensify. Struth’s oversized book allows the images to stand strong and have a bigger impact on the viewer rather than just viewing them on a small screen. The idea that these could be universally placed is full of deeper meaning, for example they are our “sources of air and space”, we as humans have no power or control over natures abilities and this work reflects that. Without defining structures these ubiquitous photos are meant for everyone to access and be a part of- much as we all breath the same air nature produces intercontinentally, there is no ownership of it.
According to the Oxford Dictionary the word paradise means “An ideal or idyllic place or state” but who is to say that a place is categorically “paradise”? One’s ideal may be another’s worst nightmare and this book allows you to make judgement for yourself without enforcing the idyllic upon you, merely showing options of such places with the scope for imagination to prevail. Struth’s photos’s may appear repetitive at first and slightly unremarkable but the more you appreciate their all-embracing allure the more their beauty radiates through as a collection of paradisiacal visions.