From the beginning of their collaboration in 1959, Bernd and Hilla Becher remained dedicated to capturing the vernacular industrial architecture found throughout Western Europe and North America. While focusing on a variety of building types, such as mine shafts, lime kilns, silos, cooling towers, and blast furnaces, they aimed to create an archive that would not only document the industrial landscape of the time, but also encourage viewers to closely examine the details and differences of each structure. These distinctions become more apparent in the Bechers’ arrangement of their photographs: first as an evenly spaced grid format that invites comparison, and later, for an exhibition at Dia Center for the Arts in 1989, presenting larger images in rows along the wall.
The Bechers typically centered the structures frontally in the frame, so that they would stand out from their context without being isolated from it. This framing restricts anecdotal or expressive information, emphasizing the studious mood of each image. To further this end, the artists worked only under slightly overcast skies and in the early mornings of spring and fall, when an even, diffuse light allows images of maximum clarity.
Through the artists’ serialization of photographic practice, now devoid of gesture; obedience to a self-imposed formal canon; and systematic use of one point of view, their catalogue of analogous objects attains a sort of abstraction. The disciplined ethic with which this dedicated German couple defined, then refined, their project of recording for posterity the increasingly neglected icons of the industrial era—whose dereliction they intuited—has yielded not just an archive but a vision.
Bernd and Hilla Becher
Bernd Becher was born in Siegen, Germany, in 1931. He died in Rostock, Germany, in 2007. Hilla Becher was born in Potsdam, Germany, in 1934. She died in Düsseldorf in 2015.
Bernd & Hilla Becher: Pennsylvania Coal Mine Tipples
This book is devoted to the wooden mineheads of the eastern regions of Pennsylvania, which were photographed by Bernd and Hilla Becher in 1974–1975 and 1977–78.