Bernd and Hilla Becher: Pioneers Redefining Industrial Photography and Their Enduring Legacy

Published Categorized as Artists

When I first encountered the work of Bernd and Hilla Becher, I was captivated. This dynamic duo, hailing from Germany, revolutionized the world of photography with their unique, stark style. Their black and white images, focusing on industrial structures, have a mesmerizing quality that’s hard to ignore.

The Bechers’ work isn’t just about aesthetics, though. It’s a profound commentary on industrialization and the changing landscapes of our world. They’ve managed to transform mundane structures into works of art, causing us to see the world in a new light.

Their approach to photography is methodical, almost scientific. This gives their images a certain uniformity, enabling us to compare and contrast different structures. It’s this combination of artistic vision and analytical precision that sets the Bechers apart in the world of photography.

Early Life and Education

Let’s delve into how these remarkable artists arose on the photography scene. The couple, like their work, share a parallelism in their early life and education.

Born in 1931 in Siegen, Germany, Bernd Becher was initially inclined towards the art of painting. However, he soon switched to photography. Out of curiosity, he began capturing the changing industrial landscape around him. It was during his studies at Kunstkademie Düsseldorf, a prominent art school, that he developed his style, and his focus on industrial structures began to take form. Interestingly, it was here that he later served as a professor, shaping the future of countless budding photographers.

On the other hand, Hilla Becher (nee Wobeser) was born in 1934 in Potsdam, Germany. She also studied at Kunstkademie Düsseldorf but crossed paths with Bernd later. Hilla was similarly intrigued by the challenge of capturing static subjects, thus paving her way into the niche of architectural photography, particularly industrial landscapes.

Their paths crossed in 1957. Impressed by their shared fascination for industrial aesthetic, they began a lifelong journey together, both on a personal and professional front. In 1961, Bernd and Hilla Becher got married, consolidating not only their artistic partnership but also their shared ambition. They continued studying, exploring and working together, their shared zeal fueling their innovative approach and making their names synonymous with industrial photography.

The couple’s studies collectively enabled them to pioneer a new form of photography. They started to document overlooked buildings objectively, rejecting the romanticization of rural life commonly seen in post-war German photography.

As we reflect on their monumental legacy, let’s focus on how Bernd and Hilla Becher revolutionized industrial photography with their methodical and scientific technique. This approach arose from their fascination with the uniformity of industrial structures, an aspect they captured brilliantly in their black and white images.

Revolutionizing Photography

Primed with their unrivaled passion for architectural imagery, Bernd and Hilla Becher embarked on an unprecedented journey in photography. Their approach was a distinct departure from the decorative, pastoral depictions prevalent in the post-war period. Instead, the duo embraced a near-scientific method of capturing the essence of industrial structures, challenging the status quo of photography at the time.

The Bechers’ technique involved painstakingly documenting these structures, methodically recording their details. They meticulously took hundreds of shots of the same structure, at varying times of the day and weather conditions. Preserving these architectural vestiges in black-and-white photographs, they delivered unprecedented focus on design elements previously overlooked. Their work often organized these images in series or grids, further highlighting the commonality and repetitiveness of these structures.

Years of diligent efforts resulted in an impressive portfolio of industrial cataloguing. Bernd’s and Hilla’s work powerfully delineated the allure of the common and the uniform. Their images, devoid of human interaction or operating workers, presented industrial structures as art objects in themselves. They transformed how the world perceived industrial aesthetics, positioning them as a valid, significant genre of photographic exploration.

Bernd and Hilla Becher have left an indelible mark on photography’s history. Their nuanced, detached, and measured approach honed a new understanding of objectivity in photography. They set the stage for a growing appreciation of urban landscapes, fostering a whole new generation of photographers – the Düsseldorf School of Photography – that continues to carry forward their legacy.

Let’s delve deep into the contribution of Bernd and Hilla Becher to the world of photography; how they reshaped the perception and how the ripple effects of their innovations are still perceptible today.

Capturing Industrial Structures

As I delve further into the Bechers’ iconic work, it’s imperative to mention how they redefined the way photographers perceive and interpret industrial structures. Their approach was far from ordinary. They delved beyond the gray, cold steel perception of industry and captured the essence of these edifices in ways that no one had ever imagined.

Bernd and Hilla possessed an uncanny ability to visualize the splendor inherent in these structures. Their photographs were a departure from the conventional, often sterile images of industry. They brought to the forefront the architectural enormity of these structures, showcasing them as works of art, rather than mere fixtures of industry.

