Bernd und Hilla Becher

Functional Buildings

Since the end of the 1950s, Bernd and Hilla Becher have been traveling around Europe and North America. They photograph mines, winding towers, gas containers, blast furnaces, power stations, cooling towers, grain silos, warehouses. They have to this very day remained true to their project of an almost encyclopedic stock-taking of anonymous utility buildings from the age of industrialization. In doing so, they opt for a decidedly matter-of-fact and sober visual idiom that is appropriately expressed by black-and-white photography. This ensures that the steel edifices stand out particularly vividly. In the serial setting, the individual shots (which reveal basic shapes and deviations, similarities and differences) merge to form typologies.

Some commentators have discerned a likeness between this photographic series and Minimal or Concept Art; the Bechers themselves first and foremost see their work as continuing the tradition of New Objectivity. In the early 20th century many artists (painters, writers, and directors) found their real issue in the depiction of social and economic realities. In the 1920s and 1930s photographers also devoted themselves increasingly to the everyday lives and working lives of people. The topics and aesthetic means of expression suppressed during the Third Reich are revitalized by the Bechers in their photographs of industrial and commercial premises.

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.

Biographical information

1931

Bernd Becher was born in Siegen on August 20th

1947–50

apprenticeship in scene painting

1951

sojourn in Italy

1953–56

studied at the Staatliche Kunstakademie Stuttgart under Karl Rössing

1957

first photographs of industrial buildings

1957–61

studied Typografie at the Staatliche Kunstakademie Düsseldorf

1934

Hilla Becher was born as Hilla Wobeser in Potsdam on September 2nd apprenticeship in photography, then worked as a commercial photographer in Hamburg and Düsseldorf

1957

moved to Düsseldorf

1958–61

studied at the Staatliche Kunstakademie Düsseldorf and created the department of photography

1959

beginning of the collaboration of Hilla Wobeser und Bernd Becher

1959–63

photographs of industrial plants and houses, especially in the area of Siegen

1961

marriage of Hilla Wobeser and Bernd Becher

1961–65

photographs especially in the industrial districts of the Siegerland, the Ruhr area and the Netherlands

1963

first photographs of mines in the Ruhr area, cements factories in Southern Germany and lime factorys in the Netherlands

1964

first photographs in the industrial districts of Belgium, France, and Luxemburg

1965

first photographs of mines in England, Wales, und Scotland

1966

scholarship of the British Council for six months in England

1968

first photographs in the USA

1972/73

honorary professorship of Hilla Becher at the Hochschule für bildende Künste, Hamburg.

since 1974

more photographs in the industrial districts of Western Europe and North America

1976–96

Bernd Becher professor of photography at the Staatliche Kunstakademie Düsseldorf

1990

awarded the Golden Lion at Venice Biennial

1994

awarded the Kaiserring in Goslar

2001

awarded the Staatspreis des Landes Nordrhein-Westfalen in Düsseldorf.

2002

awarded the prize of the Architekturmuseum Basel

2002

awarded the Erasmuspreis in Amsterdam

2003

Infinity Award of the International Center of Photography, New York

2007

Death of Bernd Becher

2015

Death of Hilla Becher