Thomas Struth’s images of the Louvre were the first studies taken for his well-known series of Museum Photographs. In Musée du Louvre I, Struth demonstrates the stage-like management of stillness and movement which has characterised the series. The photograph is reminiscent of a film still in which, with the camera position fixed, the only movement is from people entering and exiting the field of vision. This draws our attention not to the paintings in the background, but to the museum visitors, the inhabitants of the foreground. Looking at the photograph, as the visitors look at the paintings, we begin to examine our own behavioural patterns and repeat theirs. As the photograph itself is analogous to a snapshot photo, so the haphazard manner in which museum visiting is carried out – where people look, but in different directions and with different degrees of intensity – provides the sightseer with only a snapshot view of art. More than a century after the first depictions of museum going at the Louvre (by 19th century Parisian painters), Struth’s museum photographs invite their audience to look again not just at a clearly depicted subject, but at the photographic form into which it has been projected, and, in this way, to look self-consciously at collective cultural behaviour.
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