Family Life

In the early 1980s, photographer Thomas Struth collaborated with the psychoanalyst Ingo Hartmann on a research project using family pictures collected from forty of Hartmann’s patients. “We were hoping,” Struth has said, “to see what narratives about family life could be reconstructed from this evidence.” Struth himself embarked on an ongoing series of family portraits in the mid-’80s, using an objectivist approach to collect further “evidence” of conscious and unconscious forces at work within family units from a number of cities, including Munich, Chicago, Shanghai, and Lima. Each image radiates subtle power dynamics and narrative possibility. The rigorously composed group portraits have a clear center but lack symmetry, conveying divergences amid the undeniable affinities of kinship. Family members present themselves with stances of pride, slouches of ambivalence, folded arms of resolve. Struth is known for his large-scale photographs, especially his depictions of art lovers in the series “Museum Photographs,” some of which are six feet wide by eight feet tall. His family portraits are also large, but they impose in another way, too, capturing a present inflected by the past, people who are utterly familiar yet strangers, and bristling with tension between finality and potential.

Thomas Struth, The Ma Family, Shanghai, 1996, C-print, 33 1/4 × 41".
Thomas Struth, The Ma Family, Shanghai, 1996, C-print, 33 1/4 × 41". © Thomas Struth, courtesy the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery