Thomas Struth

Times Square, N.Y., 2000

Photograph | C-Print
179,3 x 212 cm


  In the late seventies, Thomas Struth began to photograph the streets of Düsseldorf. His images were simple, middle size, always black and white. His aim was to make up a record, an analytical classification of a unique, recognisable subject: the city where he studied, very close, moreover, to his hometown. His formal interests were close to those of his teachers Bernd and Hilla Becher: a centralised viewpoint, almost the same as any pedestrian would have, marked a practically symmetrical axis in the scene: the city streets are empty, revealing the bareness of buildings that have become sculptures thanks to a clever handling of light and shadow.

Over the following decades he expanded his project in different cities in Western Europe, America and Asia. His characteristic initial accumulation of images of the same city would gradually give way to snapshots of isolated urban locations, some very recognisable, in an attempt to capture the historical transformations that had taken place in those capitals. At the same time he abandoned the rectangular perspective and began to use large format colour photography.

In that sense Times Square is a paradigmatic example of the evolution its author underwent through his career. Time stands still at the well-known junction of Seventh Avenue, Broadway and the streets between 42nd and 47th West, in the heart of Manhattan: a famous city site renamed when the offices of The New York Times moved to this area of the city early in the last century. A silent witness to our time, which, after an epoch of splendour, fell into oblivion and for much of the 20th century was considered a symbol of the decadence and insecurity of the Big Apple. An icon too, portrayed in countless films like Midnight Cowboy (1969) or Taxi Driver (1976).

Struth offers us a large image that shows an everyday contemporary instant. However, there is barely a trace of the hustle and bustle typical of Times Square. Probably the shot was taken when “the city that never sleeps” was just waking up from its nighttime slumber. In the central part we observe the giant 36 metre digital screen erected by the technological index of the American stock exchange NASDAQ in January 2000, not by chance the same year the photograph was taken. A true prodigy of technology, capable of generating the largest number of advertising impressions per minute in a square already saturated with neon lights, hoardings and other plasmas loaded with moving images. In one of those, the one on the right of the photograph known as Panasonic Astrovision, Struth was to show his work some years later, in 2003, as part of the video art programme put on by Creative Time entitled The 59th Minute, designed to show video creations by artists like Fischli & Weiss, William Wegman, Gary Hill or William Kentridge. A programme that coincided in time with Struth’s individual exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the most complete one held to date.

Alberto Sánchez Balmisa


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