Posts Tagged ‘atmosphere

21
Sep
18

Photographs: R. B. Talfor. ‘Photographic Views of the Red River Raft’ 1873

September 2018

 

Robert B. Talfor. Nitroglycerine works at station between Raft Nos. 26 and 27. Plate B of the photographic album 'Photographic Views of Red River Raft' 1873

 

Robert B. Talfor
Nitroglycerine works at station between Raft Nos. 26 and 27. Plate B of the photographic album Photographic Views of Red River Raft
1873
Hand-coloured albumen print, mounted recto only to pages with a stylised U.S. Corps of Engineers printed border
7 x 9¼ inches (17.8 x 23.5 cm)

 

“In May Lieutenant Woodruff’s careful plans for using “tri-nitro-glycerine” to hasten the removal process, were put into operation and proved quite successful. It continued to be used on a half dozen of the rafts the last of May and through the month of June as the main channel of the river was widened.”

Hubert Humphreys. “Photographic Views of the Red River Raft, 1873,” p. 107

 

 

One of the great privileges of writing and researching for this website is the ability to pull disparate sources together from all over the world, so that the some of the most valuable information can be stored in one place – a kind of meta-posting, with informed comment, upon the context of place, time, identity and image. This is one such posting.

I had never known of these photographs before, nor of their photographer R.B. Talfor of whom I can find little information. I never knew the story of the Great Raft of the Red River, nor the heroism of Lieutenant Eugene A. Woodruff, in charge of the clearing operations, who sacrificed his life to look after others in the yellow fever epidemic in Shreveport in 1873. These stories deserve to be told, deserve a wider audience, for it is all we have left of this time and place.

The 113 photographic views, hand coloured albumen prints “are remarkable for both their historical narrative and aesthetic integrity.” They document not only the landscape but the lives of the crews working on the river. As Woodruff notes in his report of July 1, 1873, “With the view is a photographic map of the raft region, with location and axis of the camera for each view marked upon it and numbered to correspond with the number on the view. This album full of photographs, affording a complete and truthful panorama of the raft, will give a better idea of the nature of the work performed and of the character of the country than could be obtained form the most elaborate description.”

In other words, the photographs and accompanying map are a scientific and objective ordering of life and nature, “affording a complete and truthful panorama of the raft”, the nature of the work performed and the character of the country. Truth, panorama, nature, character. And yet, when you look at the whole series of photographs, they become something much more than just objective rendition.

Firstly, while Talfor maps out his “points of view” he resists, but for a few occasions, the 19th century axiom of placing a man in the landscape… to give the landscape scale by including a human figure. In their aesthetic integrity he lets the landscape speak for itself. But if you look at the sequencing of the plates in the album you observe that he alternates between photographs of open stretches of river taken in overcast / end of day light, and plates filled with a dark, mysterious, chthonic atmosphere, as though we the viewer are inhabiting a nightmarish underworld. Into this dark romanticism, this American Gothic, he throws great tree stumps being hauled out of the water, wind whipping through the trees (seen in the length of exposure of the images) and men with cable and plunger standing stock still in front of a tent full of NITROGLYCERIN! DANGER! KEEP AWAY!

Secondly, Talfor’s hand colouring of the photographs seems to add to this almost William Blake-esque, melancholy romanticism. While the light of the setting sun and its reflection over water add to the sublime nature of the scene, the clouds, in particular in plates such as XCVL and XXVI (note the tiny man among the logs), seem to roil in the sky, like mysterious wraiths of a shadowy atmosphere. It is as though Talfor was illustrating a poem of extreme complexity, not just an objective, social documentary enterprise of time and place, but a rendition of the light and darkness of nature as seen through the eyes of God. A transcendent liminality inhabits these images, one in which we cross the threshold into a transitional state between one world and the next, where the photographs proffer a ‘releasement toward things’ which, as Heidegger observes, grant us the possibility of dwelling in the world in a totally different way.

Marcus

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These images are published under fair use on a non-commercial basis for educational and research purposes only. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. The whole series can be see on the Swann Auction Galleries website.

 

 

“We stand at once within the realm of that which hides itself from us, and hides itself just in approaching us. That which shows itself and at the same time withdraws is the essential trait of what we call the mystery… Releasement towards things and openness to the mystery belong together. They grant us the possibility of dwelling in the world in a totally different way…”

.
MartinHeidegger. ‘Discourse on Thinking’. New York: Harper & Row, 1966, pp. 55-56

 

 

Photographic Views of the Red River Raft

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers operation to remove obstacles from the Red River in Louisiana, 1873

113 hand coloured photographic views of the Red River made in April and May 1873, under the direction of C. W. Howell, U. S. Capt.; Corps of Engineers, and E. A. Woodruff, 1st Lieut. U. S. Corps of Engineers; to accompany the annual report on operations for the removal of the Raft; during the year ending June 30, 1873. The photographer was Robert B. Talfor. The portion of the Red River affected reached from Natchitoches Parish through north Caddo Parish, Louisiana. Hand-coloured albumen prints, the images measuring 7 x 9¼ inches (17.8 x 23.5 cm), mounted recto only to pages with a stylised U.S. Corps of Engineers printed border, some with Talfor’s credit and plate number in the negative, and each with his credit again, the series title, and a plate number (I-CVII and A-F) on mount recto.

Only three extant copies are known to exist, with one in the Louisiana State University Libraries (which also, apparently, houses Talfor’s “photographic outfit” and correspondence associated with the Talfor family) and the other at the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

An extraordinary photographic record by the British-born Robert B. Talfor, who founded a photography studio in Greenport, New York in 1867. The pictures, which were shot in April and May 1873, are remarkable for both their historical narrative and aesthetic integrity. The photographs depict crews improving waterway navigation. But while these labourers were removing organic matter from the Red River to facilitate riverboat transport, the railroad industry was dominating the commercial landscape, dynamically shrinking geographic distances and improving transportation of goods.

Talfor’s career as a photographer apparently began during the Civil War, when he was a topographic engineer responsible for mapping battlefields. The transition to the Louisiana project is unclear but his prints capture the haunting beauty of the landscape and the pride of labourers.

Text from the Swann Auction Galleries website [Online] Cited 19 September 2018

 

 

Cover the photographic album 'Photographic Views of Red River Raft' 1873

 

Cover the photographic album Photographic Views of Red River Raft 1873

 

Robert B. Talfor. U.S. Steamer Aid at work, Raft No. 5, bow view. Plate A of the photographic album 'Photographic Views of Red River Raft' 1873

 

Robert B. Talfor
U.S. Steamer Aid at work, Raft No. 5, bow view. Plate A of the photographic album Photographic Views of Red River Raft
1873
Hand-coloured albumen print, mounted recto only to pages with a stylised U.S. Corps of Engineers printed border
7 x 9¼ inches (17.8 x 23.5 cm)

 

Robert B. Talfor. The snagboat 'U.S. Aid'. Plate C of the photographic album 'Photographic Views of Red River Raft' 1873

 

Robert B. Talfor
The snagboat U.S. Aid. Plate C of the photographic album Photographic Views of Red River Raft
1873
Hand-coloured albumen print, mounted recto only to pages with a stylised U.S. Corps of Engineers printed border
7 x 9¼ inches (17.8 x 23.5 cm)

 

Robert B. Talfor. Plate CI of the photographic album 'Photographic Views of Red River Raft' 1873

 

Robert B. Talfor
Plate CI of the photographic album Photographic Views of Red River Raft
1873
Hand-coloured albumen print, mounted recto only to pages with a stylised U.S. Corps of Engineers printed border
7 x 9¼ inches (17.8 x 23.5 cm)

 

Robert B. Talfor. Plate CII of the photographic album 'Photographic Views of Red River Raft' 1873

 

Robert B. Talfor
Plate CII of the photographic album Photographic Views of Red River Raft
1873
Hand-coloured albumen print, mounted recto only to pages with a stylised U.S. Corps of Engineers printed border
7 x 9¼ inches (17.8 x 23.5 cm)

 

Robert B. Talfor. Plate CVII of the photographic album 'Photographic Views of Red River Raft' 1873

 

Robert B. Talfor
Plate CVII of the photographic album Photographic Views of Red River Raft
1873
Hand-coloured albumen print, mounted recto only to pages with a stylised U.S. Corps of Engineers printed border
7 x 9¼ inches (17.8 x 23.5 cm)

 

Robert B. Talfor. Plate CVII of the photographic album 'Photographic Views of Red River Raft' 1873

 

Plate CVII: Steamer Bryerly entering Red River through Sale & Murphy’s Canal

 

 

On May 16, 1873, R.B. Talfor photographed the R.T. Bryarly as she passed trough the channel opened by Lt. Eugene Woodruff’s crew. The R.T. Bryarly, on that day, became the first steamboat to enter the upper reaches of the Red River unhindered by the Great Raft at any point. For the next several months, until April 1874, the Corps of Engineers continued to work to ensure that the Raft would not re-form. The passage up the river by the the R.T. Bryarly, however, signalled that the work begun by Captain Shreve in 1833 had been successfully completed. The R.T. Bryarly sank at Pecan Point on the Red River on September 19, 1876. (Text from the book Red River Steamboats by Eric J. Brock, Gary Joiner. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 1999, p. 22 [Online] Cited 17/09/2018)

 

Robert B. Talfor. Plate D of the photographic album 'Photographic Views of Red River Raft' 1873

 

Robert B. Talfor
Plate D of the photographic album Photographic Views of Red River Raft
1873
Hand-coloured albumen print, mounted recto only to pages with a stylised U.S. Corps of Engineers printed border
7 x 9¼ inches (17.8 x 23.5 cm)

 

Robert B. Talfor. 'I.N. Kalbaugh' on the Red River. Plate E of the photographic album 'Photographic Views of Red River Raft' 1873

 

Robert B. Talfor
I.N. Kalbaugh on the Red River. Plate D of the photographic album Photographic Views of Red River Raft
1873
Hand-coloured albumen print, mounted recto only to pages with a stylised U.S. Corps of Engineers printed border
7 x 9¼ inches (17.8 x 23.5 cm)

 

Robert B. Talfor. 'I.N. Kalhaugh' on the Red River. Plate E of the photographic album 'Photographic Views of Red River Raft' 1873

 

Plate D: I.N. Kalbaugh on the Red River. Steamer Kalbaugh between Raft Nos. 47 and 48.

