In 1990 Struth was approached by Dieter Schwarz, director of the Kunstmuseum Winterthur, near Zürich, to see if he was interested in making photographs for patients’ rooms in the new wing of the Spital am Lindberg, a private hospital in the area. Following an introductory visit, Struth agreed to take on the commission. Although the hospital team had imagined Struth might make street photographs, he decided to concentrate on those subjects patients might be ‘missing’: images of local landscapes and flowers with an intense colour. “In the hospital, the body is in a heightened condition, even in a state of alarm. This led me to choose an approach where one particular detail of each flower would be highlighted, as an analogy to the condition of illness in which one part of the body that we are usually not so aware of becomes the centre of attention.”
The landscapes Struth photographed were all made in the area around Winterthur, including views of the Thur Valley, nearby vineyards and farmland as well as the hospital gardens. Many of the plants and flowers he photographed were also found in the immediate vicinity of the hospital and in a garden on the grounds of the Oskar Reinhart collection in Winterthur. He also made several ‘flower portraits’ in the garden of his friends Ingo Hartmann and Hannah Erdrich-Hartmann in Düsseldorf, including clematis, tulips, roses, cherry blossom and dandelions. They represent a familiar and ‘domesticated’ view of nature.
Struth recalls that the project opened up the possibility of a different and more painterly approach to photography. He experimented with partly out-of-focus or blurred images and with a vibrant range of colour. The close-ups of cherry blossoms, vines on a wall, clusters of sunflowers and photographs inside woods and forests can be seen to point a way forward to the more enveloping environments of New Pictures from Paradise, as well as referencing Japanese prints and botanical drawings.
In each of the 37 rooms of the hospital, Struth hung one landscape across from the patient’s bed and two photographs of plants and flowers behind it. Many of the Winterthur photos have travelled from their intended context to be included in exhibitions of Struth’s works. Dandelion Room, a book bringing together all the Winterthur work, was published in 2001.