Hilla Becher Archived Industrial Decline

DUSSELDORF -- The German conceptual photographer Hilla Becher, who along with her husband Bernd, influenced a whole generation of photographers and artists died last week from a stroke at age 81.

Art collectors of ArtKabinett social media network have collected her stunning images for years.

The Bechers were best known for their black-and-white photographs of industrial architecture, taking form from an 'objective' standpoint. The Bechers believed that images which were photographed objectively were more truthful. In 1990, they were awarded the Golden Lion for lifetime achievement at the Venice Biennale.

Over 40 years, the pair used an 8x10 large-format camera to document buildings that defined the early 20th-century industrial landscape: blast furnaces, water towers, coal bunkers, gas tanks, silos and factory facades, all printed in black-and-white and arranged in grids that emphasized their sameness – what she once called their “universality”.

When asked in an interview why they only photographed industrial structures, Hilla replied: “Because they are honest. They are functional, and they reflect what they do – that is what we liked. A person always is what he or she wants to be, never what he or she is. Even an animal usually plays a role in front of the camera.”

There was more to it than that, of course. The process of photographing and thus fixing these brutalist structures forever was rooted in a love of the landscape experienced as a child.

The huge buildings that dominated and defined her childhood in the Ruhr began to rapidly disappear -- as did the workers -- in Germany’s postwar economic period. The couple rightly sensed they would disappear elsewhere – across Europe, Britain and America – in the coming years. They were archivists of a vanishing aesthetic, world, and populace.

Hilla Wobeser met Bernd Becher in 1957 at the Staatliche Kunstakademie, Düsseldorf, where both were studying painting, later in1959 the duo changed focus and began to take photographs documenting German industrial architecture.

The couple were married in 1967. Hilla continued photography on her own in recent years, after her husband’s death. Their work is included in numerous public collections, including the Guggenheim Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, both in New York; with images of factories, water towers, storage silos and warehouses in Germany and later throughout the world.

Their work appeared at Documenta 5 in 1972. Bernd later taught at the Düsseldorf Art Academy from 1976 and 1996, where the photographer's students included Candida Höfer. He died in 2007.

Becher influenced artists such as Thomas Struth and Andreas Gursky, as well as many others who studied under Bernd’s leadership at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf art academy. “Hilla Becher was a remarkably incorruptible person,” Struth told TIME. “I loved her uncompromising but open-minded and gentle attitude, always curious, not sentimental but loving. Her death is a big loss.”

Today's homepage Featured Art Video explores the stark and beautiful focus of Hilla Becher's photography. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ZSLvFY1X6g&sns=em