Profiles in Black & White: Bernd and Hilla Becher

In Article, Black and White Photography, Photo Print Collector, Photographer on October 18, 2013 at 1:12 pm

“All we did was to turn back the time to a photography of precision which is superior to the human eye.”

-Bernd Becher

1972 study of concrete cooling towers.

1972 study of concrete cooling towers.

There have been numerous photographers who have collaborated frequently with each other and many more who inspired the other. In the case of husband and wife Bernd and Hilla Becher, their collaboration became a true partnership. Rarely does one search for just Bernd or just Hilla because each work was incomplete without the other’s input.

Bernd, born in 1931, and Hilla, born in 1934, met each other in Düsseldorf, Germany, in 1957. Both had studied art and photography prior to their meeting. Bernd had already begun to photograph the industrial sites near his hometown that were starting to disappear. In Hilla, he found a likeminded soul to continue his work. The majority of their work would encapsulate industrial structures in typologies, a catalogue of photos placed upon canvas in a grid. The precise presentation was an apt reflection of the carefully engineered subject manner they were so fascinated with. According to Susanne Lang, the Bechers were highly analytical. Prior to photographing any structure, they would collect as much data on each structure as possible, a process that could often take weeks.  After gaining permission, if necessary, to photograph the desired structure, they would use a variety of different lenses with different focal lengths in order to adapt to their surrounding and optimize the final product. Moreover, the use of black and white film instead of color was felt to better represent the three-dimensional structures. Black and white film created a detailed, legible image that lacked any distractions that might be created by prominent colors.

As their career matured, the couple would help found what would be known as the “Becher School” of photography in the mid-seventies. For twenty years, the Bechers would mentor and mold young minds at their alma mater, Kunstakademi Düsseldorf. Prior to their involvement, the art program had placed minimal focus on the photography. Many of their students have gone on to become highly respected contemporaries of the art form.

Over the course of their collaboration, the Bechers earned numerous awards in recognition for the art and impact as professors. This included the Leone d’Oro award in 1991 for their installation at Venice Biennale, the Erasmus Prize in 2002 and the Hasselblad Award in 2004.

Unfortunately, their partnership was truncated upon Bernd’s death in 2007.

For more: Bernd and Hilla Becher Photography.

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