Bernd & Hilla Becher
September 3–October 4, 2014
Over the past five decades, as both teachers and artists, Bernd and Hilla Becher have become among the most influential figures in contemporary photography. Featuring five typologies of industrial structures, as well as a number of single, large-scale photographs, the exhibition at Sprüth Magers is their first solo show in London since the Camden Arts Centre in 1998 and the largest presentation of their work since ‘Cruel and Tender’, at Tate Modern, in 2003.
Bernd and Hilla Becher met in 1959 and first exhibited together in 1963. The typologies for which they are now well known grew out of their expansive, impartial approach when they first started taking photographs of commonplace industrial buildings in post-War Germany and across Western Europe. After collating thousands of pictures of individual structures, they noticed that the various edifices – of cooling towers, gas tanks and coalbunkers, for instance – shared many distinctive formal qualities. Systematically photographing each structure from both a frontal and a three-quarter perspective, they examined them the way a biologist might look at a specimen collected during fieldwork, comparing and contrasting to organise them into groups, or species. Presented in grids, the typologies reveal the many forms that the buildings share, while at the same time each picture within the grid describes the unique details of each particular structure. The rigour and clarity of the Bechers’ methodology has influenced a generation of photographers and conceptual artists.