Bernd and Hiller Becher

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The above photograph of a German lime kiln is distinctive in it’s simplicity.   The tonal handling emphasizes a full range of grays from white to black.  The close crop and plain back ground remove distracting elements.  Its handling  can only be described as skillful.  The photograph emphasizes the geometry of this interesting 20th Century industrial architecture.  The most remarkable thing is that this is just one of a series of similar photographs.  Below you can see the other lime kilns taken by Bernd and Hiller Becher.

Each image of the series is taken from a similar perspective with similar lighting.  The photographers have gone to some length to standardize the approach to photographing this structure.  The result is that the eye wanders from picture to picture, structure to structure picking out the subtle differences.  I can speculate that their interest was perhaps scientific or architectural.  However these images are found in art galleries.  The series is mounted on the wall in a tight grid to emphasize repetition and subtle change.  This is the hallmark of the photography of Bernd and Hiller Becher.

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Bernd and Hiller Becher receiving the the Hasselblad Award

Wikipedia describes the pair as follows,

German conceptual artists and photographers working as a collaborative duo. They are best known for their extensive series of photographic images, or typologies, of industrial buildings and structures, often organised in grids. As the founders of what has come to be known as the ‘Becher school’ or the ‘Düsseldorf School’ they influenced generations of documentary photographers and artists.[2] They have been awarded the Erasmus Prize and the Hasselblad Award. 

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Their “typologies” of industrial and everyday architecture are extensive and skillful.  Angle and lighting look to be identical even though each location may differ by hundreds of kilometers and seasons and time of day are constantly changing.  They have created an art form by looking for similarities and  systematization in portrayal of their subjects.

Hilla and Berndt Met as students at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf in 1957.  They began collaborating on photographing and documenting the disappearing German industrial architecture in 1959, using large 8 x 10-inch view cameras.  They shot only on overcast days, so as to avoid shadows, and early in the morning during the seasons of spring and fall. They photographed the buildings from various different angles.  They described their approach as  a straight forward “objective” point of view. (Source)

The Becher school has influenced a number of (mainly) German photographers including Laurenz Berges, Andreas Gursky, Candida Höfer, Axel Hütte, Simone Nieweg, Thomas Ruff, Thomas Struth and Petra Wunderlich.  The Canadian Edward Burtynsky also works in a similar mode. 

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Oil by Edward Burtynsky

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