Bernd & Hilla Becher at Museo Morandi


Photographs copyright Bernd & Hilla Becher courtesy of Schirmer/Mosel and Prestel USA

Bernd and Hilla Becher are the German photographic team who become well known over the last 30+ years for the development of their industrial Typologies (and how many times have I unknowing read this as Topologies). This book is a catalog, published by Schirmer/Mosel in 2009, for the Becher’s retrospective exhibition at Museo Morandi in Bologna, Italy.

The images printed in the book are reminiscent of the presentation grid style developed by the Becher’s in the 1960’s in which the photographs are grouped by type or function. Industrial facilities are grouped together to illustrate both their similarities of function but the subtle differences in form. Thus the book’s emphasis is more on the grouping of types of subjects (a.ka. Typology) than the ability to dig into the detail of specific images.

The publishing of a photographic grid I found to be a tease when there is a group of 15 photographs on the relatively small page which does not allow much of the individual photograph to be evaluated. From the interview Hilla Becher provided in the text (Bernd passed away in 2007) the pair do not appear to as much interested in the individual photograph but how the group of like structures play off against each other.

The book will provide a sense of Becher’s Typologies with groups from their collection of Gas-tanks, Cooling Towers, Water Towers, Winding Towers, Lime Kilns, and Blast Furnaces. From these photographic groupings you can also discern how different cultures adopt similar functional designs and yet how these same industrial functions differ greatly from other geographic regions.

The book may also help with establishing the visual linkage of the early work by the German photographers August Sander and Albert Renger-Patzsch who are known for either photographing by categorizing types or photographing industrial buildings at a middle distance to emphasize their form.

The catalog provides a high level overview of the Becher’s formal photographic process and it may create an interest to seek one out one of their earlier books which provide more extensive details on one of their many subject types. Not recommended if you are looking for a collection of their work to understand in more detail one of their category types.

The perfect bound stiffcover book is 8″ x 9″ with 48 pages and 14 duotone plates that encompasses 153 photographic images made by the couple. The accompanying interview with Hilla Becher by Gianfranco Maraniello is in both English and Italian with beautiful printing and binding from Verona, Italy.

Best regards, Douglas Stockdale





9 thoughts on “Bernd & Hilla Becher at Museo Morandi

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  1. The Tate Modern in London had a single, beautifully printed Becher photograph amongst a small general show in 2011 and it was jaw-droppingly sensational. I wondered if after Bernd died the importance of the strict rigid grid methodology (and the disdain for any emphasis on formal print values) became less important and the sheer power of those large format individual images could be unleashed and finally appreciated as objects in their own right.

    1. Pete, when you examine their earlier work, it is characterized as studies of a place, looking at a subject from alternative perspectives and viewpoints. The rigidity and editing of like images evolved over time and I highly suspect that their photographs were intended to been viewed as singular images.

      1. Hi, Doug. I agree, the precedence of the ‘topographical’ aspect – ‘studies of place’ – that cool objectivity and the long term serial nature of their documentation of disappearing heavy industry was central, either in grids or not. The surprise of seeing the large, beautifully printed image amongst the group show at The Tate was that suddenly the emphasis appeared to be much more on the lushness of the print as a unique object, more precious. I don’t remember the previous exhibitions or books of the work that I’ve seen ever having that loveliness, in fact the prints always struck me as harsh and poorly made. I always presumed this was conceptually important, precisely in order to make clear that they were not in any way part of the tradition of landscape photographers such as Ansel Adams or the zone system. They were ‘more to be seen as ‘workmanlike’ or photographs made for a technical purpose. Of course a lot of this assessment is based on memory, less and less reliable as years go by! But I think large, lushly printed, individual framed prints are overwhelmingly powerful objects in their own right and also ‘beautiful’ in the sense that Robert Adams would perhaps describe them.

      2. Pete,

        I have seen exhibits of their work in the small grid like arrangements as found in this book, but even so, the small images were almost jewel like. It does not surprise me that when enlarged, these images might appear lush, even when the subject was photographed in a flat light. If I recall, most were made with either a medium or large format camera, thus a lot of potential to investigate the resulting negative. Regarding the quality of some of their early photobook images, I think that this is more of an issue related to the limitations of the printing technology of the time.

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