Bernd and Hilla Becher

10th January 2020

Look online at the work of Bernd and Hilla Becher. Note how the composition, framing and lighting is almost identical in each photograph and how this ‘gels’ the series together.

OCA Foundations in Photography Course Folder pg111

Bernhard “Bernd” Becher, and Hilla Becher, were German conceptual artists and photographers. They are best known for their extensive series of photographic images of industrial buildings and structures, which were often organised in grids format.

The pictures were made over a period nearly five decades – they started collaborating in 1959 and continued until Bernd Becher’s death in 2007 – using a large format camera in the neutral lighting of overcast weather. The structures are viewed straight on, so that verticals remain vertical; the large format camera helps here but the Bechers also worked from raised viewpoints so that we are looking at the structures as directly as possible.

The Tate website is an excellent information source on the Becher’s and their work. I have put different links below to different types of information which include Tate papers and essay, etc…

Who are Hilla and Bernd Becher? This link will take you to the Tate website which has an excellent introduction to the Becher’s and their work. Below are two of the images from this website:

Bernd Becher and Hilla Becher Pitheads 1974 
Tate© Estate of Bernd Becher & Hilla Becher
Bernd and Hilla Becher
Gas-holders Germany, Belgium, France, Britain, USA, 1966–93
All photographs courtesy Bernd and Hilla Becher

These are links to other pages on Tate’s website connected with the Becher’s.

Tate Papers: The Photographic Comportment of Bernd and Hilla Becher

Tate Website: BLAKE STIMSON

Cruel + Tender, artists, Bernd and Hilla BecherGerman, born 1931 and 1934

Tate Website

Essay: The long look

Tate Website: MICHAEL COLLINS

Germany

I am actually quite interested in how the Becher’s have taken their photographs and then presented them. Also, due to the nature of their images which is industrial buildings and structures, there is a very satisfying subject of geometry and line running through their work. The abstraction of the forms are enhanced by the black and white tones.

I am particularly fond of their water tower series of which there are many. They remind me of sci-fi films, tv series and comics from the 1950’s where there are dome like structures that either the human race in the future are living or other worldly homes of aliens.

The apartment building shot that opens most episodes of The Jetsons (1963)
(image from smithsonianmag.com)

If you Google Becher’s Water Towers you are taken to a page which in itself looks like a patchwork of geometric images which are presented this way as one piece of work. The type of images you will find presented within the search when Googling is below:

The square above which is constructed by images of their work put together in one space, is attractive in its own right. What makes them powerful and gel together as a series, as written in the OCA’s introduction, ‘Note how the composition, framing and lighting is almost identical in each photograph and how this ‘gels’ the series together’ is the reason that they can be presented as a whole together as well. I actually find the composition above very exciting and stimulating to my eye and it has given me ideas on how to present some of my work in the future. I find the text within the above composition adds to the overall feel of the work and this in itself gives me much scope to work with if I produce such a series of work in the future.

To accompany the above research I have managed to find a short documentary on YouTube called, ‘Bernd and Hilla Becher – Water Towers, 1972.’ This video can be found below with accompanying notes that I have made about the towers taken from the video and my own observations.

Notes:

End of 1950’s they travelled the world taking photographs of industrial structures and buildings, for example, mine heads, blast furnaces, gas tanks and water towers.

Image captured from the above video – Water Towers

The Bechers called them objects to be admired and called them ‘anonymous sculptures,’ They took their photographs in a precise way so that each image was concise with the next and they called these ‘families of objects.’

They would use raised vantage points and took each photograph at the same distance so that people could get a sense of scale and understand how big they actually were. The breacher’s would also use large format cameras and long exposures so that they gained sharp, detailed and crisp images.

They displayed their images in grids and rows and would end up with series of images that were like catalogues of structures. Presenting the images in this format allowed the viewer to compare similarities and differences in the structures . However, water towers are not built anymore and many of the ones that appear within their work have been pulled down and therefore the Bechers have documented their existence.

Below are a couple of examples of their work.

  • Image 1 left: View of blast furnace head A of Metallhüttenwerk industrial plant, Lübeck-Herrenwyk, Germany. 1983 (image from cca.qc.ca Canadian Centre for Architecture)
  • Image 2 right: Blast Furnaces 1980-1988 (image from c4gallery.com C4 contemporary art)
  • Image 1 left: Cooling Tower, Germany (image from Pinterest)
  • Image 2 right: Cooling Towers Wood-Steel, 1959-77 (image from imageobjecttext.com IMAGEOBJECTTEXT Ann Jones – Art and Writing)

The information below includes details from an interview with Hilla Becher which I accessed on YouTube, the interview is from: San Francisco Museum of modern Art. The video can also be found below.

Using large format cameras – which is how Hilla was taught and had began her photography career with – the end images were presented in ‘typology’ form which was Hilla’s idea as she was collecting book illustrations that had to do with biology and typologies. With the cooling towers they had noticed a construction pattern which was repeated time and time again with very little differences – statice engineering and architecture. The images were like making a movie/ flip book. The best photo typologies, the best structures were those that were symmetrical.

Preferred to shoot in soft light, if the light was too harsh they would wait for cloud or wait for winter or dawn. These conditions meant that the construction was separated from the sky. This technique is very similar to that of Karl Blossfeldt who we studied for this course, the link is here. He put white card behind his subjects so that they too would stand out from any background.

I absolutely love the grid format with their subject matter due to the fact these purposely built industrial constructions become sculpture of geometric shapes and lines.

Water Towers (image from broad.org The Broad)

The Bechers completed over two hundred comprehensive documentary collections, each ranging from fifty to one hundred images – amazing!

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: