Research note – Bernd and Hilla Becher

Bernd Becher (1931-2007) and Hilla Becher (1934-2015) were German conceptual artist and photographers famous for their topological photographs of industrial structures. They are considered the main founders of the Dusseldorf school of photography.

The following observations come from “The Long Look”, by Michael Collins.

“They immediately moved up from a Rolleiflex to a plate camera…. to use a camera to take the clearest pictures possible. This quality was largely discarded when art photographers thought that their pictures needed effects – soft focus, high contrast and so on – for the resulting image to be defined as art.”(1)

Fidelity versus art?…but can clear, faithful reproduction, record shoots, be a form or art? How about the creation of artificial spaces via post processing? Is this acceptable as a means to the end of achieving clarity, even at the expense of fidelity?…(see Rhein II – Andreas Gursky, who meticulously removed buildings and people from a picture of the Rhein river for the purpose of a achieving a clear, uncluttered spare  – “Paradoxically, this view of the Rhine cannot be obtained in situ, a fictitious construction was required to provide an accurate image of a modern river.” (2) ).

“The Bechers’ goal is to create photographs that are concentrated on the structures themselves and not qualified by subjective interpretations…that is, record pictures.”(1)

No soul? distance and coldness?…objectivity? – pictures emulate technical drawings, with front and side elevations. They also sought to neutralize the effects of light by taking pictures during overcast days…perhaps the beauty of these pictures is not related to the subject itself or the way such subject is portrayed, but on the capturing of significant detail, allowing the viewer to explore the object as if it were in front of it.

“There is a wisdom and honour in the Bechers’ work which frees them from imposing a conditional reading upon the viewer. The wisdom is the methodology they recognise in the ‘neutral’ depiction of record photography. The honour stems from a principle about not imposing their ideas on other people.”(1)

I relate to the above in the sense that I am not particularly attracted to the kind of photography that may take explicity sides on an argument, but would much prefer the ideas to flow subtly from my view on a particular subject, with sufficient ambiguity to allow the viewer to stand on any side of the argument if this suits them.  However, I believe full neutrality is difficult to achieve in any case because even an attempt to do that is likely to be influenced by our own prejudices.

 

“Of course, their motivations are not invisible, nor their presence unfelt. What does it mean when something ‘rings true’? How is it that one can sense the sincerity in another’s words? Perhaps this lies in the realm of intuition, not explanation. To analyse art is not necessarily to experience it. Sometimes, by focusing on a deliberation of it, one limits the engagement to a cerebral encounter. In the West particularly, we use explanations to try to control the unknown, to make uncertainties certain. Maybe there is a wisdom we have that is not learnt but is within us. Far better to look rather than puzzle, and to open one’s senses to what is there.”(1)

This is an interesting concept, and somehow connected to my previous comment. By neutralising the delivery one forces the viewer to focus on the subject as it is. But is it sufficient to sustain a picture from an artistic point of view? And is this alleged neutrality of presentation in itself a message?

“And when the structures have been demolished and grassed over, as though they were never there, the pictures remain.”(1)

Again, we see the idea of time and photography, although this time it has nothing to do with time series as in Tina Barney’s, but more with the preservation of history. This, in itself can be interpretred as a message from the photographers, in as much as individual pictures may achive a “neutral” point of view, but the body of work as such, including how pictures are arranged and selected, cannot be separated from the photographer’s ideals or points of view.

_____________

(1)  Collins, M. (2002) The long look. Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/articles/long-look-bernd-hilla-becher (Accessed: 27 June 2016).

(2)  Quoted from Andreas Gursky in Waters, F. (2011) Photograph by Andreas Gursky breaks auction record. Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/art-news/8883330/Photograph-by-Andreas-Gursky-breaks-auction-record.html (Accessed: 27 June 2016).

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