Thursday, October 15, 2015

Hilla Becher, 1934 - 2015


Photographer Hilla Becher has died at 81. Along with her husband Bernd, Hilla Becher produced technically precise large format black-and-white photos of industrial buildings including water towers, coal tipples, cooling towers, grain elevators, and coal bunkers producing photographs highlighting recurring typological elements.

Meeting as students at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf in 1957, Bernd and Hilla Becher first collaborated on photographing and documenting the disappearing German industrial architecture in 1959. The Ruhr Valley, where Becher’s family had worked in the steel and mining industries, was their initial focus. They were fascinated by the similar shapes in which certain buildings were designed. After collating thousands of pictures of individual structures, they noticed that the various edifices shared many distinctive formal qualities. In addition, they were intrigued by the fact that so many of these industrial buildings seemed to have been built with a great deal of attention toward design.

The two taught at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, where Hilla was instrumental in building its photography department. The couple influenced well-known German photographers including Thomas Struth, Thomas Ruff, and Andreas Gursky. The Bechers gained further acclaim outside Germany when their book Anonyme Skulpturen was released in the US. Hilla Becher won the 2002 Erasmus Prize for her contributions to the school and the grand prize for culture offered by the Sparkasse Cultural Foundation of Rhineland in 2014. The Bechers exhibited in Documenta 5, 6, 7, and 11, and in major solo shows or retrospectives at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London; the Stedelijk in Eindhoven; the Pompidou in Paris; and MoMA in New York. Their work is in the collections of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, among many other venues.

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