Saturday, August 29, 2009

A couple of years ago at the Getty Center in Los Angeles, I had the chance to see an exhibition by German photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher. Each image was a small, black and white image of a building structure. Sometimes these structures were arranged in a grid, showing each side of a single building, or several buildings of a similar type. The viewing invited comparison between what the artists consider "typologies" of Western European industrial and residential structures. The exhibition was paired with a large collection of portrait photographs by August Sander, who documented various individuals who typified various subcultures. After viewing Sander's traditional portraits of people, I felt that the Becher exhibition of building structures was also I kind of portraiture.

From the Getty Center website:
"For nearly 50 years, Bernd and Hilla Becher photographed the industrial architecture of western Europe. Using a large-format camera loaded with five-by-seven-inch sheet film, they created an archive of the basic forms that inform our understanding of the industrial era. Rendered with absolute precision in the palette of cool grays characteristic of medium-contrast gelatin silver prints, each structure is centered against a cloudless sky, filling the picture frame. Their choice to limit decisions, effectively employing a "nonstyle"—which, ironically, became an immediately recognizable style—demonstrates the role the Bechers' work has played in bridging the gap between photography as document and photography as art in the second half of the 20th century."

Online book of Becher work

Bernd and Hilla Becher, large, steel storage tank, circa 1960s, silver gelatin print

Bernd and Hilla Becher, "Framework houses, area", collection Ydessa Hendeles, Art Foundation, 1989,Tipologie, Biennale de Venise, 1990.

Bernd and Hilla Becher, Water Towers, France and Germany, German, 1968 - 1972, Gelatin silver prints