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Hauts fourneaux, Seraing, Liège, Belgique

Hauts fourneaux, Seraing, Liège, Belgique, 1979-1981

Bernd & Hilla Becher
  • Artists

Bernd and Hiller Becher started working together in 1957 in Düsseldorf in the tradition of objective photography epitomized by Eugène Atget, August Sander and Walker Evans. At that time they were interested in disused industrial buildings and sites: water towers, grain silos, blast furnaces, gravel pits, cooling towers, and other forms of functional, anonymous and banal architecture formed the nub of their repertory. They accordingly used box cameras to photograph workers’ housing in Westphalia (1957), buildings and factories in the Ruhr and in Holland (from 1961 to 1965), and details of structures and complexes in mining regions in Lorraine and the United States. With an extreme formal rigour, the two artists worked on the isolation and frontality of their subjects in order to obtain a totally a-contextual image: each structure was regarded like an individual, centered and frontally framed as close as possible to the architectural elevation, in a desire to objectivize the object and preserve its integrity. Any context or anecdotal effect was got rid of: tight shots, absence of depth of field, black and white work, diffuse light… all gave rise to a process of distancing which nevertheless turned these structures into monumental and expressive objects. Bernd and Hilla Becher refused to overlay feelings and emotions on something that expressed itself by itself. The systematic inventorial work which Hilla Becher described as “comparative anatomies” was aimed at classifying, indexing and comparing buildings by highlighting their similarities: same-format images were set up in groups of 9, 12 and 15 in an almost mathematical order. In their work, the series thus represented an inseparable whole: horizontal, vertical and diagonal liaisons connected the images to each other. In 1976, Bernd and Hilla Becher were called upon to teach at the Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf; they would have a marked influence on many of their students, including Candida Höfer, Axel Hüte, Thomas Struth, Andreas Gursky, Thomas Ruff and Petra Wunderlich.

Hilla (1934-2015) and Bernd (1931-2007) Becher started to work together in 1957, and were married in 1961. Their first book “Anonyme Skulpturen” was published in 1970. As professors at the Düsseldorf Academy from 1976 to 1996, they were awarded the Lion d’or for sculpture at the 1990 Venice Biennale. In 2004, the Centre Georges Pompidou and the Düsseldorf Museum held a retrospective show of their work, and, in 2008, the MoMA in New York held the exhibition “Bernd and Hilla Becher: Landscape/typology”.

Nadine Labedade