Hilla Becher (1934-2015)
Hilla Becher passed away on 10 October 2015, aged 81
"Hilla Becher, influential German photographer of industrial structures, passed away, aged 81.
Working closely with her husband Bernd, Hilla Becher was one of the most influencial ´architectural´ photographers of the 20th century. The Bechers´ greyscale photographs of water towers, gas meters, processing plants and other industrial structures, often exhibited typologically grouped to display their general sameness while revealing differences in detail, have changed mid-20th century attitudes towards photography.
Were their photographs archaeological recordings or works of art? The Bechers did not care: “The question if this is a work of art is not very interesting for us. Probably it is situated in between the established categories”, remarked Hilla in an interview in 1972, as Michael Collins notes in his obituary for The Guardian newspapers.
Born in Potsdam, Germany, in 1934, Hilla Wobeser trained in photography and, having met her future husband, Bernd, while working for an advertisement firm in Düsseldorf, West Germany, joined Bernd at the Düsseldorf Kunstakademie (art school) in 1954. Bernd was still training to become a painter, but realised soon that photography was a speedier way of documenting the quickly disappearing industrial heritage of the collapsed heavy industries of the Ruhrpott (the industrial heart land of west Germany). Together, Bernd and Hilla, who provided the technical knowledge as well as conceptual input, were, first and foremost, formalists, notes Sean O´Hagan, also in The Guardian, by quoting the Bechers: “We want to offer the audience a point of view, or rather a grammar, to understand and compare the different structures ... Through photography, we try to arrange these shapes and render them comparable. To do so, the objects must be isolated from their context and freed from all association.”
Having toured, with their young son in tow, through Germany, Britain and the United States of America, to photograph industrial sites, the Bechers became famous in the art world, despite some initial rejections, and remained involved in the Düsseldorf Kunstakademie, establishing what is today known as the "Düsseldorf School" - also referred to as the "Becher School". In an interview, in 2005, the Bechers stated: "The main aim of our work is to show that the forms of our time are technical forms, although they did not develop from formal considerations. Just as medieval thought is manifested in the gothic cathedral, our era is revealed in technical buildings and apparatuses" (quoted in an article on the website DomusWeb). With an artistic legacy such as that of the Bechers, it might not surprise that Germany has managed to inscribe two historic places relating to the heavy industries of the 19th to 20th century as UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex and the Völklingen Ironworks.
The Bechers have received the Golden Lion of the Venice Biennale in 1990, the Erasmus prize in 2002 and the Hasselblad Award in 2004. Bernd died in 2007. Hilla passed away on 10 October 2015."
[by Docomomo Scotland]