Seeing life through the lens of Thomas Struth

East London and West Essex Guardian Series: Visitors at the Pantheon, by Thomas Struth Visitors at the Pantheon, by Thomas Struth

Fresh from the unveiling of his portrait of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, to mark their Diamond Jubilee and 90th birthday respectively, photographer Thomas Struth brings his wider work to the Whitechapel Gallery this month.

Thomas Struth: Photographs 1978-2010 is the German’s first solo show in Britain for almost 20 years, and features more than 70 images of subjects as diverse as visitors looking at famous works of art in the world’s great museums, family portraits and the dense undergrowth of the Asian jungle.

His museum series of lifesize photographs show tourists admiring Michelangelo’s David statue in Florence, and pupils chatting in front of Velazquez Las Meninas at the Prado, Madrid. The works show the awe that art can inspire on people’s faces, without revealing the object they are looking at.

Also on show are images of French Gothic cathedrals, the El Capitan rock in Yosemite National Park, California and high-tech research laboratories. A four-metre wide panorama shows the space shuttle undergoing repair at the Kennedy Space Centre on Cape Canaveral, Florida. Thomas once compared the shuttle programme to the construction of medieval cathedrals, reflecting on “the extremes of human effort, conviction, organisation and perhaps also hubris”. This interest in human construction also encompasses huge-scale panoramic photographs of sites of shipyards, oil rigs and sprawling cities in Asia.

Thomas’s early black and white photographs taken in the deserted streets of cities including Brussels, Düsseldorf, Edinburgh, London, Naples, New York, Paris and Rome in the late 1970s and early ‘80s are also on display, while he has also repeatedly photographed families he knows both near home as well as in far-off destinations such as Lima, Shanghai and Hiroshima. With these he aims to show cultural differences as well as a shared sense of humanity.

Thomas Struth: Photographs 1978-2010 runs from July 6 until September 16 at the Whitechapel Gallery, Whitechapel High Street. Details: 020 7522 7888, www.whitechapelgallery.org

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