Tuesday, July 03, 2007Home

Rest in Peace, Bernd Becher

A pioneer of the German Sachlichkeit movement, Bernd Becher was a photographer of late industrial architecture. In June 2007, Becher died shortly after undergoing heart surgery. He was 75. The full impact of his contributions to fine art photography aren't widely understood, but they soon will be.

Becher and his wife, Hilla, introduced a new perspective on photography that was more objective than narrative-based. With no apparent action, Becher's images, when taken alone, may seem bland and lifeless. When assembled in grid-like compositions, the photographs illuminate the similarities and differences from one old, isolated building to the next.

The idea that the camera could open up unexpected new ways of seeing permeated t
he Bechers' work—first, through systematic capture from similar angles of otherwise unremarkable subjects; and second, the willful reorganization of pure detail on the part of the artist. The Bechers were a prime example of artists who pushed photography in new directions and caused the medium to gain respectability as a true art form.

Photographer and blogger Joerg Colburg has more on the German perspective of the art form that the Bechers pioneered.

From Conscientious:

It's quite interesting that the word "objectivity" isn't a completely exact translation of the German word "Sachlichkeit"...Of course, I can't come up with a better translation. Maybe you can understand it like this: When you meet a German you'll note that they are almost a tad too deadpan about things. I've noticed that non-Germans think Germans simply have no sense of humor, but that's just a simplifying misconception. I remember I once made a somewhat absurd joke in front of my advisor in grad school—a Brit—and he thought I was being serious. He just couldn't imagine a German would say something like that, with a deadpan expression, and joke at the same time.

The satire of these images may not be immediately apparent to Americans or Brits, but the multi-layered appeal is clear. The Bechers incorporated images of otherwise anonymous industrial conglomerations into new interpretations. Their work, along with that of many others, helped change the interpretation of fine art photography itself.

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