Bernd and Hilla Becher are best known for their dramatic, heavy-contrast photographs featuring formalist architecture beneath overcast skies, having championed the German ‘New Objectivity’ style. This major survey not only includes photographs produced by the Bechers, but also follows the works of their former pupils at the Düsseldorf School of Photography: Candida Höfer, Andreas Gursky, Axel Hütte, Thomas Ruff, Elger Esser and Thomas Struth, as well Thomas Demand, a former sculpture student at the Kunstakademie.
Devising an innovative style featuring the industrial mining structures of the Ruhr district in 1957, the Bechers’ work saw a new route for German photography – moving away from the romantic world created by their post-war contemporaries, and reviving the unsentimental New Objectivity style which had previously thrived in the 1930s. The couple continued to work alongside one another, yet never taught together, and this correlation in their processes in made clear in this most recent exhibition which also displays the vast impact that the pair had upon their various, notable pupils. For example, Andreas Gursky who set up a studio beside the Rhine in a disused power station, and here created works taken from an elevated standpoint which have been highly digital manipulated to create the same sense of the sublime noticed in the work of Bernd Becher.
The harsh documentary approach of these teachers, again appears in the architectural images of Thomas Struth which are still, structured and yet evocative as the human relationship to space is captured; contrasting with this is the work of Candida Höfer, which sees public spaces completely emptied of human presence. Höfer’s images are a fascinating mediation of complex museum and gallery spaces, built for human experience yet devoid of this. Similarly, Thomas Demand creates models of detailed everyday environments – offices, homes libraries – with traces of very recent activity, yet uninhabited, as if everyone has just left in a hurry.
An examination of the effect of people upon the built environment, and these spaces upon the human experience, this exhibition looks at a photographic movement that has sustained from the 1920s to today.
Dusseldorf Photography: Bernd & Hilla Becher and Beyond, 4 September – 3 October, Brown Fine Arts12 Brook’s Mews, London W1K 4DGT.
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1. Bernd & Hilla Becher, Gas Tanks, 1983-92. Copyright of the artists.