Basic Forms Of Industrial Buildings, Bernd & Hilla Becher
Water Tower, Dieulourd, Lorraine, France 1972
Water Towers, 1965-82
Winding Tower, Fosse Noeux, no.13, Nord, France 1972
Grain Elevator, Beaumetz, Amiens, France 2000
Blast Furnace, Youngstown, Ohio 1983
Coal Bunker, Repelen Niederrhein, Germany 1973
Interior View, Georgsmarienhütte, Osnabrück, Germany 1987
Bernd and Hilla Becher are two of the most influential visual artists of our time. Since the beginning of the 1960s, they have documented industrial buildings whose architecture is totally dictated by their function. The Becher’s passion for these industrial structures has resulted in photographs that are a priceless treasure of cultural and technological history from a vanishing industrial era. These images render the unglamorous edifices with the same monumentality and timelessness as used for historically important ancient architecture or new designs. Their subjects evince an unexpected and controlled beauty, while even the most minute detail is reproduced with precision.
Bernd and Hilla Becher belong to a rare brand of artists who have felt such a passion for their subjects that they have constantly followed their own path and kept firmly to it, often going against the current trends in photography. They first attracted attention during the 1960s and early 1970s at joint exhibitions in Europe and the USA with artists working with minimalism and conceptual art. It was only later on that they were recognised as photographers.
The Becher’s photographs are immediately recognisable by their distinctive style. Symmetrically and with scientific precision they have reduced the individual structures, revealing them in an unforgettable manner. The buildings have been isolated from their surroundings, put centre stage, and reproduced without distortion. All that is superfluous and narrative has been stripped away. The light is diffuse, with no shadows and not a cloud in the sky. People are rarely present in the images, and if there are any it is by accident. The photographs show a fragmented world in which the subject fills the picture surface.
Bernd and Hilla Becher’s view of industrial buildings is historically rooted. At the same time, their voluminous documentation bears witness to a unique artistic rigour. Their way of photographing accentuates the structural similarities and differences in the various built structures. This is reinforced by their distinctive mode of presentation, used since the mid-1960s, with groups of photographs arranged in a grid pattern into typologies. The objects thus become more distinct in character and do not just tempt us into an analysis of the individual structures, but also open our eyes to see and discover these constructions in reality. The Becher’s artistry can be excellently summed up in the words of artist Paul Klee: “Art does not reproduce the visible, it renders visible.”