Bernd and Hilla Becher: Mines and Mills – Industrial Landscapes
For more than forty years, the photographer couple Bernd und Hilla Becher (*1931-2007/*1934) worked on creating an inventory of industrial architecture. Warehouses, shaft towers, gas tanks, blast furnaces as well as half-timbered houses are among the subjects they photographed throughout Germany, England, France, Central Europe, and the USA. Calling these buildings “anonymous sculptures,” they refer to the artistic quality of the constructions, which played no role for the buildings’ largely unknown builders and users. Their photographs attempt to draw attention to these hidden sculptural qualities and to document them historically as a building tradition in decline.
Bernd and Hilla Becher have always held particular interest for the industrial architecture in the Ruhr region. The exhibition Mines and Mills – Industrial Landscapes systematically examines this aspect of their work for the first time. Even today, names such as the Concordia and Hannibal collieries or Gutehoffnungshütte stand for the industrial history of the Ruhr region. Instead of concentrating on individual buildings, the exhibition approaches the mining facilities as a whole and in the context of their urban or natural surroundings. This typology, which the Bechers described as “industrial landscape,” compares the Ruhr region with similar complexes elsewhere in Europe and the USA.
As with their typological multiple and serial views of buildings, Bernd and Hilla Becher strive for a comparative perspective in their industrial landscapes. Demonstrating great photographic restraint in their approach and in the name of a “new objectivity” dedicated solely to the object, they stand in a long tradition of proponents of the documentary gaze that includes Eugène Atget, Karl Blossfeldt, Walker Evans, Albert Renger-Patzsch and August Sander. Their influence on the history of photography extends from the establishment of the “Düsseldorf School” into the present.