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Bernd and Hilla Becher

Hilla Becher (2011)
Hilla Becher (center) discussing her and her late husband's work at the Sonnabend Gallery in Chelsea, New York City, October 2010

Bernhard "Bernd" Becher (German: ; August 20, 1931 – June 22, 2007), and Erasmus Prize and the Hasselblad Award.


  • Biography 1
  • Work 2
    • Influence 2.1
    • Famous photographs 2.2
  • Exhibitions 3
  • Collections 4
  • Awards 5
  • Bibliography 6
    • Books by Bernd and Hilla Becher 6.1
    • Books about Bernd and Hilla Becher 6.2
  • References 7
  • External links 8


Bernd Becher was born in Siegen. He studied painting at the Staatliche Akademie der Bildenden Künste Stuttgart from 1953 to 1956, then typography under Karl Rössing at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf from 1959 to 1961. Hilla Becher was born in Potsdam. Prior to Hilla's time studying photography at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf from 1958 to 1961, she had completed an apprenticeship as a photographer in her native Potsdam. Both began working as freelance photographers for the Troost Advertising Agency in Düsseldorf, concentrating on product photography.

The couple married in 1961.


Meeting as students at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf in 1957, Bernd and Hilla Becher first collaborated on photographing and documenting the disappearing German industrial architecture in 1959. The Ruhr Valley, where Becher’s family had worked in the steel and mining industries, was their initial focus. They were fascinated by the similar shapes in which certain buildings were designed. After collating thousands of pictures of individual structures, they noticed that the various edifices – of cooling towers, gas tanks and coal bunkers, for instance – shared many distinctive formal qualities. In addition, they were intrigued by the fact that so many of these industrial buildings seemed to have been built with a great deal of attention toward design.

Together, the Bechers went out with a large 8 x 10-inch view camera and photographed these buildings from a number of different angles, but always with a straightforward "objective" point of view. They shot only on overcast days, so as to avoid shadows, and early in the morning during the seasons of spring and fall. Objects included barns, water towers, coal tipples, cooling towers, grain elevators, coal bunkers, coke ovens, oil refineries, blast furnaces, gas tanks, storage silos, and warehouses. At each site the Bechers also created overall landscape views of the entire plant, which set the structures in their context and show how they relate to each other.[2] They excluded any details that would detract from the central theme and instead set up comparisons of viewpoint and lighting through which the eye is led to the basic structural pattern of the images being compared.[3] This principle, which is allied to the philosophy underlying the New topographics movement, is most obvious in the two published series, Anonyme Skulpturen: Eine Typologie technischer Bauten and Typologien, Industrieller Bau, 1963–1975, in which the images are contrasted in groups of three.[3] Another early project, which they pursued for nearly two decades, was published as “Framework Houses” (Schirmer/Mosel) in 1977, a visual catalog of types of structures, an approach that characterized much of their work.[4]

In drawing attention to the cultural dimension of industrial architecture, their work also highlighted the need for preservation of these buildings. On the couple's initiative, for example, the Zollern coal mine at Dortmund-Bovinghausen in the Ruhr, for the most part an art-deco structure, was designated a protected landmark.

The Bechers also photographed outside Germany, including from 1965 buildings in Great Britain, France, Belgium and later in the United States. In 1966, they undertook a six-month journey through England and south Wales, taking hundreds of photographs of the coal industry around Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Nottingham and the Rhondda Valley.[5] In 1974, they traveled to North America for the first time, touring sites in New Jersey, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and southern Ontario, depicting a range of industrial structures, from coal breakers to wooden winding towers.[6]

The Bechers exhibited and published their single-image gelatin silver prints, grouped by subject, in a grid of six, nine, or fifteen. By the mid-1960s the Bechers had settled on a preferred presentational mode: The images of structures with similar functions are then displayed side by side to invite viewers to compare their forms and designs based on function, regional idiosyncrasies, or the age of the structures. The Bechers used the term “typology” to describe these ordered sets of photographs.[7] The works’ titles are pithy and captions note only time and location.[8] In 1989–91, for an exhibition at the Dia Art Foundation in New York, the Bechers introduced a second format into their oeuvre: single images that are larger in size—twenty-four by twenty inches—and presented individually rather than as gridded tableaux.[9]

In 1976, Bernd Becher started teaching photography at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf (policy matters prevented Hilla's simultaneous appointment), where he remained on the faculty until 1996. Before him, photography had been excluded from what was largely a school for painters. He influenced students that later made a name for themselves in the photography world. Former students of Bernd's included Andreas Gursky, Thomas Ruff, Thomas Struth, Candida Höfer, and Elger Esser. Bernd died in Rostock.

