The Image’s Updates

Thomas Struth: Style Without Style

Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons / Hans Peter Schaefer | Article Link | by Jana Prikryl

Last year the German photographer Thomas Struth published Walking, a small and disarming paperback containing some 140 color photographs. The pictures are mostly portrait format, nearly filling each page at 3.5 by 5.5 inches, and show tightly cropped street corners, façades, and doorways in Berlin and several other European and American cities. But the photos aren’t captioned or otherwise identified; it’s the textures, juxtapositions, and light and wear on stone and plaster that grow eloquent as you flip through the volume.

Deadpan is a word often applied to the minimalism of much contemporary photography, generally to suggest a picture’s blank refusal to betray any hint of lyricism or straightforward beauty, but I think these little photographs clarify how the deadpan tone actually achieves its effects. Every expressive element is muted or cropped out, just up to the point where what’s shown—say a baby-blue garbage bag tucked into a wire wastebasket that’s nailed up against an old brick wall—seems about to speak. Over and over again, but with a joyous variety of forms, Struth reveals signs of successive human interventions in the sorts of everyday places most of us prefer not to see. The wit of these minor revelations is like a species of modernist collage.