LOS ANGELES.- The presentation Bernd and Hilla Becher: Basic Forms at the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Getty Center, May 6September 14, 2008, explores the collaboration between Bernd and Hilla Becher, a husband and wife team, who photographed the industrial architecture of Western Europe for nearly fifty years.
Together, the Bechers created an archive of basic structural forms, recording the heritage of an industrial past. Using a large-format camera, they documented the disappearing industrial architecture of Western Europe with absolute precision. Favoring a typological exploration, the Bechers sequenced their photographs in monographic publications dedicated to specific structural types or arranged them in grids for exhibition.
Influenced by the objectivity of photographic practices between the two world wars, embraced by practitioners of Minimal and Conceptual art in the 1960s and 1970s, and embedded in the visual vocabulary of almost every photographer working today, the systematic nature of their approach has transformed elements ordinarily associated with a non-style into an immediately recognizable style.
Their choice to limit decisions 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 twentieth century, says Virginia Heckert, associate curator for the Getty Museums Department of Photographs.
Bernd Becher (German, 19312007) and Hilla Wobeser (German, born 1934) first met in 1959 at the Düsseldorf Art Academy. Bernd was continuing his studies in painting and typography and Hilla, who had trained as a commercial photographer, was assigned to set up and run a photographic darkroom. Fascinated by the sculptural forms of the industrial structures that rose from the landscape of the nearby region of Siegen where he grew up, Bernd soon began working with Hilla to create straightforward black-and-white photographs that recorded the typical yet anonymous architecture of the regions coal mines, iron ore plants, and residential neighborhoods.
Collaborating fully on all aspects of their work, the Bechers also photographed outside of Germany, including structures throughout Western Europe and the United States. As structures fell into disrepair or became inoperative, and as their increased teaching and exhibition commitments made it more difficult to photograph as extensively, they devoted more time to reviewing and organizing their archive of images. They dedicated monographs to individual themes, beginning with Framework Houses of the Siegen Industrial Region, and continuing into the 21st century with Industrial Landscapes (2002).
Bernd and Hilla Becher: Basic Forms will be shown alongside the work of August Sander in the presentation, August Sander: People of the Twentieth Century. Their approach is directly indebted to August Sanders categorization of basic social types by profession and class and many of their early images were taken in the Siegen district, where Sanders subjects, in particular, the farmers and villagers, had lived or worked half a century before.