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Photography Essays - Bernd and Hilla Becher

Identify what you consider to be the legacy of the designer Bernd and Hilla Becher for the value of the photographic image.

'The modern shooter is the architect's most significant publicist'; that is, if one considers architectural photography a dumb copying device, and a real record that informs the onlooker only of the building and its operation. However banal a series of photographs depicting only drinking water towers might seem, Bernd and Hilla Becher dedicated much attention to photographing such symbols of post-war Germany and so created a historical document. In this manner, the Bechers' living legacy is 'a narrative of socio-historic truth based on photography's potential to maintain some indexical trace of its subject', but as stated by Mack, the Bechers are between those photographers who are also 'included in some degree of development or fabrication, distinct from the realist and objective position which is usually related to [picture taking]'. Their picture taking and teachings stand for a time when photography was receiving serious thought by the European art scene and so are undeniably important and influential, but possibly the most pointed question to ask of their work is the exact dynamics of its influence on other artists, on the type of the photographic image, and on the scenery of Germany which the mine shafts and silos they photographed were a essential part.

Just as an traditional text is the subject of the author's interpretation of the truth of the times, a photograph is the product of the photographer's choice and manipulation of an image. It is plain that the Bechers weren't wanting to flatter architects or approve of the look and function of the properties they photographed, as is usually the case in the common understanding of architectural photography. Though it cannot be denied that their many images, like those of August Sander, produce a social document for posterity's sake, the images are by no means a sentimental harking back again to the past or a reassurance of German id. The technology depicted in the Bechers' typological sequences, often in circumstances of deterioration or abandonment, could be thought to represent a time of spiritual poverty and the 'erosion of inherited social and moral prices'. In light of this suggestion, Bernd and Hilla Becher seemed to be seeking to report their themes in a specialized medical, objective manner; left over fascinated with but shedding days gone by in the trust that 'the unburied commercial resources of Modernist imagery be sanitized and distanced from us, lest [they]. . . invade the heads of another technology'. Therefore, unlike August Sander, the Bechers tend to be more interested in displaying us loss of life (somewhat than Sander's life review of the classes of Germany); the photographs can be said to be looking ahead to an improved future only when the viewers interprets it so.

Shouldn't these photos then, fascinated by death to the point of necrophilia, be registered away and neglected? Rather, it should be said that the images enlarge our knowledge of the photographic image, exactly because they provide as a stark reminder of the past from which the world has changed. As much as it was tactful for German music artists to deny history in the immediate post-war period, Bernd and Hilla Becher thought we would show it, with characteristically functionalist honesty and truth. Viewing the photographs, we realize that the spiritually repressive the perfect time to which the properties belong has transferred and so view our position favourably. Picture taking is the talent that is most directly much like our reality; whether they designed to or not, the Bechers have created art work by which we view background with a clarity that can't be gained through recollection or other fine art forms.

Photography is definitely associated with some notion of eliminating and keeping days gone by in order that it is not forgotten, although definitely not to be able to commend or legitimate the incidents therein. An comprehensive assortment of nakedly truthful architectural portraits including the Bechers', could be said to be a means of preserving the properties and what they symbolize, rather than way of banishing those to 'the registers of the dead' to ensure that society moves onward (or at least away from the faux 'progression' of industrialisation). Preservation, yes, as important to the renewal of German identity as is the conservation of Auschwitz. Indeed, the Bechers were heavily involved in the German commercial preservation movements that started in the 1950s and led to numerous icons of the country's economical and cultural background being posted and their demolition averted. The power of the Bechers' art work, and therefore part with their rendering of photography as an important form, is tangible in that the photos were so convincing that they truly became a part of a movements which altered (or managed) Germany's surroundings.

It can also be said that, in conserving the winding items, the framework workers' homes and silos in their fine art, the Bechers' 'commercial archaeology' was a study into specific areas. Despite statements that their subject matter are completely isolated from their environment, the photographs tend to be dated and their locations recorded, and therefore give a pertinent reminder of a specific space and time for every single similar but significantly different image. Following that, a viewer can take time to review the stilled physicality of the structures, their silent watch, whilst remaining aware of their specialised presence within individual societies.

Whilst this is a big part of the Bechers' typological studies' legacy, their way of demonstrating buildings is most definitely not anthropocentric. Never do they purposefully use the human being form to legitimise or enrich their professional subjects. Indeed, it is the very lack of the real human form that makes these images so interesting because actually 'the handiwork of men is all over the place visible' and the collection stands partly as a testimony to humankind's inexhaustible ingenuity and inventiveness. The Bechers' desire for metal and all that complements its production could not be a better statement about that which is alien to real human fleshly existence, but in the same manner this is a comment on the extents to which commercial people are forced to go because of their reliance on the laws of aspect.

