Since 1959 Bernd and Hilla Becher have been obsessively photographing imperiled industrial structures such as pit-head frames, water towers, blast furnaces, cooling towers, gas tanks, and silos. As documenters of the industrial era in Europe and the United States—an era now drawing to a close—they are not only photographers, but "industrial archaeologists," salvaging testimonies of past developments in the form of "readable" documents for posterity. At the same time, the Bechers could also be called conceptual artists, as their photographs reveal the meaning and transformative character of structure.
The Bechers spent two decades searching industrial regions of Western Europe and North America for mineheads. These delicate giants stand over the shaft entrances of mines, housing the cages attached to cables that move up and down the mine shaft, bringing minerals to the surface and transferring miners back and forth from underground.
Regardless of their subject, the Bechers' photographic technique has remained constant for decades. Eschewing dramatic lighting effects, they shoot under overcast skies, framing their subject in the center of the picture and shooting from a slightly raised standpoint. The effect of their cool, rigorous approach is to reduce the individual structures they photograph within each typological category to morphological studies executed with artful neutrality. Their single-minded vision, signature style, and photographic identity have influenced an entire generation of younger photographers and have had a major impact on the worlds of conceptual art, architecture, sculpture, and criticism.
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