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Thomas Struth

Gemüse Markt, Wuhan, 1995

Photograph | C-Print mounted on Diasec
136.5 x 161.9 cm

Today, the journey as spur to knowledge, like the Romantic Grand Tour to enrich the soul, the mind and the spirit, is not in very good health. Indeed, we might say that it has fallen into disuse, almost disappeared. Today we travel for tourism, for personal satisfaction, to show off our capitalist power, to search for new experiences, or, of course, for business. Seldom, or never, do we travel to integrate ourselves into difference, and so our normalisation of otherness usually labels anything we do not understand as “peculiar” or “exotic”, not because it is difficult for us to understand but because we make almost no attempt to deal with it. This is the globalisation of culture, a globalisation that means that while hundreds of thousands of people from the West, laden with cameras, video cameras and technological instruments of all kinds, travel the “lost paradises” to prove that “they were there”, millions of individuals from those countries are gathering at our borders in search of something they are denied at home.

The journey as quest, as opening to other ways of seeing and discovering the world, is one of the key elements of the work of Thomas Struth. Whether in Asia, America or Europe, whether in his series on cities, rain forests or visitors to museums all over the world, his gaze always poses intelligent questions about the way contemporary society consumes images. His itinerary could be confused with that of an exemplary tourist, capable of covering the globe in search of that desired postcard, but nothing could be further from that intention. He never leaves anything to chance, but nor does he try to control the images he creates in any premeditated way: the interest of his photography lies precisely in its extraordinary capacity to select the places, the people and the atmospheres he portrays.

For any traveller who has an opportunity to visit the Far East, Gemüsemarkt (1995) represents a scene, to some extent a familiar one: the usual bustle of an Asian street. People walking, improvised stalls on the pavements, an urban background of colourful houses. An image which, unlike Times Square (2000), in which he offers a portrait of an iconic location in Western culture, immediately appears enigmatic and mysterious. The spectator can only feel that the image was taken in Asia, he is bombarded with questions and forced to make an effort to approach the photograph he is looking at. He looks at the title, but that only provides him with a snippet of complementary information: we are in a fresh vegetable market in the centre of a large – but unknown – metropolis in the new China, Wuhan, capital of Hubei province, a city with over nine million inhabitants known as the “Chicago” of the Asian country for its industrial wealth. He has made us accomplices of his subtle game of the gaze once again. A gaze which he, as few others, always knows how to break down into different strata of knowledge/p>

Alberto Sánchez Balmisa


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