Albam Legend: Bernd & Hilla Becher

If you like photography you’ve most likely heard of (or at least looked at) the work of Andreas Gursky; a large-format photographer, he captures seemingly mundane man-made landscapes – such as the inside of vast supermarkets – architecture and crowds. His images are full of colour, movement and humanity, in all its forms.

But this is not about Gursky. This is a piece on the inspiration behind him, the Bechers – and, indeed, the entire “Dusseldorf School of Photography,” a movement including luminaries such as Thomas Struth, Petra Wunderlich, Candida Höfer, Axel Hütte, Simone Nieweg, Thomas Ruff and Gursky, which emerged in the 1980s and 1990s under the tutelage of Bernd Becher.

Bernd Becher grew up in Siegen, North-West Germany, where as a youngster in the 1940s and 1950s, he was inspired and moved by the decline and fall of the local mine. He could not draw the disappearing mine fast enough so he picked up a camera to capture the death throes.

With these first forays into what would become his signature artistic work, Becher had struck upon a method of revealing a path, a lexicon, into the psychology of industrial architecture.

His work was selfless, the focus always on the independence of the object and its documentation, rather than its “moment as a photograph”. He wanted to highlight his subject matter – mines, blast furnaces, cooling towers – not simply as artistic matter but as the endeavour of workers, craftsmen and engineers.

Joined by his wife, Hilla, the Bechers set off in the early 1960s, together photographing as many industrial sites as they could, realising that the attention their work could garner could also help to inform others of the need to preserve the unglamorous, unloved and marginalised landscapes – endangered species of the man made world.

From the beginning the Bechers worked systematically, based out of their trusty Volkswagen van – a vehicle that doubled as a home, darkroom, and nursery for their newborn son.

In 1966, they undertook a six-month journey through England and south Wales, capturing the coal industry of numerous cities – including our home city, Nottingham. In a nice bit of symmetry, The Bechers’ concern for the industry and, therefore, those people involved within it, is echoed by our own ethos here at Albam.

Posted by Alex at 11:13am

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