Bernd and Hilla Becher. Winding Towers, Belgium, Germany. 1971–91. Gelatin silver prints, each 15 3/4 x 12 1/8″ (40 x 30.8 cm). Lent by Hilla Becher. Courtesy Sonnabend Gallery, New York. © Hilla Becher
The German artists Bernd and Hilla Becher, who began working together in 1959 and married in 1961, are best known for their “typologies”—grids of black-and-white photographs of variant examples of a single type of industrial structure. To create these works, the artists traveled to large mines and steel mills, and systematically photographed the major structures, such as the winding towers that haul coal and iron ore to the surface and the blast furnaces that transform the ore into metal. The rigorous frontality of the individual images gives them the simplicity of diagrams, while their density of detail offers encyclopedic richness. At each site the Bechers also created overall landscape views of the entire plant, which set the structures in their context and show how they relate to each other. The typologies emulate the clarity of an engineer’s drawing, while the landscapes evoke the experience of a particular place. The exhibition presents these two formats together; because they lie at the polar extremes of photographic description, each underscores the creative potential of the other.
Organized by Peter Galassi, Chief Curator of Photography.
see also Tate Papers The Photographic Comportment of Bernd and Hilla Becher