 

Robert B. Talfor. Plate LIV of the photographic album 'Photographic Views of Red River Raft' 1873

 

Robert B. Talfor
Plate LIV of the photographic album Photographic Views of Red River Raft
1873
Hand-coloured albumen print, mounted recto only to pages with a stylised U.S. Corps of Engineers printed border
7 x 9¼ inches (17.8 x 23.5 cm)

 

Robert B. Talfor. Plate LXXXVII of the photographic album 'Photographic Views of Red River Raft' 1873

 

Robert B. Talfor
Plate LXXXVII of the photographic album Photographic Views of Red River Raft
1873
Hand-coloured albumen print, mounted recto only to pages with a stylised U.S. Corps of Engineers printed border
7 x 9¼ inches (17.8 x 23.5 cm)

 

Driftwood log jams obstructing the river in Louisiana before their elimination with the aid of nitroglycerine.

 

Robert B. Talfor. Plate LXXXVIII of the photographic album 'Photographic Views of Red River Raft' 1873

 

Robert B. Talfor
Plate LXXXVIII of the photographic album Photographic Views of Red River Raft
1873
Hand-coloured albumen print, mounted recto only to pages with a stylised U.S. Corps of Engineers printed border
7 x 9¼ inches (17.8 x 23.5 cm)

 

Robert B. Talfor. Foot of Raft No. 2. Plate VII of the photographic album 'Photographic Views of Red River Raft' 1873

 

Robert B. Talfor
Plate VII of the photographic album Photographic Views of Red River Raft
1873
Hand-coloured albumen print, mounted recto only to pages with a stylised U.S. Corps of Engineers printed border
7 x 9¼ inches (17.8 x 23.5 cm)

 

Foot of Raft No. 2. One of the several shore work parties that were under the direction of the U.S. Corps of Army Engineers.

 

Robert B. Talfor. Plate XCVL of the photographic album 'Photographic Views of Red River Raft' 1873

 

Robert B. Talfor
Plate XCVL of the photographic album Photographic Views of Red River Raft
1873
Hand-coloured albumen print, mounted recto only to pages with a stylised U.S. Corps of Engineers printed border
7 x 9¼ inches (17.8 x 23.5 cm)

 

Robert B. Talfor. Plate XLV of the photographic album 'Photographic Views of Red River Raft' 1873

 

Robert B. Talfor
Plate XLV of the photographic album Photographic Views of Red River Raft
1873
Hand-coloured albumen print, mounted recto only to pages with a stylised U.S. Corps of Engineers printed border
7 x 9¼ inches (17.8 x 23.5 cm)

 

Robert B. Talfor. Plate XLV of the photographic album 'Photographic Views of Red River Raft' 1873

 

Plate XIV

 

Robert B. Talfor. 'U.S. Aid', clearing logjam in the Red River, Louisiana. Plate XV of the photographic album 'Photographic Views of Red River Raft' 1873

 

Robert B. Talfor
U.S. Aid, clearing logjam in the Red River, Louisiana. Plate XV of the photographic album Photographic Views of Red River Raft
1873
Hand-coloured albumen print, mounted recto only to pages with a stylised U.S. Corps of Engineers printed border
7 x 9¼ inches (17.8 x 23.5 cm)

 

U.S. Steamer Aid at work. Raft No. 5, side view. Photograph showing the steam snag boat, US Aid, clearing logjam in the Red River, Louisiana

 

Robert B. Talfor. Plate XXIII of the photographic album 'Photographic Views of Red River Raft' 1873

 

Robert B. Talfor
Plate XXIII of the photographic album Photographic Views of Red River Raft
1873
Hand-coloured albumen print, mounted recto only to pages with a stylised U.S. Corps of Engineers printed border
7 x 9¼ inches (17.8 x 23.5 cm)

 

 

Preparation for the work began in August, 1872. On November 25, “the small-pox infection being no longer feared,” the steamboat Aid, with two months provisions and two craneboats in tow, started up Red River. They had been outfitted and supplied in New Orleans. Shore parties had already been organized in Shreveport and work itself begun on December 1, a month before the arrival of the Aid. The details of this work, from the preparation in August to the opening of the upper river in May of the next year, are covered in the report dated July 1, 1873, from Lieutenant Woodruff to Captain Howell. The last page of this report included specific comments on the value of the previously discussed Photographic Views of Red River to Lieutenant Woodruff’s total report. The importance of these photographs in understand in the scope and nature of the raft removal is reflected in the following statement:

To accompany this I have prepared a series of photographic views showing every portion of the raft, parties at work, (etc). With the view is a photographic map of the raft region, with location and axis of the camera for each view marked upon it and numbered to correspond with the number on the view. This album full of photographs, affording a complete and truthful panorama of the raft, will give a better idea of the nature of the work performed and of the character of the country than could be obtained form the most elaborate description. [The map is in the Library of Congress]

.
Extract from Hubert Humphreys. “Photographic Views of the Red River Raft, 1873,” in Louisiana History: The Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association Vol. 12, No. 2 (Spring, 1971) pp. 101-108 (16 pages with photographs)

 

Robert B. Talfor. Steam saws on flat, foot Raft No. 23. Plate L of the photographic album 'Photographic Views of Red River Raft' 1873

 

Robert B. Talfor
Steam saws on flat, foot Raft No. 23. Plate L of the photographic album Photographic Views of Red River Raft
1873
Hand-coloured albumen print, mounted recto only to pages with a stylised U.S. Corps of Engineers printed border
7 x 9¼ inches (17.8 x 23.5 cm)

 

Robert B. Talfor. Plate VI of the photographic album 'Photographic Views of Red River Raft' 1873

 

Robert B. Talfor
Plate VI of the photographic album Photographic Views of Red River Raft
1873
Hand-coloured albumen print, mounted recto only to pages with a stylised U.S. Corps of Engineers printed border
7 x 9¼ inches (17.8 x 23.5 cm)

 

Robert B. Talfor. Raft No. 4 partially removed. Plate X of the photographic album 'Photographic Views of Red River Raft' 1873

 

Robert B. Talfor
Raft No. 4 partially removed. Plate X of the photographic album Photographic Views of Red River Raft
1873
Hand-coloured albumen print, mounted recto only to pages with a stylised U.S. Corps of Engineers printed border
7 x 9¼ inches (17.8 x 23.5 cm)

 

Raft No. 4 partially removed. Crane boat at work [removing dead tree]

 

Robert B. Talfor. Plate XVII of the photographic album 'Photographic Views of Red River Raft' 1873

 

Robert B. Talfor
Plate XVII of the photographic album Photographic Views of Red River Raft
1873
Hand-coloured albumen print, mounted recto only to pages with a stylised U.S. Corps of Engineers printed border
7 x 9¼ inches (17.8 x 23.5 cm)

 

Crane boat at work

 

Robert B. Talfor Plate XXV of the photographic album 'Photographic Views of Red River Raft' 1873

 

Robert B. Talfor
Plate XXV of the photographic album Photographic Views of Red River Raft
1873
Hand-coloured albumen print, mounted recto only to pages with a stylised U.S. Corps of Engineers printed border
7 x 9¼ inches (17.8 x 23.5 cm)

 

Robert B. Talfor Plate XXVI of the photographic album 'Photographic Views of Red River Raft' 1873

 

Robert B. Talfor
Plate XXVI of the photographic album Photographic Views of Red River Raft
1873
Hand-coloured albumen print, mounted recto only to pages with a stylised U.S. Corps of Engineers printed border
7 x 9¼ inches (17.8 x 23.5 cm)

 

Robert B. Talfor Plate XXII of the photographic album 'Photographic Views of Red River Raft' 1873

 

Robert B. Talfor
Plate XXII of the photographic album Photographic Views of Red River Raft
1873
Hand-coloured albumen print, mounted recto only to pages with a stylised U.S. Corps of Engineers printed border
7 x 9¼ inches (17.8 x 23.5 cm)

 

Robert B. Talfor Plate XXVIII of the photographic album 'Photographic Views of Red River Raft' 1873

 

Robert B. Talfor
Plate XXVIII of the photographic album Photographic Views of Red River Raft
1873
Hand-coloured albumen print, mounted recto only to pages with a stylised U.S. Corps of Engineers printed border
7 x 9¼ inches (17.8 x 23.5 cm)

 

 

Red River of the South

Red River map

 

Snagboat 'Helliopolis'

 

Schell and Hogan (illustration)
U.S. Snagboat ‘Helliopolis’
Nd
Engraving

 

 

The Heliopolis raised a one hundred and sixty foot tree in 1829, according to Captain Richard Delafield of the Corps of Engineers. By 1830 Shreve’s Snag Boats, or “Uncle Sam’s Tooth Pullers” as they were called, had improved navigation to the point that only one flatboat was lost on a snag during that year. During the 1830s Shreve set about cutting back trees on the banks of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers to prevent the recurrence of snags.

