With Nature & Politics, Thomas Struth told BJP back in 2017, he hopes to “open doors to what our minds have materialised and transformed into sculpture, and to scrutinise what our contemporary world creates in places which are not accessible to most people”. Shot at industrial sites and scientific research centres throughout the world over the last 10 years, the large-scale colour images show the strange contraptions created at the cutting-edge of technology.
But these images also, he told BJP, say something about his own relationship to the world, and the place in which he finds himself at this particular point in time. “I am an observer and participant in contemporary culture, and what matters to me is that I can only being something new depending on my situation in my own life,” he said. “When I was at school, 1984 seemed like a futuristic date. To have reached the age of 62 feels incredibly strange and choking, and to acknowledge the reality that I have perhaps 20 or 25 years left. There are complex evaluations that play a role in what I am attracted to, and I try to find the pictorial equivalent.”
From 07 November to 04 February, the Centre Pompidou in Paris is showing a striking exhibition on a little-known aspect of the roots of 20th century social documentary photography, Photographie, arme de classe [which roughly translates as ‘Photography as a weapon in the class struggle’]. Curated by Damarice Amao, Florian Ebner and Christian Joschke, the show deals with a comparatively unknown period in French photo history, from the end of the 1920s to the arrival of the Front populaire government of 1936 – when the socialist, communist and radical parties formed a short-lived coalition to govern France, with the tacit backing of the Soviet Union.
Photographer and activist Henri Tracol (1909-1997) was the first to formulate the idea that photography could be an “arme de classe”, in the tract he wrote for the photographer’s section of the Association des Écrivains et Artistes Revolutionnaires [‘Association of Revolutionary Writers and Artists’ aka the AEAR], formed in 1932. Although this communist front, Moscow-sponsored organisation only lasted a few years, it attracted many of the leading figures of the day from art, theatre, literature, architecture, and particularly photography. Those who joined were either fellow travellers or politically attached to communism, seeing it as a bastion against the twin evils of the time – fascism and capitalism.