1931 – 2007
The influence upon a couple of generations of photography – quite amazing to learn and follow upon. The Becher’s work was some of the first that inspired me to become more seriously interested in considering the power of perception and “objectivity” in photography…
After a comment from a flickr member about the qualities of the barn series… I found this in trying to learn more about what it may mean to be “Becher – like”…. There is something worth looking at – perhaps an “atlas” of barns?
The Bechers’ photographs are exhibited individually, but more commonly in groupings that they specifically arrange. It is their organization of the thousands of images into typologies that encourages further attention to the subtlety and variation of like structures. The apparent simplicity of each photograph is the result of deliberate choices that produce the most legible image; an understanding of the essence of each subject is critical to their approach. Using a large-format camera and confronting their subject head-on in the tradition of nineteenth-century documentation, they produce images of extreme clarity. They prefer overcast skies, intentionally excluding the drama of natural light and shadow:
One tries to be honest and not cheat. It’s very easy to cheat and to make very glamorous pictures with these forms.
They maintain a constant distance from their subject so that distortion does not occur. Each print is always the same size, and each is framed similarly. The similarity of each image encourages comparison of the variation and subtlety within a type. It is the regularity of the format, rather than a sense of repetition, which is critical to the final analysis of their work. While each series remains ongoing, the artists are selective in choosing their subjects; they prefer to find typical examples that fulfill a type, rather than locating a duplicate in a different location. Structures that reveal their function are of greatest interest to the Bechers; this, in part, explains the avoidance of nuclear plants, since these structures conceal, rather than reveal, the reasons for their existence.
Written by: Cheryl Brutvan
Albright-Knox Art Gallery
More secondhand consideration of “Becher-like”….below (from http://laudanum.net/nrrtv/bchr/essay.html )
Of Hilla and Bernd:
The Ambivalence of Objectivity *
The work of Hilla and Bernd Becher is not seen in the architecture of industrial Europe and America. It is not seen in the fine craftsmanship of the photographs themselves. It is not found in one of their exhibitions. And it is not found in their books. The art of the Becher’s is inseparable from their life over the last thirty years, and is only manifest in the relentlessness of their task.
Founders of a new German school of Sachlichkeit , or objectivity1, the uncompromising way they have catalogued the twilight of the industrial era has been seen by many as a homage to, or a glorification of, western industriality. Perhaps. Looking a little further, one can begin to see inconsistencies and slippage2 in a parody3 of a catalogue of the real.
The frontal portraits of the obsoleting leviathans from the machine age that comprise a thirty year career, are preserved in archival silver and rag, destined to last well in excess of a century. Minimalising subjectivity in the elimination of perspective, the removal of context and activity and the suppression of nature, what remains carries the flame of scientific precision. They are not cropped, not manipulated, not fictional in any way. These documents present a true and accurate account of the industriality of post-war Europe and America as embodied by its architecture. Perhaps.
Humankind’s five hundred year obsession with discovering a single unifying law that would describe the Universe, climaxed at the cusp of the nineteenth and twentieth century when Einstein collapsed the Universe, Freud cracked the Mind and Darwin conquered Life.
In the photographs of the Becher’s, the most effective and possibly devastating cultural machine to be perfected during the industrial age, the camera, is turned on these signals of a successful and wealthy society. Grouped by species, the buildings, in common with pre-twentieth century scientific and museum practise, present only their objectness , objectified. Nothing can interfere with their proper examination and study. So what can these images tell us of industrial societies? Also nothing. This terminal reduction of information has left us with data so sterile, nothing further can be gained. All we know is that they exist, or did.
“human experience of the structures is irrelevant to the Bechers’ work”4
Context, point-of-view, circumstance, subjectivity .. these are the things that lend meaning to what are otherwise simply objects. These pictures are cropped, from life and context. They are manipulated, though geography and time5.
The Becher’s employ this mimicry of categorisation in order to point out the flaws within that system, and by induction, the flaws in notions of objectivity and truth. They force objectivity until it breaks under its own preconceptions, revealing only inaccuracy and falsehood.
* apologies to Homi Bhabha
1 Reinhard Mucha, Bernd and Hilla Becher
Nobert Messeler Art International, Summer 1990
2 Term drawn from post-colonial discourse, coined by Homi Bhabha in Of Mimicry and Man: The Ambivalence of Colonial Discourse (October , Spring 1984). Although way out of context, this term is useful and descriptive in terms of the Becher’s practise.
3 Industry on Exhibit Frederick L. Quivik
Design Book Review Winter/Spring 1995
4 The Art of Hilla and Bernd Becher Weston J. Naef
Water Towers MIT Press 1988