 

Harpers Weekly Cover snagboat 2 Nov 1889

 

 

“One of Uncle Sam’s Tooth Pullers”

The snag boats operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers were sometimes called “Uncle Sam’s Tooth Pullers,” referring to how the vessels extracted whole trees and logs that hindered navigation. U.S. Snag Boat No. 2 is shown pulling stumps from the river bottom.

From Harper’s Weekly, Nov. 2, 1889

 

Plan for Henry Shreve's snag boat. Patent No. 913, September 12, 1838

 

Plan for Henry Shreve’s snag boat. Patent No. 913, September 12, 1838

 

 

Shreveport, the Great Raft and Eugene Augustus Woodruff

Shreveport is located on the Red River in northwestern Louisiana, positioned on the first sustainable high ground in the river valley north of the old French settlement of Natchitoches. When the town as incorporated in 1839, it was, for a short period, the westernmost municipality in the United States. Four years prior to this, the settlement began as Shreve Town. Hugging a one-square-mile diamond-shaped bluff and plateau, Shreveport seemed an ideal place for a town. The northern edge of the plateau rested against Cross Bayou. The combined water frontage of the bayou and the Red River afforded the town ample room for commercial growth. However, a major obstacle stood in its way.

Captain Henry Miller Shreve, the man for whom Shreveport is named, received a contract from the U.S. Army to remove a gain logjam known as the “Great Raft.” Shrove was widely acclaimed as the most knowledgeable expert in raft removal… The upstream portion of the raft at times extended in Oklahoma. Since the Red River had many meandering curves, a straight-line mile might have as many as 3 river miles within it. At its largest, the raft closed over 400 miles of river. By the time Shreve examined it, in about 1830, the raft extended about 110 miles.

Shrove bought in large vessels that he modified for the job. Some of these ripped the jam apart with grappling hooks. Others rammed the raft to loosen individual trees. Some of the vessels were built by taking two steamboats and joining them side by side into a catamaran. The captain built a small sawmill on the common deck. The most famous of these hybrid snag boats, as they were called, were the Archimedes and the Heliopolis. His crews consisted of slave labor and Irish immigrants. The work was very difficult and extremely dangerous. …

Shreve’s efforts did not end the problem with the raft. Periodic work was needed to clear the river as the raft formed again. The Civil War interrupted this work, but by 1870, Congress had realised that the rived must be opened. Appropriations were again made, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers sent an engineering unit to deal with the issue. The team arrived in late 1871 under the command of First Lieutenant Eugene Augustus Woodruff. Woodruff, his brother, George, and their men set to work. They recorded their actions with maps and photographs. R.B. Talfor was the photographer assigned the duty of recording the work, and this may have been the first instance of an imbedded photographer assigned to a specific unit. Talfor and the Woodruff brothers took over one hundred images of the raft clearing. Today, their records remain the standard chronicle for a project of this type.

The unit’s primary snagboat was the U.S. Aid, a modern version of Henry Shreve’s Archimedes. This elegant stern-wheel vessel was the most advanced of its type in the late nineteenth century. Another technology used as a test bed for river clearing was the newly created explosive nitroglycerin. Because nitroglycerin was extremely dangerous to use and volatile to make, the nitroglycerin lab occasionally blew up – thankfully, with almost no casualties.

The Woodruffs found areas of clear water, appearing as a strong of lakes, and when the broke up the logs around them, the loosened trees and logs would sometimes form snags downstream. One of the unfortunate steamboats was the R.T. Bryarly, photographed by Talfor in 1873. Talker took his photograph from a recently cleared section of the rived. Piles of debris could clearly be seen on both banks as the steam picked its was up the river. The Bryarly plied the rived until September 19, 1876, when it hit a snag and was lost. The use of explosives and the improved snagboats finally conquered the river. …

… In mid-August 1873, an epidemic [of yellow fever] broke out it Shreveport. Everyone who could leave town did, and the population dwindled to about four thousand people before other towns sealed of the roads, railroads and streams to protect their residents. A quarter of the population who remained died within the first two weeks, and another 50 percent contracted yellow fever within the next six weeks. Most of the doctors and nurses died in the first month. …

In early September 1873, the army ordered its raft-clearing engineers out of the city, indicating that they should relocate farther south. Lieutenant Eugene Augustus Woodruff set his men, including his brother, George, to safety. He remained to help care for the residents of Shreveport. With most of the doctors dead or ill, Woodruff and six Roman Catholic priest ministered to the victims. By the end of September, all of these good men had died from yellow fever.

Gary D. Joiner and Ernie Roberson. Lost Shreveport: Vanishing Scenes from the Red River Valley. Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2010 [Online] Cited 17/10/2018

 

 

Unknown photographer. 'Lt. Eugene Woodruff' (age approx. 23) c. 1866

 

Unknown photographer
Lt. Eugene Woodruff (age approx. 23)
c. 1866
USMA Archives

 

 

Lt. Eugene A. Woodruff (1843-1873), Red River Hero, died age 31

“He died because too brave to abandon his post even in the face of a fearful pestilence and too humane to let his fellow beings perish without giving all the aid in his power to save them,” wrote Capt. Charles W. Howell, responsible for Corps of Engineers works in Louisiana, in 1873. “His name should be cherished, not only by his many personal friends,” he continued, “but by the Army, as one who lived purely, labored faithfully, and died in the path of duty.”

Captain Howell penned that tribute to his deputy, Lt. Eugene A. Woodruff, a young officer whom Howell sent from New Orleans to the Red River of Louisiana as supervisor of the project to clear the great log raft, a formidable obstruction to navigation. Henry M. Shreve first cleared the Red River raft in the 1830s, but the raft formed again during years of inadequate channel maintenance resulting from meager congressional appropriations and neglect during the Civil War.

Lieutenant Woodruff left his workboats and crew on the Red River in September 1873 to visit Shreveport and recruit a survey party. When he arrived, he found Shreveport in the grip of a yellow-fever epidemic. Fearing he might carry the disease to his workmen if he returned to camp, he elected to stay in Shreveport and tend to the sick. He volunteered his services to the Howard Association, a Louisiana disaster-relief charity, and traveled from house to house in his carriage, delivering food, medicine, and good cheer to the sick and dying. He contracted the disease himself and died in late September, “a martyr,” reported the Shreveport newspaper, “to the blessed cause of charity.”

“His conduct of the great work on which he was engaged at the time of his death,” said the New Orleans District Engineer, “will be a model for all similar undertakings and the completion of the work a monument to his memory.” Captain Howell assigned responsibility for finishing the job on the Red River to Assistant Engineer George Woodruff, brother of the lieutenant.

Woodruff’s selfless actions not only eased the suffering of Shreveport residents, but his decision to remain in the town no doubt lessened the threat to his crew. Spared from the disease, the engineers successfully broke through the raft, clearing the river for navigation on 27 November 1873. An Ohio River snagboat built the following year received the name E. A. Woodruff in recognition of the lieutenant’s sacrifice. The vessel served until 1925. More than a century later the people of Shreveport continue to honor the memory of Lieutenant Woodruff.

Text and image from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers website

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Members of a Cavalry unit at Fort Grant, A.T. in 1876 showing the variety of both clothing and headgear in use by the Army in the mid-1870s]' 1876

 

Unknown photographer
Untitled [Members of a Cavalry unit at Fort Grant, A.T. in 1876 showing the variety of both clothing and headgear in use by the Army in the mid-1870s]
1876

 

 

Yellow fever

Yellow fever is a viral disease that is transmitted by mosquitoes. Yellow fever can lead to serious illness and even death. It is called ‘yellow fever’ because in serious cases, the skin turns yellow in colour. This is known as ‘jaundice’. Symptoms of yellow fever may take 3 to 6 days to appear. Some infections can be mild but most lead to serious illness characterised by two stages. In the first stage fever, muscle pain, nausea, vomiting, headache and weakness occur. About 15 to 25 per cent of those with yellow fever progress to the second stage also known as the ‘toxic’ stage, of which half die within 10 to 14 days after onset of illness. Visible bleeding, jaundice, kidney and liver failure can occur during the second stage.

Although yellow fever is most prevalent in tropical-like climates, the northern United States were not exempted from the fever. The first outbreak in English-speaking North America occurred in New York City in 1668, and a serious one afflicted Philadelphia in 1793. English colonists in Philadelphia and the French in the Mississippi River Valley recorded major outbreaks in 1669, as well as those occurring later in the 18th and 19th centuries. The southern city of New Orleans was plagued with major epidemics during the 19th century, most notably in 1833 and 1853. Its residents called the disease “yellow jack”…

The yellow fever epidemic of 1793 in Philadelphia, which was then the capital of the United States, resulted in the deaths of several thousand people, more than 9% of the population. The national government fled the city, including President George Washington. Additional yellow fever epidemics struck Philadelphia, Baltimore, and New York City in the 18th and 19th centuries, and traveled along steamboat routes from New Orleans. They caused some 100,000-150,000 deaths in total.