After Bernd Becher's death, his widow Hilla continued to reassemble their works, mostly using existing photographs.[10]


The Becher school has influenced a number of (mainly) German photographers including Laurenz Berges, Andreas Gursky, Candida Höfer, Axel Hütte, Simone Nieweg, Thomas Ruff, Thomas Struth and Petra Wunderlich.[11] The Canadian Edward Burtynsky also works in a similar mode. Aside from its vital documentary and analytical qualities, the Becher's long-term project has also had a considerable impact on Minimalism and Conceptual Art since the 1970s.[12]

Famous photographs

  • Industrial Facade #23, c1980.
  • Cooling towers, Wood n B, 1976. (Having sold for $150,000 at auction in 2004, it is one of the couple's highest selling works.)[13]


The Bechers had their first gallery exhibition in 1963 at the Galerie Ruth Nohl in Siegen. Their work became better known in the United States with the publication of their book Anonyme Skulpturen (Anonymous Sculptures) in 1970. The Bechers were shown at the George Eastman House and in solo exhibitions at Museum of Modern Art in New York (2008).[14]

In 2014, Hilla Becher curated "August Sander/Bernd and Hilla Becher: ‘A Dialogue’" at Bruce Silverstein Gallery in New York. Unlike previous displays, the Bechers’ architectural images were displayed as singular “portraits” while Sander’s photographs of people were represented as typological grids.[15]


The Bechers' work is held in the following public collections:



Books by Bernd and Hilla Becher

  • Anonymous Sculptures: A Typology of Technical Construction, 1970.
  • Water Towers, 1988.
  • Blast Furnaces, 1990.
  • Pennsylvania Coal Mine Tipples, 1991.
  • Gas Tanks, 1993.
  • Industrial Facades, 1995.
  • Mineheads, 1997.
  • Zeche Hannibal = Coal Mine Hannibal. Munich: Schimer/Mosel, 2000. ISBN 978-3888149375,
  • Framework Houses, 2001.
  • Industrial Landscapes, 2002.
  • Basic Forms of Industrial Buildings, 2004. ISBN 3-8296-0150-6.
  • Typologies, 2004. ISBN 0-262-02565-5.
  • Cooling Towers, 2006.
  • Grain Elevators, 2006.

Books about Bernd and Hilla Becher

  • Susanne, Lange (2006). Bernd and Hilla Becher: Life and Work.  
  • Moritz, Neumüller (2005). Bernd & Hilla Becher speak with Moritz Neumüller. La Fábrica / Fundación Telefónica, Madrid.  


  1. ^ Laurent, Olivier (13 October 2015). "In Memoriam: Hilla Becher (1934-2015)".  
  2. ^ Bernd and Hilla Becher: Landscape/Typology, May 21 – August 25, 2008 Museum of Modern Art, New York.
  3. ^ a b Bernd and Hilla Becher Museum of Modern Art, New York.
  4. ^ Philip Gefter (June 26, 2007), Bernd Becher, 75, Photographer of German Industrial Landscape, Dies New York Times.
  5. ^ Gabriele Conrath-Scholl and Susanne Lange (20 July 2007), Obituary: Bernd Becher The Guardian.
  6. ^ New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape, October 25, 2009 – January 3, 2010 Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
  7. ^ "Bernd Becher". The Times. July 3, 2007.  Subscription required for online access.
  8. ^ [Bernd & Hilla Becher: Six Spherical Gasholders, 1972–1996] Christie’s, 5 May 2006, New York, Rockefeller Plaza.
  9. ^ Bernd and Hilla Becher Dia Art Foundation, New York.
  10. ^ Melanie Gerlis (June 11, 2013), Sprüth takes on Bernd and Hilla Becher The Art Newspaper.
  11. ^ Gabriele Conrath-Scholl and Susanne Lange, "Obituary: Bernd Becher, Photographer who documented industrial architecture with style and precision", The Guardian
  12. ^ Bernd and Hilla Becher: Typologies of Industrial Buildings, 26 August 2005 – 8 January 2006 Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart, Berlin
  13. ^ "London Photography Exhibitions - jfFrank online". Retrieved 2015-09-03. 
  14. ^ Bernd and Hilla Becher Guggenheim Collection.
  15. ^ Vicki Goldberg (May 22, 2014), August Sander/Bernd and Hilla Becher: ‘A Dialogue’ New York Times.
  16. ^ "Bernd Becher and Hilla Becher 1931–2007, 1934–2015". Tate. Retrieved 23 October 2015. 
  17. ^ "Hilla Becher, German, 1934–2015". Museum of Modern Art. Retrieved 23 October 2015. 
  18. ^ "Bernd and Hilla Becher Bernd Becher, b. 1931, Siegen district, Germany; d. 2007, Rostock, Germany; Hilla Becher, b. 1934, Potsdam, Germany". Guggenheim. Retrieved 23 October 2015. 
  19. ^ "The Collection Online -- Bernd and Hilla Becher". Metropolitan Museum of Art Online Collection. Retrieved 23 October 2015. 
  20. ^ "Bernd and Hilla Becher". J. Paul Getty Museum. Retrieved 23 October 2015. 
  21. ^ "Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, 1931–2007, and German, b. 1934)". Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. Retrieved 23 October 2015. 
  22. ^ "The Modern". Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. Retrieved 23 October 2015. 
  23. ^ "Bernd and Hilla Becher". Hasselblad Foundation. Retrieved 4 March 2015. 
  24. ^ Annette Bosetti (August 26, 2014), Ein Leben für die Industriefotografie Rheinische Post.

External links

  • 'High precision industrial age souvenirs' with Cornelius Tittel about how Bernd and Hilla Becher saved an era from being forgotten forever and set in motion the German photography boom at
  • "The Photographic Comportment of Bernd and Hilla Becher" (Blake Stimson) 2004
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