An image of Blast furnacesAn image of Blast furnacesAn image of Blast furnacesAn image of Blast furnacesAn image of Blast furnaces

Bernd Becher

(Germany 20 Aug 1931 – 22 Jun 2007)

Hilla Becher

(Germany 02 Sep 1934 – 10 Oct 2015)

Blast furnaces

Not on display
Further information

Since the early 1960s Bernd and Hilla Becher have collaboratively produced photographs of industrial and domestic architecture. Their ordered images (which they call typologies) of bunkers, winding towers, silos, cooling towers and pitheads, record monuments of a rapidly diminishing industrial era. Yet the Bechers are equally driven by aesthetic considerations; photographs of like objects are assembled into groups where precise lighting and tonal density give equivalent weight to each visual element. About this, Bernd Becher has said: ‘What we do is in the final instance to tell stories by … presenting things which tell their own (hi)stories’.1 ’Blast furnaces’, a set of five photographs, describes their unique approach. In three images a frontal view of a furnace from different perspectives dominates the frame, the sequence revealing its complex material structure. This, along with the clear skies, exact tenor of each print and eerie atmosphere devoid of human presence, is quintessential of the Bechers’ technique.

Given the encyclopaedic methodology of their life’s work, it is not surprising that the Bechers have photographed many major industrial regions in Europe, England and North America. Their typological practice has been associated with the formal and serial repetition espoused by minimal and conceptual art of the 1960s. Yet despite these connections their photography has sat largely outside trends in art practice, maintaining a rigorously systematic approach to its chosen subject matter. Thus they belong to a distinguished tradition of early 20th-century German photography, including August Sander, Albert Renger-Patzsch and Karl Blossfeldt, all of whom contributed in different ways to the definition of ‘objective’ photography. For their significant oeuvre and influence as teachers at the Düsseldorf Art Academy the Bechers have received numerous awards, most recently the Infinity Award from the International Centre for Photography, New York.

1. Becher B 1989, ‘Interview with Bernd und Hilla Becher’, ‘Bernd und Hilla Becher’, Wb Verlag, Munich p 14. See Lange S 1992, ‘Bernd and Hilla Becher: reducing objects to retainable proportions’, ‘Bernd und Hilla Becher: Häuser und Hallen’, Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt p 28

© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

five gelatin silver photographs
105.1 x 144.1 cm overall frame :
a - photograph, 40.5 x 31.1 cm, image/sheet
b - photograph, 40.5 x 31.1 cm, image/sheet
c - photograph, 40.5 x 31.5 cm, image/sheet
d - photograph, 31.3 x 40.5 cm, image/sheet
e - photograph, 31.4 x 40.5 cm, image/sheet
Signature & date

Not signed. Not dated.

Alistair McAlpine Photography Fund 2004
Accession number
© Estate Bernd and Hilla Becher. Courtesy of Sonnabend Gallery, NY