In 1853, Cloutierville, Louisiana, had a late-summer outbreak of yellow fever that quickly killed 68 of the 91 inhabitants. A local doctor concluded that some unspecified infectious agent had arrived in a package from New Orleans. 650 residents of Savannah, Georgia died from yellow fever in 1854. In 1858, St. Matthew’s German Evangelical Lutheran Church in Charleston, South Carolina, suffered 308 yellow fever deaths, reducing the congregation by half. A ship carrying persons infected with the virus arrived in Hampton Roads in southeastern Virginia in June 1855. The disease spread quickly through the community, eventually killing over 3,000 people, mostly residents of Norfolk and Portsmouth. In 1873, Shreveport, Louisiana, lost almost a quarter of its population to yellow fever. In 1878, about 20,000 people died in a widespread epidemic in the Mississippi River Valley. That year, Memphis had an unusually large amount of rain, which led to an increase in the mosquito population. The result was a huge epidemic of yellow fever. The steamship John D. Porter took people fleeing Memphis northward in hopes of escaping the disease, but passengers were not allowed to disembark due to concerns of spreading yellow fever. The ship roamed the Mississippi River for the next two months before unloading her passengers. The last major U.S. outbreak was in 1905 in New Orleans.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Snag

In forest ecology, a snag refers to a standing, dead or dying tree, often missing a top or most of the smaller branches. In freshwater ecology it refers to trees, branches, and other pieces of naturally occurring wood found sunken in rivers and streams; it is also known as coarse woody debris. …

Maritime hazard

Also known as deadheads, partially submerged snags posed hazards to early riverboat navigation and commerce. If hit, snags punctured the wooden hulls used in the 19th century and early 20th century. Snags were, in fact, the most commonly encountered hazard, especially in the early years of steamboat travel. In the United States, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers operated “snagboats” such as the W. T. Preston in the Puget Sound of Washington State and the Montgomery in the rivers of Alabama to pull out and clear snags. Starting in 1824, there were successful efforts to remove snags from the Mississippi and its tributaries. By 1835, a lieutenant reported to the Chief of Engineers that steamboat travel had become much safer, but by the mid-1840s the appropriations for snag removal dried up and snags re-accumulated until after the Civil War.

Text from the Wikipedia webiste

 

S.T. Blessing. 'New Orleans Levee' c. 1866-1870

 

S.T. Blessing
New Orleans Levee
c. 1866-1870
From a stereographic view, on wet or dry plate glass negative

 

 

Samuel Tobias Blessing (1830-1897) was a successful daguerreotypist, ambrotypist, photographer, daguerrean, and photographic stock dealer. He was active in La Grange, Texas in 1856, and Galveston, Texas 1856 c.-1861, and in New Orleans 1861-1890s. From 1856, Blessing partnered with Samuel Anderson, operating bi-state studios and stock depots in Trenton Street, Galverston, and at 120 Canal Street, New Orleans, moving to 137 Canal Street in 1856. Their partnership was dissolved in 1863. After the Civil War, Blessing turned his attention to making stereographs, publishing New Orleans in Stereoscope in 1866. Other stereographic series included Views of New Orleans & Vicinity, and Public Buildings in New Orleans.

Text and image from the Steamboat Times website

 

Unknown photographer. 'New Orleans Levee' c. 1867-1868

 

Unknown photographer
New Orleans Levee
c. 1867-1868
Wet plate negative on glass, or Tintype positive

 

 

Four boats in this New Orleans scene have been positively identified. They are from right to left, B.L. HODGE (No.2), MONSOON, ST. NICHOLAS, and CUBA. The remaining boats, also right to left, are not confirmed but may be the BART ABLE, GEORGE D. PALMER, and the FLICKER.

The B.L. HODGE No.2 was built in 1867, and the MONSOON was lost to a snag on the Red River on Dec. 21, 1868, heavily loaded with cotton. Therefore the photograph was taken sometime during 1867-1868. The PALMER was lost after hitting the Quincy bridge on Oct. 2, 1868, which would further narrow the timeframe for this scene.

Text and image from the Steamboat Times website

 

 

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13
Aug
17

Exhibition: ‘Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class’ at the Städel Museum, Frankfurt

Exhibition dates: 27th April to 13th August 2017

Curator: Dr Martin Engler, Head of the Collection of Contemporary Art, Städel Museum
Co-curator: Dr Jana Baumann, Städel Museum

Artists: Volker Döhne, Andreas Gursky, Candida Höfer, Axel Hütte, Tata Ronkholz, Thomas Ruff, Jörg Sasse, Thomas Struth and Petra Wunderlich

 

 

Bernd Becher (1931-2007) and Hilla Becher (1934-2015) 'Gutehoffnungshütte, Oberhausen, Ruhrgebiet' 1963

 

Bernd Becher (1931-2007) and Hilla Becher (1934-2015)
Gutehoffnungshütte, Oberhausen, Ruhrgebiet
1963
Gelatine silver print on baryta paper
75.3 x 91.4 cm
Art Collection Deutsche Börse Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation
© Estate Bernd & Hilla Becher

 

Bernd Becher (1931-2007) and Hilla Becher (1934-2015) 'Half-Timber Houses' 1959-61/1974

 

Bernd Becher (1931-2007) and Hilla Becher (1934-2015)
Half-Timber Houses
1959-61/1974
Silver gelatine print on baryta paper
152.4 x 112.5 cm
Sammlung Deutsche Bank
© Estate Bernd & Hilla Becher

 

 

The Bechers depict the half-timbered houses from the Siegerland in a sober and restrained fashion. The picture removes the buildings from their original context. One view follows the next. Thus the form of the single building becomes more important than its function. In the photographs the half-timbered houses become aesthetic objects with a sculptural character. Bernd and Hilla Becher do not present their images individually, but in a grid. Not the single photo is the work, but the total of the typology is.

 

Bernd Becher (1931-2007) and Hilla Becher (1934-2015) 'Half-Timber Houses' (detail) 1959-61/1974

 

Bernd Becher (1931-2007) and Hilla Becher (1934-2015)
Half-Timber Houses (detail)
1959-61/1974
Silver gelatine print on baryta paper
152.4 x 112.5 cm
Sammlung Deutsche Bank
© Estate Bernd & Hilla Becher

 

Bernd Becher (1931-2007) and Hilla Becher (1934-2015) 'Half-Timber Houses' (detail) 1959-61/1974

 

Bernd Becher (1931-2007) and Hilla Becher (1934-2015)
Half-Timber Houses (detail)
1959-61/1974
Silver gelatine print on baryta paper
152.4 x 112.5 cm
Sammlung Deutsche Bank
© Estate Bernd & Hilla Becher

 

 

 

“What the teachings of Bernd and Hilla Becher sparked off – and their students developed further – is a new conception of the artwork according to which the boundaries between sculpture, painting and photography dissolve in terms of media and aesthetics alike. In other words, in the very moment in history when photography emancipated itself to become an independent medium, it sounded its own death knell.” (Press release)

WHAT ABSOLUTE RUBBISH – the second sentence, that is!

Just look at the photographs as pictures.

The Bechers and their students’ photographs might invoke a new concept of the pictorial but that does not mean the death of photography far from it. In fact, this conceptualisation opens up an expanded terrain of becoming for photography (continuing the theme of the last post on the work of Walker Evans). In this sense, the work of these artists is vital to an understanding of the place of photography within the observation, construction and taxonomy of contemporary culture and its pictorial representation.

Marcus

.
Many thankx to the Städel Museum for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. For more information please see the interactive website.

 

One of the most radical changes in art’s relation to its aesthetic, media, and economic contexts is closely associated with the students of the first Becher Class at the Düsseldorf art academy – but even more so with the names of their teachers, Bernd and Hilla Becher. The exhibition brings together 200 major works, some in large format, by these important artists, as well as a selection of their early works.

 

 

Candida Höfer (*1944) 'Weidengasse Cologne VIII 1977' 1977 (2013)

 

Candida Höfer (*1944)
Weidengasse Cologne VIII 1977
1977 (2013)
Gelatine silver print on baryta paper
42.6 x 36.7 cm
Loan from the artist
© Candida Höfer, Köln; VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2017

 

Volker Döhne (*1953) 'Untitled (Colourful)' 1979 (2014)

 

Volker Döhne (*1953)
Untitled (Colourful)
1979 (2014)
Colour print from colour transparency
37 x 47 cm
Private collection
© Volker Döhne, Krefeld 2017

 

Thomas Ruff (*1958) 'Interior 1 D' 1982

 

Thomas Ruff (*1958)
Interior 1 D
1982
Chromogenic colour print
47 x 57 cm
Loan from the artist
© Thomas Ruff; VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2017

 

Andreas Gursky (*1955) 'Doorman, Passport Control' 1982 (2007)

 

Andreas Gursky (*1955)
Doorman, Passport Control
1982 (2007)
Inkjet print
43.2 x 52.5 cm
Loan from the artist / Courtesy Sprüth Magers
© Andreas Gursky / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2017 / Courtesy Sprüth Magers Berlin London

 

Axel Hütte (*1951) 'Moedling House' 1982-1984

 

Axel Hütte (*1951)
Moedling House
1982-1984
Gelatine silver print on baryta paper
66 x 80 cm
Loan from the artist
© Axel Hütte

 

Petra Wunderlich (*1954) 'Fossa Degli Angeli, Italy' 1989

 

Petra Wunderlich (*1954)
Fossa Degli Angeli, Italy
1989
Gelatine silver print on baryta paper
61 x 75,2 cm
Private collection
© Petra Wunderlich; VG Bild-Kunst 2017

 

 

From 27 April to 13 August 2017, the Städel Museum is staging a comprehensive survey on the Becher Class at the Düsseldorf art academy and the major paradigm shift in the medium of artistic photography with which the Bechers and their students are associated. With the aid of some 200 photographs by Volker Döhne, Andreas Gursky, Candida Höfer, Axel Hütte, Tata Ronkholz, Thomas Ruff, Jörg Sasse, Thomas Struth and Petra Wunderlich – a group of whom some enjoy international renown and others are due for rediscovery – the exhibition will examine the influence exerted by Bernd and Hilla Becher on their students at the Düsseldorf school. What unites the students’ works with those of their teachers? How do they differ? Is there really such a thing as the “Becher School” or is it ‘merely’ a matter of several highly successful photographers who happened to be studying at the ‘right place’ at an especially propitious moment in history? And how have those artists influenced our present conception of what a picture is? Taking the artist duo’s work as a point of departure, the exhibition “Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class” will acquaint viewers with the radical changes in the medium of artistic photography that became manifest in the works of the Becher pupils in the eighties and above all the nineties, and investigate the art-historical impact of this development up to the very present. It will feature major large-scale works as well as key early endeavours by the members of what is presumably the most influential generation of German photographers in the field of fine art.

