Thomas Struth: Capturing Audiences

Thomas Struth is one of the most important contemporary photographers working today. A exponent of the famed Düsseldorf School, Struth studied under influential photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher.

This photograph is from his series Audience which the artist made in 2004. The series stemmed from a project that Struth first devised at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Struth placed hidden cameras in various art works on display at the museum and photographed the audience from the perspective of the paintings. Due to legal and technical reasons Struth had to abandon the project but was given the opportunity to revisit the concept by the Director of the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence.

Struth was invited to devise a series of works to mark marking the 5th centennial of Michelangelo’s David. Rather than photograph the sculpture itself, Struth reversed the act of looking and turned the camera on the gallery’s visitors. Struth studied the spatial dynamics of the room in which David is displayed to best position the camera for his photographs, which he set up at the base of the sculpture. The photographs that Struth took for the series, using an 8 x 10 format camera and artificial lighting to illuminate the museum’s visitors, were neither staged or digitally modified. For two weeks, Struth would visit the gallery every day and spend a few hours photographing for the project.

The aim of the series was to explore the relation between audience, artwork and photographer. In contrast to earlier series which Struth has made in museums, in this work Struth purposively distracts from the artworks that can be seen in the background of the photographs. Instead, Struth hints at the aura of Michelangelo’s David in the spatial arrangement of the visitors who tilt their heads to take in the scale of the sculpture. Struth’s distinct perspective makes visible the aesthetic and social aspects that determine how visitors at the museum interact and approach works of art. He is particularly interested in the relationship between institutional space, art and a public whose reaction varies from boredom to an almost religious devotion.

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