Not directly considering the real human form, but nevertheless something of the real human head and skill, the Bechers' fine art shows humankind's flagging attempt to master characteristics, to reign it in and make use of it or, indeed, to 'make aspect in the image of their own wishes'. Such a challenge can only result in inability as, with normal water towers for illustration, the very function of the properties remind us that people are absolutely reliant on the earth's resources; only once we combine our knowledge of causes such as gravity with our desire to stay alive are we in a position to create technology that provide us whilst abiding by nature's regulations. In so saying, it is interesting to notice that the static image of the picture reminds one of the denial of development. The Bechers help the viewers see, through their almost exhaustive collection of similar images, the variations between the humans self applied and the complexes in the photographs. The most pointed variation being how each succumbs to the techniques of progression. Whilst we move on from battle, from old ideas about artwork, from economic maximum to economical trough, these properties stay very similar. This becomes area of the distancing process that appears to make the Bechers' work so important; the photographic image is unchangeable, undeniable truth that will usually remain in the past whilst we move ahead ourselves. The photos come to refuse the 'improvement' they formerly stood for, and so reaffirm our place in the present and, moreover, suggest our continuation into a future that will be different.

The Bechers' work has received much attention; even earning a prestigious reward for sculpture. The framing of the photographed structures, the uniform lamps used and the themes' apparent liberty from their visible environment allows a neutralisation, which brings the complexes nearer to sculptural treatment than the two-dimensional reportage that is usually the great deal of the photographic image. As Klaus Bussmann areas in his intro to the Bechers' Industrial Faades; 'in these images the function of the architecture does not emerge from its form'. Unlike the art work of the Neue Sachlichkeit, the Bechers' picture taking does not enjoy the 'dynamic and dramatic functionality of the industrial machine'; indeed it does not spend them with any interpretation whatsoever. We make investments them with so this means and recollections - however the Bechers were seemingly fascinated by their deadness, their static place ever sold and their contrast with the vibrancy of individuals existence.

The Bechers' work made a exceptional impact on the fine art world, and the affect of the legacy is partly because of the manner in which they thought we would display their photographs when their work was exhibited. If there is a disagreement that depicts the photographic image as a bland record of what we should can all see as it is available or been around in nature, then the Bechers' typological constructs deny this. Observed in teams; one building compared to twelve others of almost (but pointedly not) similar appearance, the content of the photographs are recreated anew, and suddenly become something other than their pure physicality. The viewers is irresistibly invited to take note of those dissimilarities, to see the similarities and variations all at once - are they impersonal or not, beautiful or ugly? Seen collectively, the images become a greater task to the viewer's idea of banality, of universality and the essential core of human needs.

Alongside their fellow post-war photographers, the Bechers recreated picture taking as an art, which is as genuine as any other. Their subject matter is in a roundabout way passionate, will not reveal the interior workings of the professional photographers' personality and will not even package with mental issues, as is the common market of the artwork world. Instead, their relaxed, measured group of photographs introduces an integral part of western industrial society in the most honest way. Because of its closeness to our experience of fact, we react very deeply to photography; the experience of taking a look at a framed family portrait is intensely psychological whether the subject is treated within an psychological manner or not. The legacy of the Bechers operates deep, especially in light with their teachings at Dјsseldorf and the professional photographers who have come after them. Bernd and Hilla truly realized the energy of photography and also have had a hand in spending the medium with the 'ability to influence our belief of the world around us'. Their legacy is complex and the non-public a reaction to their work can be perplexing as one discovers a desire for the deadness with their subjects at the same time to be instilled with some semblance of expect the near future. Their 'commercial archaeology' will remain with us to aid the excavation of man-made scenery and, indirectly, lead to an improved understanding of the individual condition.


  • Becher, B. Tipologie, Typologien, Typologies - Bernd and Hilla Becher. Munster: Klaus Bussmann, Bonn: 1990


  • Becher, B. Industrial Faades - Bernd and Hilla Becher. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press: 1995


  • Becher, B. Normal water Towers - Bernd and Hilla Becher. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press: 1988


  • De Mare, E. Architectural Picture taking. London: B T Batsford: 1975


  • Gillen, E (ed. ) German Art work from Beckman to Richter: images of any divided country. London: DuMont: 1997


  • Homburg, C (ed. ) German Artwork Now. London: Merrell: 2003


  • Honnef, K & Sachsse, R & Thomas, K (eds. ) German Picture taking 1870 - 1970: ability of a medium. Cologne: DuMont: 1997


  • Mack, M. Reconstructing Space: structures in recent German picture taking. London: AA Magazines: 1999


  • Robinson, C & Herschmann, J. Architecture Transformed: a history of the picture taking of buildings from 1839 to the present Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press: 1987


  • Rosselli, P. (ed. ) Structures in Photography Milan: Skira: 2001


  • Sander, A. August Sander: people of the twentieth century: portrait images 1892 - 1952. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press: 1986


  • http://www. arts. monash. edu. au/visarts/globe/issue6/dptxt. html 31. 03. 05
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