The students of the first in a long line of Becher Classes at the Düsseldorfer art academy introduced elementary changes to contemporary art’s aesthetic, media and economic contexts. They not only contributed decisively to shaping international photography in the 1990s, but also fundamentally redefined the status and perception of artistic photography in general. Their works can be considered as one of the most self-confident emancipations of photography as art in the mediums history, while at the same time reflecting the (not merely digital) moment when the boundaries between the media dissolve.

“Bernd and Hilla Becher’s first – meanwhile world-famous – students played a tremendously important role in establishing photography as an expressive medium on a par with other art forms. The nine artists featured in our show occupy a realm where the distinction between painting and photography is no longer clear. The permeability of the boundary between the media is deliberate in their work, and in that respect they mirror one of the key focuses of the Städel Museum’s collection of contemporary art,” observes Städel director Dr Philipp Demandt. And exhibition curator Dr Martin Engler adds: “What the teachings of Bernd and Hilla Becher sparked off – and their students developed further – is a new conception of the artwork according to which the boundaries between sculpture, painting and photography dissolve in terms of media and aesthetics alike. In other words, in the very moment in history when photography emancipated itself to become an independent medium, it sounded its own death knell.”

The founding of a chair for artistic photography at the Düsseldorf art academy in 1976 provided perhaps the single most important impulse for a change in how the medium of photography was perceived. In close cooperation with his wife Hilla Becher, Bernd Becher held that chair until 1996. Even before their appointment to the Düsseldorf school, the Bechers had been taking pictures of historical industrial architecture, subscribing to a work concept that exceeded the scope of a common documentary approach in photography. They portrayed mining headframes, blast furnaces, gas tanks, water towers and other testimonies to a vanishing industrial culture – frontally, in central perspective, with fascinating depth of field, and where possible before the backdrop of a uniformly grey sky. They arranged the individual shots in grids to form large-scale tableaus they called typologies. The concern here was no longer merely the illustration of reality, but its perception. Reality could no longer be depicted singly, but only in a multiplicity of simultaneous images. From the formal aesthetic point of view, the staging of the pictorial subjects was now far more than documentary in nature. The affinity to minimal and concept art – evident in the rigour of the pictorial vocabulary, the industrial aesthetic and the new perception of a work in stages – is unmistakable.

Especially in their early work, the students of the first Becher Class explored their teachers’ artistic strategy with great intensity. Yet as they continued to pursue it in the nineties, they did so ever more independently, and in their own highly individual styles. With the aid of various strategies in terms of scale, presentation and motif, and not least of all with abstract pictorial inventions provoked by digital image techniques, they took the interpenetration of the mediums of painting and photography to an extreme. The result was a new concept of the picture that blurs aesthetic and media distinctions. “The dissolution of media boundaries, but also the use of technical innovations, are characteristic of the works of the first Becher Class. It is here that the impact of a changing media culture is felt,” explains Dr Jana Baumann, the co-curator of the exhibition.

A show devoted to such a complex phenomenon on the one hand, and such productive teaching activities on the other, must inevitably be limited in scope. “Photographs Become Pictures” concentrates deliberately on the students of the early years of the Becher Class, beginning with Höfer, Döhne, Hütte and Struth in 1976 and ending with the completion of Gursky’s and Sasse’s studies in 1987/1988. In retrospect, it is precisely in the heterogeneity of the first Becher Class – with its wide range of approaches that have influenced our present-day understanding of the pictorial image – that the success of Bernd and Hilla Becher’s teachings is evident.

Candida Höfer (b. 1944) is known above all for her pictures of public interiors such as libraries, universities, museums and waiting rooms. Nevertheless, the purely documentary aspect is ultimately of secondary importance to her, as is also true of her teachers. Particularly when she turned to colour photography, she began producing iconically clear shots of meaning-charged interiors extremely striking in their rigorous aesthetic. In composition, repetition and rhythm as well as the sculptural emphasis, Höfer’s formal staging of her interiors is reminiscent of the Becher typologies.

A distinct affinity to the typologies is also evident in early street shots by Thomas Struth (b. 1954), such as West Broadway, Tribeca, New York (1978) or Sommerstrasse, Düsseldorf (1980). He proceeded in a manner similar to his teachers, but broadened his spectrum of motifs. He is concerned in his work with cultural structures; in addition to streets he also depicts museums or religious cult sites and portrays families. With the aid of social and ethnological allusions he reveals orders and interrelationships, thus achieving a universal survey of human and their lifeworld in imagery.

Petra Wunderlich‘s (b. 1954) black-and-white series depict details of churches or quarries that the artist has introduced to a new, abstract compositional framework. By this method she reduces architecture visually to its stereometric tectonics in such a way that elementary architectonic forms unexpectedly emerge from the “broken” surfaces of nature. Wunderlich’s photographs, like those by the Bechers, can be read as sociological and historical testimonies.

The workgroups of Volker Döhne (b. 1953) closely resemble Bernd and Hilla Bechers’ typologies with regard to concept and motif alike. He developed series such as Small- Scale Iron Industry (1977/78) or Small Railway Bridges and Underpasses in the Bergisches and Märkisches Land (1979). With his experimental Colour (1979) series, he then emancipated himself from his teachers.

Tata Ronkholz (1940-1997) was interested primarily in factory gates, shop windows, beverage kiosks and snack bars, which she photographed in the even light of grey days. Many aspects of these works are strongly reminiscent of the Becher photographs: the consistent placement of the subject at the pictorial centre, the unchanging size of the prints, but also the serial, typologically comparative approach.

Thomas Ruff (b. 1958) is likewise deeply indebted to his teachers’ serial method, which we encounter in his work in ever-different formulations. His portraits as well as the strongly enlarged nocturnal shots of, in part, found material, convey his fundamentally sceptical attitude towards photography’s claim to truth and documentation. His persistent investigations of new pictorial sources and technologies are perhaps the most impressive demonstrations of the manner in which Ruff continues the approach of Bernd and Hilla Becher.

Axel Hütte‘s (b. 1951) early architectural details investigate social situations using a mode of photographic expression distinguished by distance and anonymity. Within this context, he devotes himself as much to spoiled landscapes as to supposedly untouched nature which nevertheless has always been formed by human intervention. A conspicuous aspect of his work is the strong reference to historical landscape painting, whose formal compositional principles he both copies and deconstructs. Whereas the Bechers directed their attention to the sculptural or conceptual potential of their pictures, Hütte focusses on painting as the leading medium of modern art.

Jörg Sasse (b. 1962) initially devoted himself to highly artificial and at the same time prosaic arrangements of petit-bourgeois domestic culture. His later “tableaus” represent a virtual antithesis to the reductive rigour of these early works. Using digital and analogue techniques alike, he began processing found pictures as well as images of his own making, in which context he blurred the distinction between painting and photograph beyond recognition.

Andreas Gursky‘s (b. 1955) early photographs are likewise characterised by a keen interest in everyday surroundings – the private as well as the public sphere, the context of work as well as leisure time. Like Sasse, he investigates the aesthetic boundary between photographic and painterly image production. By means of digital manipulations he uses to duplicate and mount the pictorial motif to the point of abstraction, he creates perplexing pictorial architectures that merge construction and reality in large-scale colour prints.

The development of the Becher Class shows how concept art’s expanding notion of the artwork led to a new concept of the pictorial including photography. What the teachers introduced in rudiments was taken by their students and the following generation of artists to a momentous change in the picturing of reality. The realisation that photography cannot reproduce reality impartially does not detract from the medium. On the contrary, it means an enhancement in terms of artistic potential. What is more, the lack of focus in the portrayal of reality – in the literal and figurative sense alike – enriches photography’s complexity. It is not least of digital changes that enables innovative pictorial invention. Yet the boundaries of the photographic image also became fluid in the development from individual work to typology and series, and from detail to overall image. The answer to all questions about the significance, classification, doctrine and conception of what we refer to as the “Becher School” can thus be found in an insight as simple as it is surprising: in the very moment in history when photography emancipated itself to become an independent medium, it sounded its own death knell.

