Thomas Demand is a German sculptor and photographer who was born in Munich in 1964. 

He splits his working life between Germany and America. Whilst working in Germany, Demand teaches at the University of Fine Arts in Hamburg. 

He doesn’t see himself as a photographer and prefers to think of himself as a conceptual artist who happens to use photography as part of the process he goes through to create his art. During an interview for the book, Image Makers Image Takers, Demand says that he finds the medium of photography to be a relatively boring one.

He started out as a sculptor and would concentrate on the creation of his work before taking a photo. The photo would just be a way of documenting what he had achieved and, at this stage, it would be all about the sculptures. 

He eventually turned the process around and would create sculptures for the sole purpose of photographing them with a large-format camera. It was the photograph only that would remain as the work of art as the actual sculpture would be destroyed. These works of art would be life-sized recreations of real-life interior spaces he saw in people’s images.

Thomas Demand "Copyshop"
Thomas Demand Gate

When I use the word “sculpture”, I think of clay and water, but this is not what Thomas Demand would use. Instead, he made his life-sized creations using paper and cardboard and managed to make them look realistic with the use of photography.

Demand gets his inspiration from images he sees of interior spaces that he feels he can recreate. These recreations very often have a political or social meaning to them. 

Some of his creations include, “Presidency II”, which is the Oval Office in the White House and was published in the New York Times Magazine after Barack Obama had been elected; “Vault”, which was a project using a police photo of a storeroom in the Wildenstein Institute, Paris that had been used to store thirty paintings and sculptures that had been missing for decades as well as “Copyshop”, which is simply a recreation of a room full of photocopiers.

Thomas Demand Presidency 2
Thomas Demand Presidency 2

Later in his career, Thomas Demand created “Kitchen”, which is said to be the kitchen of the compound where Saddam Hussein was captured. This was done using images taken by soldiers who were there at the time. 

“Control Room” is the control room of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant which had its meltdown and explosion shortly after the tsunami of 2011 that hit Japan. 

These works of art were created in 2004 and 2011, respectively.

Thomas Demand, "Kitchen", 2004
Thomas Demand, "Control Room", 2011

Thomas Demand is indeed a successful artist/photographer and has been nominated for the Deutsche Borse Photography Prize as well as being given an honorary degree from the Royal College of Art, London, in 2012.

The image below is of one of Thomas Demands pieces of work titled, “Clearing”. This piece took thirty people three months to create before the shoot could take place and was done in 2003.

Thomas Demand, "Clearing", 2003

My Thoughts

Whilst I can understand Thomas Demand’s desire to have his sculptures photographed and displayed, and whilst I can marvel at the level of detail and sheer brilliance of his paper and card creations…I don’t really get the inspiration and amount of work it takes to create things that have already been photographed by someone else for real.

The whole process of seeing an image someone else has taken, recreating that image out of paper and card just so you can then take your own photograph just seems like a lot of work to take an image that has already been taken by someone else before.

I’m sure many people would quickly call me a philistine for saying what I have just said but, hey, it’s just my opinion, right?

Like I’ve said, I can appreciate the brilliance of his creations and feel that it is those that he is wanting us to see more than the actual subject matter/topic, and with them being created the way they are, they can take on a slight comic book look after you’ve studied them long enough to realise they aren’t images taken of the actual place.

For me, “Clearing” is probably one of my favourite works of Thomas Demand as I could stare at it for very long periods of time and not realise what it is had I not researched Thomas Demand and his work.