Thomas Struth’s jungle photos may make you feel helpless

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Thomas Struth - <em>Paradise 01 (Daintree, Australia)</em>, 1998
Thomas Struth – Paradise 01 (Daintree, Australia), 1998

Published: August 7, 2013

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About New Pictures From Paradise

Next to his well known Street and Museum Photographs, Thomas Struth has been taking pictures of forests in different parts of the world since 1998. By giving these images the title New Pictures from Paradise he has endowed them with a special meaning as pictures of nature before the Fall of Man. His attention focuses on wild nature while at the same time referencing and questioning representations of paradise throughout history and cultures.


In most of these photographs, Struth doesn’t allow our gaze to penetrate the depth of the image. Trees, branches and leaves create a dense texture that prevents us from seeing the horizon and the depth of the landscapes, which can only be guessed. Without hierarchically structuring the picture, its entire surface is crisscrossed all over and covered by plant forms – reminiscent of the lines in paintings by Jackson Pollock and Brice Marden. Struth’s jungle pictures mark the beginning of a different approach to the way the surface of photographic images captures our gaze, sending it in different directions. Thanks to their richness of detail, the images present a kind of silence that can be listened to for a long time before one can get to know its rules. From the first documentary portraits of families to the cityscapes, to the museums and up to the harmonic chaos of the jungles, Thomas Struth’s photographic eye has traveled the world finding new ways of representing its complexity, trying to capture the presence of the unconscious in the visible.

Thomas Struth about these works in Artforum, May 2002

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. These images 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 socio-cultural 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 “all over” nature, they 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.

About Thomas Struth

Thomas Struth is one of the leading artists in contemporary photography. Born in Geldern near Cologne in 1954, from 1973 to 1980 he studied at the Düsseldorf Academy as a student of Gerhard Richter and then Bernd Becher. By the end of the Seventies, he started to explore the possibilities of photography as psychological research. Since 1978 he takes pictures of urban landscapes, from 1980 he photographs museum visitors looking at paintings, thus exploring the different relationships between painting and photography, art and the viewer. Later he worked on a broader range of subjects, always working in these groups.

Past exhibitions

Since his first museum exhibition at Kunsthalle Bern in 1987, his work has been shown extensively in museums throughout the world. In 2003 the Metropolitan in New York staged a large retrospective, and recently he had exhibitions at the Prado in Madrid in 2007 and at the Museum Madre in Naples in Spring 2008. His works are in the collections of MoMA and the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the Tate Gallery in London, the Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo and Kunsthaus Zurich among many others.

Paradise photos

Thomas Struth – Paradise 2 (Pilgrim Sands, Daintree, Australia), 1998
Thomas StruthParadise 2, Pilgrim Sands, Daintree, Australia, 1998

Thomas Struth – Paradise 4, Daintree, Australia, 1998
Thomas StruthParadise 4, Daintree, Australia, 1998

Thomas Struth – Paradise 7, Daintree, Australia, 1998
Thomas StruthParadise 7, Daintree, Australia, 1998

Thomas Struth - Paradise 09, 1999. China, Provinz Yunnan, Xi Shuang Banna; C-Print
Thomas StruthParadise 09, China, Provinz Yunnan, Xi Shuang Banna, 1999, C-Print

Thomas Struth – Paradise 11 (XI Shuang Banna) Provinz Yunnan, China, 1999
Thomas StruthParadise 11, Xishuang Banna, Yunnan Province, China, 1999

Thomas Struth – Paradise 13 (Yakushima, Japan), 1999
Thomas StruthParadise 13 (Yakushima, Japan), 1999

Thomas Struth – Paradise 15
Thomas StruthParadise 15

Thomas Struth – Paradise 17 - California, 1999
Thomas StruthParadise 17, California, 1999

Thomas Struth - Paradise 19, Bayerischer Wald, 1999
Thomas StruthParadise 19, Bayerischer Wald, 1999, Diasec, 138,5 x 178,5cm

Thomas Struth, Paradise 20, Bayrischer Wald, 1999, Diasec, 138,5 x 178,5cm
Thomas StruthParadise 20, Bayerischer Wald, 1999, Diasec, 138,5 x 178,5cm

Thomas Struth – Paradise 22 (Sao Francisco de Xavier,Brasil), 2001
Thomas StruthParadise 21, Sao Francisco de Xavier, Brasil, 2001

Thomas Struth - Paradise 23, São Francisco de Xavier, Brasil, 2001, Color coupler print, Diasec, 221x172.7cm
Thomas StruthParadise 23, São Francisco de Xavier, Brasil, 2001, Color coupler print, Diasec, 221×172.7cm

Thomas Struth - Paradise 24, Sao Francisco de Xavier, 2001
Thomas StruthParadise 24, Sao Francisco de Xavier, 2001, colour coupler print, mounted on Plexiglas, 218.5x279cm

Thomas Struth – Paradise 27 (Perù), 2005
Thomas StruthParadise 27 (Perù), 2005

Thomas Struth – Paradise 29 (Perù), 2005
Thomas StruthParadise 29 (Perù), 2005

Thomas Struth – Paradise 36 (New Smyrna Beach, Florida), 2007
Thomas StruthParadise 36 (New Smyrna Beach, Florida), 2007

Thomas Struth - Paradise
Thomas StruthParadise

Thomas Struth - Paradise
Thomas StruthParadise

Thomas Struth - Paradise
Thomas StruthParadise

All photos courtesy of the artist Thomas Struth/ unless otherwise noted.

Video: Documentary & interview with Thomas Struth

24min 19sec

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