Press release from the Städel Museum

 

Exhibition view "Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class"

Exhibition view "Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class"

Exhibition view "Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class"

At left, Axel Hütte (b. 1951) 15 artists USA (David McDermott, Stephen Prina, Mike Kelley, Peter McGough, David McDermott, Doug Starn, Mike Starn, Jeff Koons, Haim Steinbach, Ross Bleckner) (detail) 1988 (2003)

Exhibition view "Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class"

Candida Höfer (left) and Thomas Struth (*1954) Louvre 3, Paris 1989 1989 (2012) (right)

Exhibition view "Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class"

Thomas Struth (*1954) Paradiese 09 Xi Shuang Banna, Provinz Yunnan, China, 1999

 

Thomas Struth (*1954) 'Paradiese 09' 1999

 

Thomas Struth (*1954)
Paradiese 09
Xi Shuang Banna, Provinz Yunnan, China, 1999

 

Exhibition view "Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class"

Exhibition view "Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class"

Exhibition view "Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class"

Thomas Ruff (b. 1958) with House No. 1 I 1987 (right)

Exhibition view "Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class"

Axel Hütte (*1951)

 

Axel Hütte (*1951) 'Castellina' 1992 (2015)

 

Axel Hütte (*1951)
Castellina
1992 (2015)
Chromogenic colour print
98.4 x 120.3 cm
DZ BANK Kunstsammlung © Axel Hütte

 

Exhibition view "Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class"

Exhibition view "Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class"

Thomas Struth (*1954) The Consolandi Family, Mailand, 1996 (2014) (left)

 

Exhibition views “Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class”
Photo: Städel Museum

 

 

The Bechers

For their photographs Bernd and Hilla Becher are awarded the “Golden Lion” in the category of “sculpture” at the Venice Biennale in 1990. How is that possible? Surprisingly at the time there was no separate category for photography at the Biennale. But this is not the real reason. Already in 1969 the first larger exhibition of the Bechers is called “Anonymous Sculptures”, just like their first volume of photographs. The artists very consciously link the genres of photography and sculpture. This idea informs their entire oeuvre.

Bernd Becher and Hilla Wobeser begin to collaborate in 1959. At the time both study at the art academy Düsseldorf. Two years later they marry. During the following five decades the artist couple produces mostly tableaus of several parts – consisting of three, nine, twelve or more photos; they call them typologies. Their subjects are disused headstocks, furnaces, oil refineries, water reservoir towers, grain silos, gasometres or even half-timbered houses in former workers’ settlements – all of them testimonies of a declining industrial culture.

 

An Overall Concept

When Hilla and Bernd Becher presented their works at the Städtische Kunsthalle Düsseldorf in 1969, this coincided with an exhibition on US-American minimal art – a juxtaposition that was to prove programmatic. In 1972 the American sculptor Carl Andre mentioned the insightful connection of the Bechers’ works and the movements of minimal and conceptual art. This prominent, art-theoretical connection significantly contributed to the great international success of the Bechers. This is also why – especially in the USA – the two are considered concept artists more than photographers.

The Bechers’ method of working – ostensibly – is concerned with sobriety and anonymity, rigidity and objectivity. They work in series, where the whole and a part of this whole, total view and detail are balanced. Setting their photographs into the context of sculpture, they test the boundaries of the genres of photography and sculpture. Working and presenting their works in series, they move the photograph beyond the individual work: the viewer can never see everything at once; instead the eye oscillates between detail and general context.

The artist couple directs the attention to formal, creative aspects of the photographed edifices at the same time allowing them to disappear in the typology’s grid. The rigidity of their pictorial vocabulary and the interest in an industrial aesthetic evidences the close proximity of the Bechers’ creative work to minimal and concept art.

 

Photography in Germany

“In principle it [photography] was a fallow field, where nothing ‘noteworthy’ had taken place in the past fifty years. We saw us in the tradition of objective photography of the 1920s; Bernd and Hilla Becher were the first to reconnect to this. There was absolutely nothing that we could fight or needed to disengage with. We could start from scratch.” ~ Thomas Ruff

 

“New Objectivity” this was the motto of the 1920s – also in photography. It was no longer the pictorial language of painting, but precision, focus and truth to detail, characteristics of photography that had garnered the artists’ interest.

The photographer August Sander focused on the society of the Weimar Republic and created a typology: in 1925 his pictorial atlas People of the 20th Century, where he systematically assembled hundreds of portraits of stereotypes of people of the most diverse social backgrounds and occupations. All of his sitters are portrayed frontally, which makes the photographs comparable. Sander also engaged in the photography of landscapes, industrial sites and cities.

Two more representatives of the photography of New Objectivity are also worth mentioning here: Albert Renger-Patzsch recorded industrial buildings and machinery in a sober directness. Karl Blossfeldt adopted scientific standards and photographed plants – always before a neutral background, removed from their natural setting.

Bernd and Hilla Becher draw on these approaches and develop them in their works. With a few exemptions, photography was not considered an autonomous artistic medium in Germany. Still in the 1960s, photography in art predominantly served as a means of documentation of actions, happenings and performances. Yet painting and photography interact. The painter Gerhard Richter for example, used photos as templates for his paintings since the early 1960s. The Bechers in turn greatly contributed to the recognition of photography as autonomous artistic medium with their photographs.

 

The Becher Class: Adoption, Distinction

DÖHNE GURSKY HÖFER HÜTTE RONKHOLZ RUFF SASSE STRUTH WUNDERLICH

These are the students of the first Becher class. In 1976 Bernd Becher is appointed first professor for photography at the Düsseldorf Art Academy. In close cooperation with his wife Hilla he teaches there for twenty years. Their first students become artists, who will have a formative influence on photography in the 1980s and the 1990s internationally. The Becher students intensely study their teachers’ work. Especially in their early works comparable approaches develop: a distanced perspective, an interest in architecture and striving for technical precision.

The Bechers are preoccupied with an industrial architecture in decline, representative also of the social changes affecting the respective region. Taking this as a starting point, their students consider their direct surroundings and social contexts. They seek to identify systems of classification and in their photographs investigate the relationship of individual work and series. In the process the Becher students adopt their own positions. They discover new themes, techniques and creative strategies. Regardless of the distinctions they are indebted to the conceptual approach of their teachers, which they then developed in their individual ways.

In their teaching and their work Bernd and Hilla Becher explore a concept of the image, where medial and aesthetic distinctions of sculpture, painting and photography dissolve. Their students continue this work in very different ways. In the 1980s and 1990s their enquiries lead to a critical reflexion of the possibilities of representing reality. The lack of focus in the depiction of reality – literally and figuratively – represent an increase in artistic complexity. Innovative pictorial creations were now possible by way of digital intervention.

The borders of the photographic image blur at the stage between single work and typology and series. The alternation of perception, oscillating between detail and total image extend the possibilities of photography. The meaning of what is called “Becher school” can be summarised in a simple and surprising statement: at the historic moment, when photography becomes an independent medium, it also realises its potential and explores its limits. Photography reaches its limits, transgresses it and thus ultimately questions its existence.

 

Kiosks and Streets

The developments in American photography are also important to the Becher-students: Ed Ruscha, whose photos show everyday subjects, is one of their role models. In 1966 he creates Every Building on the Sunset Strip. With a simple handheld camera Ruscha photographs every building on the Los Angeles boulevard of that name; he presents his pictures in a fanfold or an artist’s book. This quickly reveals the serial principle behind the work. Volker Döhne’s approach in Reconstruction II is similar. He, too, documents the commercial architecture, largely determining the surrounding.

Ice cream parlour, garage, drug store, stationers, dwelling house, shoe shop – nicely aligned. Volker Döhne focuses on the urban space dominated by nondescript post war architecture and empty sites. Other than his American colleague Ed Ruscha, Döhne always positions his camera head-on in the same angle. Surprisingly this emphasises the buildings’ volume. Like his teachers Bernd and Hilla Becher he emphasises the three-dimensional, sculptural aspect of buildings and pursues a concept that he determined before he began to photograph.

The Bechers assemble identical, yet different photographs to a static tableau. Döhne on the other hand, required the viewer to move along the strip and proceed down the row of photographs. Above all the viewer must add together the photos of the Krefelder Straße by himself: the work forms as a result of the viewer’s active viewing and perception.

