Fine Art Photography Series
Bernd and Hilla Becher

German Photographers of Industrial Architecture.


Bernd (1931-2007) and Hilla (b.1934) Becher


Bernd and Hilla Becher's Photography
Other Famous Camera Artists

For more about the early inventions and new processes upon which modern camera art is based, see: the History of Photography (c.1800-1900).

For a brief explanation of technical
and historical terms, please see:
Art Photography Glossary.

Bernd and Hilla Becher's Photography

Two of the greatest photographers of the Dusseldorf School, Bernhard and Hilla Becher have - since the 1960s - compiled an extensive series of photos of industrial architecture, capturing the residues of a fading industrial age. This artistic couple worked together for more than thirty years on this pictorial study, creating an astounding archive of documentary photography, far from academic discourse. It features: workers' housing, water towers and gas tanks, lime kilns and blast furnaces, coal bunkers and cooling towers. The instruments of industrial production, seen as sculpture, seem isolated, without working people, monuments to themselves and, equally, symbols of a society organized for functionality and efficiency. As the founders of the Becher school of fine art photography they have inspired a whole new generation of documentary photographers, including Candida Hofer (b.1944), Axel Hutte (b.1951), Petra Wunderlich (b.1954), Thomas Struth (b.1954), Andreas Gursky (b.1955), Thomas Ruff (b.1958), Simone Nieweg (b.1962), and Laurenz Berges (b.1966).

For other documentary camera artists, see the Frenchman: Eugene Atget (1857-1927), the American Walker Evans (1903-75) and the early work of the conceptual graphic artist Barbara Kruger (b.1945).


Bernd Becher: born in Siegen, starts 1947 apprenticeship as decoration painter. 1953-56, studies painting and lithography at the Academy of Fine Arts, Stuttgart, under Karl Rossing. 1957-61, studies typography at the Dusseldorf Academy of Fine Arts. From 1959, works together with Hilla Becher (born, Hilla Wobeser). Hilla Becher: born in Potsdam, trains as a camera artist under Walter Eichgrun. 1958-61, studies in Dusseldorf. Later establishes a photo department in the Academy there. 1961, marries Bernd.

In Dusseldorf, both start working as freelance photographers for the Troost Advertising Agency, focusing on product photography. In addition - influenced by the works of Karl Blossfeldt (1865-1932), a forerunner of Die Neue Sachlichkeit, and August Sander (1876-1964) the internationally known sociological photographer of the New Objectivity movement, but also Conceptual art and Minimalism (Ed Ruscha) - they begin photographing the disappearing German industrial architecture. They start with structures located in the Ruhr Valley, from a straightforward "objective" point of view. They work exclusively on overcast days, in order to avoid shadows. Subjects include industrial plant, water towers, cooling towers, barns, grain elevators, blast furnaces, coal bunkers, oil tanks, storage silos, and warehouses. They also photograph in other countries, including Britain, France, and Belgium, as well as North America, where they visit heavy industrial sites in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and southern Ontario.

Later they organize their photographs in the form of multi-part (ordered) series. First solo exhibition 1963. First museum presentation 1967 in the Neue Sammlung in Munich. A review by Carl Andre (in Artforum, no. 12, 1972) establishes their international reputation.

In 1976, Bernd Becher becomes Professor of Artistic Photography at the Dusseldorf Arts Academy, a post he occupies for 20 years. He inspires a whole generation of camera artists with his documentary-style New Objectivity photography. Bernd and Hilla win numerous awards, including Golden Lion at the XLIV Venice Biennale (1990), Erasmus Prize (2002), Hasselbled Award (2004).

For a brief discussion of the aesthetics and evolution of camera art, see: Is Photography Art?

Selected Exhibitions

Unless stated all shows are solo events.

1963 Siegen (Germany) (Galerie Ruth Nohl)
1967 Munich (Die Neue Sammlung)
1972 Kassel (documenta 5 - 1977/76, 1982/87, 2002/11)
1975 New York (Museum of Modern Art, MOMA)
1985 Essen (Museum Folkwang)
1989 Brussels (Palais des Beaux-Arts)
1990 Venice (Biennale) group show
1991 Cleveland (Ohio) (Cleveland Center for Contemporary Art)
1994 Bochum (Germany) (Kunstsammlungen der Ruhr-Universitat)
1998 Berlin (Berlinische Galerie)
1999 Cologne (SK StiftungKultur)
2004 Dusseldorf (Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen K21)
2005 Berlin (Hamburger Bahnhof)
2006 Cologne (Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur)
2008 New York (Museum of Modern Art)
2009 Bologna (Museo Morandi)

Photographs by Bernd and Hilla Becher are regularly exhibited in some of the best galleries of contemporary art across America.



Profiles of Other Famous Camera Artists

In addition to the great 19th-Century Photographers, as well as to those photographers mentioned above, here is a short list of the best known documentary photographers of the 20th century.

Charles Sheeler (1883-1965)
Noted for his documentary photos of Ford's River Rouge car plant.
Dorothea Lange (1895-1965)
Celebrated for her documentary-style rural portraits of the Depression.
Leni Riefenstahl (1902-2003)
Best known for her Nazi propagandist films and photography.
Robert Capa (1913-54)
The foremost photographer of World War II.
Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
Noted for her portraits portraying marginal groups in New York.
Larry Burrows (1926-1971)
One of the most famous Vietnam war photographers.
Don McCullin (b.1935)
Arguably the greatest documentary photographer of conflict and war.

• For more about photography of industrial architecture, see: Homepage.
• For other forms of camera art, see: Animation and Video Art.

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