August: Paris’ strangest month. It’s half ghost town, half amusement park. Since every self-respecting Parisian flees the capital for their token one-month holiday, it leaves most of your average streets deserted beyond belief. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see tumbleweeds rolling down the pavement at this point.
There is still one sign of life, however – tourists. With their maps out and their sneakers tightly tied, families large and small still manage to fill the square in front of Notre Dame, the greenery of Champ de Mars, and the halls of the Louvre. Nonetheless, there is a bright side to the tourist takeover (other than my impending vacation and open seats during my morning commute) – the photographs of Thomas Struth that it reminded me of.
The famous German photographer, who’s been snapping pictures ever since the 70s, created Museum Photographs series from 1989 to 2002. Probably one of his best-known cycles, these prints cover some of the world’s greatest buildings and museums – and consequently some of the world’s most famous tourist destinations – such as the Art Institute of Chicago, the Musee du Louvre, Venice’s Accademia, the Parthenon, and the Pergamom Museum in Berlin.
I love these photographs so much because they show how pieces of art have a way of turning into icons when placed into a museum (and I happen to have written my thesis on modern art as 21st century icons). For tourists, it becomes more about making a pilgrimage to the work, and less about admiring the work itself; in a way, these pieces lose a bit of their life when they make it into a gallery. That is, at least, until Struth’s talent for creating a captivating composition comes into play. A perfect example is Musee de Louvre IV (seen below), when the museum-goers stance mimics the figures in Gericault’s Raft of the Medusa, breathing life into the romanticist painting. In fact, none of Struth’s photos are par hasard. In each one, the viewers are extensions of the pieces, creating a dialog between art and audience.