 

 

Volker Döhne (b. 1953) 'Krefeld, Ostwall corner Rheinstraße, (Reconstruction II)' 1990 (1992)

Volker Döhne (b. 1953)
Krefeld, Ostwall corner Rheinstraße, (Reconstruction II)
1990 (1992)
Silver gelatin print on baryte paper
47 × 37 cm
Private collection

 

Volker Döhne (b. 1953) 'Krefeld, Rheinstraße 82 (Reconstruction II)' 1990 (1992)

 

Volker Döhne (b. 1953)
Krefeld, Rheinstraße 82 (Reconstruction II)
1990 (1992)
Silver gelatin print on baryte paper
47 × 37 cm
Private collection

 

Volker Döhne (b. 1953) 'Krefeld, Rheinstraße 84 (Reconstruction II)' 1990 (1992)

 

Volker Döhne (b. 1953)
Krefeld, Rheinstraße 84 (Reconstruction II)
1990 (1992)
Silver gelatin print on baryte paper
47 × 37 cm
Private collection

 

Volker Döhne (b. 1953) 'Krefeld, Rheinstraße 86 (Reconstruction II)' 1990 (1992)

 

Volker Döhne (b. 1953)
Krefeld, Rheinstraße 86 (Reconstruction II)
1990 (1992)
Silver gelatin print on baryte paper
47 × 37 cm
Private collection

 

Volker Döhne (b. 1953) 'Krefeld, Rheinstraße 88 (Reconstruction II)' 1990 (1992)

 

Volker Döhne (b. 1953)
Krefeld, Rheinstraße 88 (Reconstruction II)
1990 (1992)
Silver gelatin print on baryte paper
47 × 37 cm
Private collection

 

Tata Ronkholz (1940-1997) 'Beverage kiosk, Düsseldorf, Hermannstraße 31' 1978

 

Tata Ronkholz (1940-1997)
Beverage kiosk, Düsseldorf, Hermannstraße 31
1978
Gelatine silver print on baryta paper
41.2 x 51.2 cm
Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur, Köln/Dauerleihgabe der Sparkasse KölnBonn
© Tata Ronkholz, Nachlassverwaltung Van Ham Art Estate 2017

 

 

Cigarette and gumball machines are fixed to exterior walls. Advertising posters overlap. Beverages, magazines and sweets are visibly lined up behind glass. It is Tata Ronkholz’ serial presentation that enables the comparison of the kiosks and their study as a social phenomenon in urban contexts.

Kiosks are everyday meeting points and the setting for social life. At the same time their role fundamentally changed in the past decades. Ronkholz photographs kiosks as socially grown places. She positions them centrally in their architectural environment – people are absent. This is what the photos have in common with Becher-photographs. Like her teachers, Ronkholz is committed to the conservation and archiving of a changing urban culture.

 

Tata Ronkholz (1940-1997) 'Dusseldorf, Sankt-Franziskusstraße 107' 1977

 

Tata Ronkholz (1940-1997)
Dusseldorf, Sankt-Franziskusstraße 107
1977
Silver gelatin print on baryta paper
41.2 × 51.2 cm
Courtesy The Photographische Sammlung / SK Stiftung Kultur, Cologne / Permanent Loan of the Sparkasse KölnBonn

 

Tata Ronkholz (1940-1997) 'Without title' 1978

 

Tata Ronkholz (1940-1997)
Without title
1978
Silver gelatin print on baryta paper
41.2 × 51.2 cm
Courtesy The Photographische Sammlung / SK Foundation Culture, Cologne / Dauerleihgabe der Sparkasse KölnBonn

 

Tata Ronkholz (1940-1997) 'Düsseldorf, Germany, Konkordiastraße 85' 1978

 

Tata Ronkholz (1940-1997)
Düsseldorf, Germany, Konkordiastraße 85
1978
Silver gelatin print on baryta paper
41.2 × 51.2 cm
Courtesy The Photographische Sammlung / SK Stiftung Kultur, Cologne / Permanent Loan of the Sparkasse KölnBonn

 

 

PICTURE PARALLELS

Bernd and Hilla Bechers students are linked to the work of their teachers in many ways. And yet they devote themselves, in part, to new motifs, subjects, and picture formats during their studies. In addition to architecture, they also photograph interiors, simple everyday objects or people.

In the early 1980s the Becher-students Axel Hütte and Thomas Ruff turn to portrait photography practically at the same time. They capture their models with neutral facial expressions, generally head-on before a monochrome background. The extreme setting makes the individual recede while the surface of the background dominates. In the series the single faces turn into an interchangeable motif somewhere between person and typology.

 

From Near and Far

The directions of the persons’ gazes differs. Nothing distracts from their faces. The neutral background and the close details are reminiscent of giant passport photographs. One almost overlooks that some of the sitters are famous artists today.

Axel Hütte’s portraits with their conscious play with blurring and sharpness are irritating: some areas in the photo show up the slightest detail, while others are slightly blurred – a conscious reference to the Bechers’ works, characterised by their extreme depth of focus. When observing Hütte’s works from close-up the face becomes a surface of structures. If one wants to see it in focus, one needs to distance oneself. Thus the viewer is kept at bay and always in motion.

 

Axel Hütte (b. 1951) '15 artists USA (David McDermott, Stephen Prina, Mike Kelley, Peter McGough, David McDermott, Doug Starn, Mike Starn, Jeff Koons, Haim Steinbach, Ross Bleckner)' 1988 (2003)

 

Axel Hütte (b. 1951)
15 artists USA (David McDermott, Stephen Prina, Mike Kelley, Peter McGough, David McDermott, Doug Starn, Mike Starn, Jeff Koons, Haim Steinbach, Ross Bleckner)
1988 (2003)
Silver gelatin print on baryta paper
113 x 91 each cm
Loan from the artist

 

Axel Hütte (b. 1951) '15 artists USA (David McDermott, Stephen Prina, Mike Kelley, Peter McGough, David McDermott, Doug Starn, Mike Starn, Jeff Koons, Haim Steinbach, Ross Bleckner)' (detail) 1988 (2003)

 

Axel Hütte (b. 1951)
15 artists USA (David McDermott, Stephen Prina, Mike Kelley, Peter McGough, David McDermott, Doug Starn, Mike Starn, Jeff Koons, Haim Steinbach, Ross Bleckner) (detail)
1988 (2003)
Silver gelatin print on baryta paper
113 x 91 each cm
Loan from the artist

 

 

PICTURES GENERATION

Thomas Ruff explores the gap between reality and image. This is something he shares with the American artists of the so-called “Pictures Generation” from the 1970s and 1980s. This informal group of artists, among them Cindy Sherman, Sherrie Levine, Robert Longo and Richard Prince, grew up with a flood of pictures in cinema, television and the print media. Their works show distrust for the media, as well as a fascination with it. The artists make use of existing images from film, advertising and art. They copy, quote and redesign this material – more subtly than the artists from American Pop Art in the 1960s. Instead of working with found images in print, collage or painting, the artists of the “Pictures Generation” make small interventions. By introducing minor changes or by producing a practically identical copy of an image they very consciously play with conventional ways of perception. In their works they draw attention to mechanisms of picture production and the methods of artificial construction of reality through pictures.

 

Photos of Faces

Like Axel Hütte, Thomas Ruff does not believe in an image of human character. He is convinced that only the exterior reality – the appearance – can be represented. In this sense Ruff’s portraits are photos of faces that resemble expressionless surfaces. The monochrome background hides any hint at a recognisable location.

The face becomes a surface and thus resembles a projection screen for an advertising message. The serial juxtaposition turns the individual in Ruff’s photographs into a type that also represents a particular generation. The stereotypes communicated by mass media and the influence of images on individual and collective opinion-forming are being questioned.

 

Thomas Ruff (b. 1958) 'Portrait (G. Benzenberg)' 1985

 

Thomas Ruff (b. 1958)
Portrait (G. Benzenberg)
1985
Chromogenic colour print
41 × 33 cm
Loan from the artist

 

 

“Looks good. Continue in colour.”

The bed, bath and living rooms, the kitchen unit and the furniture of the 1950s and 1970s, Thomas Ruff finds at the homes of relatives and friends in the Black Forest, where he comes from. Bernd and Hilla Becher preferably work in black and white. Ruff on the other hand starts experimenting with colour photography early on during his studies:

“At some point I started, making use of the colour practice, which I […] had developed, in my interiors, and I thought this looked better than in black and white photos. The colleagues said, you cannot do this. Then I also asked Bernd Becher and he said: “Looks good. Continue in colour.”

 

Thomas Ruff (b. 1958) 'Interior 3 A' 1979

 

Thomas Ruff (b. 1958)
Interior 3 A
1979
Chromogenic paint removal
45.7 x 39.4 cm
Loan from the artist

 

 

A Question of Mise-en-Scène

The two clips on yellow ground look like two flies. The bright background emphasises the form of the represented objects. Their original function becomes secondary. The simple stationary objects become worthy of the photographer’s meticulous attention. Jörg Sasse uses and parodies the strategies of advertising photography, ever concerned with presenting an object as something special.

From the start, Sasse’s work shows a painterly tendency as well as a penchant for abstraction. This is also apparent in a sequence of still lives with reduced colour and shapes. In his early work Sasse is interested in his immediate environment. He seeks to capture the unusual in the everyday. This links his work with the typologies of his teachers. Other than they do, Sasse does not give titles to his works; instead he gives them random numbers. This allows him to remove the represented object even further from its original context without offering a new interpretation.

 

Jörg Sasse (b. 1962) 'ST-84-12-06' 1984

 

Jörg Sasse (b. 1962)
ST-84-12-06
1984
Chromogenic paint removal
18 × 24 cm
Art Collection Deutsche Börse, Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation

 

 

Kitchen, Bath Room and Living Room

Almost in symmetry Jörg Sasse’s photo shows a light blue jug and a glass jug on two hobs. It belongs to a series, which Sasse dedicated to modest interiors between the post war years and the economic miracle. Sometimes the photos show individual objects, sometimes a combination of two or three objects. They capture details of tiles, furniture or floors.

They give the impression as if the objects were arranged by coincident or as if the inhabitants had left them behind like this. At the same time the scenes appear to be very artificial. Sasse transforms colour, shape and structure of the interior settings into individual, abstract compositions. He focuses on formal contrasts, sequences and similarities. According to the artist it is “not the preoccupation with interiors but with the picture.” The photographer is more interested in the painterly composition than in the representation of reality.

