Many of the industrial plants they photographed no longer exist. The buildings were already under threat of closure or of being torn down when the Bechers set about photographing them. Their photographs therefore have a major significance for cultural history, if only for historical documentary reasons. What is even more important is perhaps the fact that Bernd and Hilla Becher have succeeded in imbuing ostensibly trivial engineered buildings with a value hitherto only accorded great architecture if not sculpture: by eliminating of the customary everyday way of seeing, these functional objects receive a quality that tends to be overlooked in everyday life.
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The two artists Bernd and Hilla Becher first collaborated in 1959 and were married in 1961. They began working as freelance photographers, concentrating on industrial photography.From their first series of photographs of water towers, the artists have not veered from architectural portraiture subjects, using both industrial and domestic structures such as gas tanks, silos, framework houses, and the like.
Berndt and Hilla Becher’s photographs of pitheads, taken at collieries all over Britain between 1965 and 1973, are at an opposite extreme to Coalbrookdale by Night because they attempt to be completely detached statements of what pitheads actually look like…
<p>Seit Anfang der 1960er Jahre arbeit das Künstlerehepaar Becher systematisch an einem fotografischen Archiv industrieller Bauten. Ausgehend von Industriearchitektur (und Wohnhäusern) im Siegener Gebiet, im Ruhrgebiet und den Beneluxstaaten dehnten sie ihren Tätigkeitsbereich auf die USA und seit 1989 auch auf Osteuropa aus…<br /><br />
Mine Zolder, Belgium</p>
Vernacular industrialized architecture has been the sole subject of Bernd and Hilla Becher’s work for some forty years. Their vast photographic inventory now ranges geographically from western Europe through North America and taxonomically across an enormous array of heterogeneous building types, many verging on obsolescencemine shafts, lime kilns, silos, cooling towers, blast furnaces, tipples, gasometersall classified by reference to function. The initial impetus that led the young Bernd Becher to begin photographing such subjects in the late 1950s was purely practical: he wanted to use his recordings as raw material for the paintings he was then making in a Neue Sachlichkeit style. In those same years Hilla Becher, née Wobeser, apprenticed and briefly worked in a professional advertising studio, where she developed a passion for photographing technical and mechanistic subjects. Once husband and wife started working together, in 1957, they assumed identical roles: tasks are not separately assigned to one or the other; both are involved in scouting sites, negotiating with the owners and other authorities, setting up the cameras, and printing. The art they have produced does not fall within conventional categories of documentary photography, though it has many affiliations with that long-standing tradition. The disciplined ethic with which this dedicated German couple defined, then refined, their project of recording for posterity the increasingly neglected relics of the industrial era, with its domestic offshoots, has yielded not just an aesthetic but a vision…