Their technique was meticulous. It required the patience to identify the right view, pinpoint the perfect light, and arrange the right exposure. The end product: a precise, black-and-white, grid-like presentation of the buildings, each alike but unique. Narrating a tale of their own, these arrays play a crucial role in accentuating the repetitive nature of industrial aesthetics.

Let’s consider a few of their notable works: the Water Towers series, the Blast Furnaces series, and the Cooling Towers series.

  • The Water Towers series breaks free from the monotonous portrayal of water storage units by emphasizing their geometrical intricacies and distinct designs.
  • The Blast Furnaces series captures the beehive-like formation of these massive steel structures, bringing out an unexpected visual symmetry.
  • The Cooling Towers series, on the other hand, establishes a smooth contrast between the rugged industrial exterior and the graceful curves and form of these giant constructs.

I must stress that the Bechers’ photographic efforts were not limited to these series alone. Their subject range spanned across several countries and encompassed a wide array of industrial infrastructures. Each photograph echoes their shared belief that every industrial structure, irrespective of its purpose, bears an innate ability to be viewed as an object of beauty and design.

Artistic Vision and Analytical Precision

It’s essential to note that the Bechers achieved their transformative impact on photography via a unique fusion of artistic vision and analytical precision. Their work, dense with meticulous detail, transcends the conventional realm of industrial photography. One might argue that the Bechers transformed what could’ve been stark, cold depictions of industrial structures into arresting works of art.

The key to their approach lies in their embracing of objectivity. They didn’t just aim to capture the grandeur of these industrial structures. Instead, they sought to accentuate the underlying design principles that gave each structure its unique texture and sense of place. Curve of a beam, angle of the pillars, column alignments – each detail mattered, each detail told a story.

A look at their series such as Water Towers, Blast Furnaces, and Cooling Towers offers a clear view of architectural aesthetics they celebrated. Remember, these aren’t your ordinary structures photos – they’re painstakingly organized, grid-like presentations. They serve as catalogs that beautifully capture and represent a fast-disappearing industrial landscape.

In their work, they employed a straight, frontal approach which mitigated any bias in interpretation. By controlling the variables of light, perspective, and positioning, the Bechers ensured that the structures themselves, not the photographs, became the primary point of engagement for the viewers.

Photography, to the Bechers, wasn’t just about capturing moments or expressing personal perspectives. It was about collecting, organizing, and presenting the world in a way that invites viewers to engage, to question, and to appreciate. The world seen through the Bechers’ lens isn’t just black and white – it’s a rich tapestry of form, function, and design.

In all, the Bechers’ oeuvre is a testament to the power of photography as a medium of expression and communication. Their legacy has left an indelible mark on the sphere of visual arts, altering our perception of industrial structures forever.

Legacy and Influence

Bernd and Hilla Becher’s influence is felt far beyond their stunning photography of industrial structures. Their impact stretches further sphere, influencing an entire generation of photographers and artists who challenge traditional boundaries and enhance the appreciation of industrial aesthetics.

Renowned as the pioneers of the ‘Düsseldorf School’, the Bechers provided a new way of understanding and engaging with industrial landscapes. This one-of-a-kind, bold approach quickly became a defining force in modern arts and continues influencing contemporary photographers worldwide.

Their teaching legacy at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf also provided training ground to many celebrated contemporary photographers like Andreas Gursky, Thomas Ruff, and Candida Höfer. Their students, now known as the Becher class, are also famous for adopting, developing, and adding their unique takes to the Becher’s systematic analytical style of photography.

Their revolutionary approach went beyond traditional field boundaries, earning them a position side by side with Minimalist sculpture and Conceptual art. They stretched the philosophy of what a photograph can be and what it can convey, combining the discipline of documentation with the freedom of artistic expression.

The Becher influence is far-reaching. As we dive deeper, one can uncover more about their significant contribution to the evolution of photography and art in the broader sense. The Becher’s photographic exploration of otherwise overlooked industrial structures has opened new doors, fostering a deeper understanding and appreciation for these architectural feats. Their influence does not stop here. Bernd and Hilla Becher’s legacy expands with each successive generation they inspire, proving that photography remains a powerful agent in the way people view and understand the world around them. Let’s keep exploring.


Bernd and Hilla Becher’s legacy in the world of photography is undeniable. They’ve not only changed how we view industrial landscapes, but also how we perceive art itself. Their systematic approach blurred the lines between photography and other art forms, making them pioneers in more ways than one. Their teachings at Kunstakademie Düsseldorf gave rise to a new generation of artists who continue to push the envelope, proving that their influence is still very much alive today. The Bechers’ work serves as a reminder of the transformative power of photography, and the potential it holds to change our understanding of the world. Their legacy continues to inspire, and their impact on the world of art and photography will be felt for generations to come.

Categorized as Artists