Simple black and white photographs hang on the walls of the Getty Center in Los Angeles. They are portraits, documentaries and sculptures. The subject is the same in every picture yet this photography collection is far from dull. The images, warm and satisfying, make up an exhibit entitled Bernd and Hilla Becher: Basic Forms. The Bechers, a German husband wife team, have documented industrial building since the 1960s and their art is clinical and simple and always true to a straightforward purpose.
The Bechers met at an art academy in Germany and started working together photographing the surrounding architecture of their industrial environment. Later they would travel to the U.S. as well as other European countries documenting all types of industrial building such as water towers, lime kilns, iron ore plants, warehouses, and more.
In an interview with The Getty Center, Hilla Becher explained that Bernd’s interest in his subject matter stemmed from his want to preserve his childhood that was spent in a very industrial area. When Hilla moved to Siegen, Germany (Bernd’s hometown) she was overwhelmed by the old industrial area and took an interest in helping Bernd preserve the complex yet mundane buildings.
Preservation is what they accomplished in their work. They have been commended for their truthful and minimalist portrayal of not only industrial structures but of an industrial age with out romanticizing or dramatizing. The architecture chosen was often unused, abandoned and had already seen its heyday. The Becher’s main focus was the similarities of these “anonymous sculptures,” as Bernd called them, by using various angles and simplistic composition. Negating the environmental surroundings and categorizing their images, the Bechers found a way to produce an objective profile of their subjects.
To further their focus on the similarities of form, but contrast in function and location, the married couple created typologies and monographs of their photographs allowing the viewer to compare the buildings’ forms unaware of their settings. They would often display images from around the world together with the viewer never knowing how close these almost identical creations were to each other. The buildings environment, location and function became obsolete creating something much more than an image.
These modest photographs capture inconspicuous recurrent structures and highlight them in a way that gives them a new life, creating an interest and awareness within the viewer of things that may go unnoticed in everyday life. Basic Forms will be on exhibition until September 14th.