Bernd and Hilla Becher

Bernd and Hilla Becher’s photographs of industrial structures concentrate on both the historical significance and the visual appearance of their subjects.

After meeting as students at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf in 1957 they began collaborating, working together until Bernd’s death in 2007. During this time they photographed over 200 industrial plants and buildings in Europe and North America. They described their subjects as ‘anonymous sculptures’, their form and function implicitly bound up with the geography and economy of the specific region.

The Bechers produced each image methodically, positioning the camera to capture the form from one of three perspectives: either as a detail, in the context of its surroundings or in its entirety. They always worked in overcast conditions to avoid shadows. This approach allowed the artists to group images together in a grid format, irrespective of the dates they were taken, by the function of the structure, materials used and shared formal characteristics to create ‘a more or less perfect chain of different forms and shapes’.

The Bechers’ work transformed attitudes to photography within the context of fine art. Their systematic approach to taking and organising images has close links to developments in sculpture and conceptual art. Over the years they have influenced many artists, as well as a generation of photographers who studied under Bernd at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf and have become known as the Düsseldorf School. Photographs by one of his former students, Thomas Struth, are included in this room, demonstrating the impact the Bechers had on these younger artists.

Curated by Simon Baker and Shoair Mavlian.

I was a bit underwhelmed by their work, although I understand the importance of this work. You cannot have a series without some consistency in it – the question is what and it is something I am not clear about.

NOTE: I saw many of these images at Tate Modern recently and again while I increasingly see their place in the history of photography I am still not engaged cerebrally or emotionally with their work.