Hilla Becher about unwanted elements when shooting industrial architecture:... so, a white car in front of a dark object - that's already annoying. But a dark car, ... we leave it there, if that's the case. No, we got complete trains shunted out of the way too. I mean, if you can do that for a crate of ...
Q.: So, that's the currency?
HB: Yes, actually... most of the time it was .(from Bernd und Hilla Becher - documentary Werk & Wirkung) [link]
Today I had intended a short journal, as we're all rather busy over here at #SixbySix
It's not that we have completely forgotten about the group, but we're still working on some changes in the submission system and we're also preparing a contest. So call off any Christmas preparations, likely you'll have more important things to do next month.
Some of you will know it, some won't - I didn't until very recently - but YouTube has become a treasure trove for anyone who wants to see documentaries about their favorite photographers. Finding out two hours too late about a documentary about Andreas Gursky on Arte, I discovered it a few weeks later on YouTube. Along with an hour long documentary about his teachers, Bernd and Hilla Becher. There are also chopped up versions of The Genius of Photography, work about and by Henri Cartier-Bresson as well as obscure documentaries from the 1980s about Joel Meyerowitz and some others. And that's just some of the ones that I like.
The quote above this journal comes from a German-language documentary about Bernd and Hilla Becher. If you believe that photography is about emotional self-expression, tormented expressionism, cool blurs and textures, you may want to look the other way. They didn't even do much square photography, their weapon of choice being the 6x9 large format camera. Still, often we can learn more from those who are very different from us than from fellow-travellers.
Bernd and Hilla Becher have become famous by their 'objective' photography of industrial architecture - mine buildings, blast furnaces - and occasionally half-timbered houses. Don't expect apocalyptic shots and big drama: their basic attitude was: why should we add our own emotions if the subject can speak for itself?
Bernd Becher (1931-2007) started to take pictures because he wanted to have reference material for paintings of the mining buildings that he saw all around him in his native region, the Siegerland. Joining forces with his later wife Hella (born 1934), they discovered that the great industrial architecture of the Ruhr area and in other industrial or mining regions was disappearing quickly. They started to put it on record. As they said one time, they'd have loved to take it home itself but it was just too big. It wasn't their dream to become famous or artistically photographers, it was their love for their subject that drove them, although their dedication to photography itself can't be questioned either. Their ways of working had much in common with slow, realistic 19th century photography, and behind that - their working methods, going by strict rules and a near-obsession to categorise and register their subject - was a 19th century scientist mindset. Their shots of factories and furnaces cover the walls like and old-fashioned entomologist collection of insect families. Still, Bernd Becher ended up as professor of photography of the very contemporary Dusseldorf art school, having a number of pupils whose work is regarded as cool/hot and successful as it can be in the art world, like Andreas Gursky, Thomas Struth, Thomas Ruff and Candida Höfer.
A parallel for the Bechers is the Frenchman Eugene Atget. He started his work with the intention to provide reference material for painters, was inseparable from his awkward, old-fashioned 19th century large-format camera and limited his vision to the quickly disappearing remains of medieval and pre-Revolution Paris - and this in thousands and thousand of large format pictures. Likewise, his work is very much esteemed now. While it probably wasn't his intention, he shows us a world that is about to be gone, eerie, gloomy and sometimes hauntingly beautiful - still a perfect mirror for the emotions that we all might feel at one time or another.
Today's hip & groovy may be tomorrow's 'so yesterday', and yesterday's old hat may become tomorrow's timeless. But even to the forever unknown Bechers and Atgets out there who won't make it to fame, there will be the comfort that they will have had a good time, if not a fulfilled life, thanks to their devotion to photography and their subject.
On to today's features, based on a related subject: industry. The geometry of the square image goes very well with the repetition and symmetry of mass assembly lines and industrial architecture in general. You may have seen some of the featured artists before in this journal - but I feel I just can't leave out some of our own industrious German squarists, and actually I don't want to either. I've never asked them where they feel their roots are, but let they or their work speak for themselves.