 

Jörg Sasse (b. 1962) 'W-84-02-13, Dusseldorf' 1984

 

Jörg Sasse (b. 1962)
W-84-02-13, Dusseldorf
1984
Chromogenic paint removal
57.2 × 67.6 cm
Courtesy Gallery Wilma Tolksdorf

 

 

Courtyards and Street Canyons

The artists Axel Hütte and Thomas Struth share an interest in urban non-spaces, indistinct streets or architectures.

In the 1980s modernist residential dwellings like the brutalist, square James Hammett House in London, become increasingly less popular and are turned into social housing. The raw concrete façade of the London block of flats spreads across almost the entire picture. The empty square in front of it is abandoned. There is no sign of inhabitants: a forbidding place.

Like Bernd and Hilla Becher in their pictures of industrial buildings, Axel Hütte emphasises the angular and unwieldy shapes of the architecture in his London series. From a distance the sad, functional façade appears to be an abstract pattern of rhythmically changing shades of grey, behind which the architecture recedes.

 

Axel Hütte (b. 1951) 'James Hammett House' 1982-1984

 

Axel Hütte (b. 1951)
James Hammett House
1982-1984
Silver gelatin print on baryte paper
66 x 80 cm
Loan of the artist

 

 

In the Street

The row of houses on New York’s 21st Street seems never ending. Old houses and modern high rises alternate and form a sequence of textures and geometric forms rich in contrast. Thomas Struth was struck by the deep street canyons of the metropolis. He took his photos from the middle of the street, positioning the camera at eye-level – a method that resembles that of his teachers. It is an unusual perspective unfamiliar to both pedestrians and drivers.

Struth begins capturing urban spaces already when in Cologne and Düsseldorf. A stipend takes him to New York in 1978. His photographic approach offers a completely new view of the city’s urbanity and structure.

“I may very well stem from the legacy of documentary photography and do use its means and perspective, but my true concern exceeds this. […] To me the street is a space, where manifold influences and historical events convene and become apparent. The public space has a subconscious language, addressing us continuously.”

 

Thomas Struth (*1954) 'West 21st Street, Chelsea, New York' 1978 (1987)

 

Thomas Struth (*1954)
West 21st Street, Chelsea, New York
1978 (1987)
Gelatine silver print on baryta paper
66 x 84 cm
DZ BANK art collection at the Städel Museum
© Thomas Struth

 

 

VARIETY

Landscapes, families, places of leisure, libraries, museums – the subjects of the Becher-students are equally as varied as their approach to photography. Their own positions develop more and more, while shared characteristics with their teachers’ oeuvre become apparent.

“Not the subject, but the representation of a landscape is what matters to me.” ~Axel Hütte

Almost two thirds of the picture are concealed by thick fog. The rocks in the foreground, however, are razor sharp. In Furka Axel Hütte plays with the contrast of diffusion and focussed parts of the picture. He explores landscape photography and thus consciously enters into competition with the genre of painting.

Foggy landscape is of great importance in the paintings of German Romanticism. This art movement, which began in the late 19th century, is characterised by mystic nature, where religious ideas are intertwined with subjective sentiment. Caspar David Friedrich is recognised as one of the most important representatives of Romanticist landscape painting. To him nature mirrored the human soul. In his painting Mountains in the Rising Fog, which he painted around 1835, the hills are veiled and only the outlines can be made out. In his photographs, Hütte refers to this tradition and employs similar techniques to guide the viewer’s gaze and to compose the picture. The landscape can be sensually grasped. The atmosphere and the subjective experience come to the fore. While his teachers sought the proximity to sculpture, Hütte’s work reflects the strategies of painting.

 

Axel Hütte (b. 1951) 'Furka' 1994 (2012)

 

Axel Hütte (b. 1951)
Furka
1994 (2012)
Chromogenic colour print
56.7 × 65.7 cm
DZ BANK Kunstsammlung

 

 

The Silence Beside the Storm

Andreas Gursky’s works are dedicated to traffic hubs, mass events, economic centres, transit zones or places of leisure. Gursky’s focus is always on the common denominator and questions the relationship of man with nature and society. The photograph Teneriffa, Swimming Pool shows a holiday resort from a bird’s eye perspective that makes the tiny holidaymakers almost disappear. The force of nature represented by the foaming sea is in stark contrast with the artificial silence of the adjacent pool.

Like his teachers, Gursky keeps a distance to his subject. But unlike them he does not work in series and concentrates on single works. Bernd and Hilla Becher’s compositions are always about one centrally positioned object. Gursky’s images on the other hand are rich in detail and the motives are spread across the picture plane in captivating sharpness – he plays with visual challenge.

 

Andreas Gursky (b. 1955) 'Teneriffa, Swimming Pool' 1987

 

Andreas Gursky (b. 1955)
Teneriffa, Swimming Pool
1987
Chromogenic colour print
104.5 × 127 cm
On loan from the artist / Courtesy Sprüth Magers

 

 

Own Vantage Points

Candida Höfer too, photographs public spaces. Her photographs follow the architecture of the buildings she finds. At the same time she chooses unusual positions for her camera and thus resists the symmetries or views prescribed by the spaces. Her photos defy architectural hierarchies and structures and thus communicate the spatial experience in a particular way.

Waiting Room Cologne III 1981 is an early example of Höfer’s artistic method. The furniture reaches diagonally into the space, a dynamic underscored by the pattern of the parquet flooring. The row of tables and chairs in the bottom corner is cut off by the edge. Instead of creating a balanced symmetrical composition, she works with alternative vantage points.

This allows Höfer to emphasize her personal view of the interior architecture. Concurrently she is enquiring how the architectural space is influenced by the way people use it in the course of time. The Waiting Room with Neo-Baroque décor dating from the second half of the 19th century forms a stark contrast to the simple furniture that is easily 100 years less old.

“By means of the print I then create my own space once again. It is not my intention to show the space in a manner as realistic as possible.”

 

Candida Höfer (b. 1944) 'Waiting Room Cologne III 1981' 1981

 

Candida Höfer (b. 1944)
Waiting Room Cologne III 1981
1981
Chromogenic colour print
155 × 155 cm
Art Collection Deutsche Börse, Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation

 

 

Libraries as Brand

Above all Candida Höfer is famous for her large-scale interior views of libraries devoid of people. The workspaces in the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris are lined up like books in libraries. The artist frequently focuses on places that preserve and order knowledge and culture. Apart from libraries she also worked on museums or operas. She is interested in how humans influence architecture through their culture. Her photos are always determined by a cool sobriety. This is what they have in common with the photographs of the Bechers. However, Höfer always works with the light and the space present in each situation. She strives to capture the atmosphere and aura of a space.

 

Candida Höfer (b. 1944) 'Bibliothèque Nationale de France Paris XIII 1998' 1998

 

Candida Höfer (b. 1944)
Bibliothèque Nationale de France Paris XIII 1998
1998
Chromogenic colour print
155 × 215 cm
Art Collection Deutsche Börse, Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation

 

 

The Picture in the Picture

In his series Museum Photographs Thomas Struth focuses on imposing interior spaces such as the gallery at the Louvre in Paris – unlike Höfer, he always shows the visitors, too. They become a multifaceted continuation of the figures in the paintings on the wall. Through the photograph Struth establishes a connection of pictorial space and real space, the painterly and photographic space. Here, the formerly competing media painting and photography enter into a dialogue as equals.

Simultaneously the viewer is confronted with different levels of viewing: those who contemplate Struth’s photos inevitably also observe the visitors at the Louvre contemplating the art works there. Thus the artist prompts a reflection on how we deal with art and its history, with seeing and being seen. Struth does not influence the positions of the visitors in his Museum Photographs. He waits for situations that can serve as the basis of his compositions. Struth merely decides on the space and the visual angle he takes.

 

Thomas Struth (*1954) 'Louvre 3, Paris 1989' 1989 (2012)

 

Thomas Struth (*1954)
Louvre 3, Paris 1989
1989 (2012)
Chromogenic colour print
152.2 × 168.3 cm
DZ BANK Kunstsammlung im Städel Museum, Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main

 

 

Family Relations

The photo The Consolandi Family, Milano by Thomas Struth belongs to the series Family Portraits, which shows relationships that are complex and full of tension. The viewer is challenged to explore the connections of the family, reflected in subtle looks, mimics or posture.

The Family Portraits evolved from an unpublished project, which Struth and a friend of his, a psychoanalyst, pursued in the early 1980s. Patients were asked to submit a couple of photographs that were typical of their families, which Struth then combined in a portfolio. Drawing on this project, the photographer began to work with family portraits he took. He photographed people he knew in their homes. The individuals were asked to choose their position in a space that the artist had selected. Struth’s psychological interest in the family as a social fabric is evident. The order resembles a sociagram after all.

Like the Bechers’ works, Struth’s photographs are determined by an intrinsic dynamic full of tension. While his teachers work with industrial fields of force, he balances psychological energies. This results in an alternation of perception – the eye sways between single pictorial elements and the total composition.

 

Thomas Struth (*1954) 'The Consolandi Family, Milan 1996' 1996 (2014)

 

Thomas Struth (*1954)
The Consolandi Family, Milan 1996
1996 (2014)
Chromogenic colour print
178 × 214.2 cm
Art Collection Deutsche Börse, Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation

 

 

PICTURE EDITING

In February 1982 the first great scandal about a digitally edited press picture occurs: for the title of the periodical National Geographic – actually indebted to scientific exactitude – the pyramids at Gizeh have been pushed closer together so they would fit the portrait format. This represents a fundamental shift in photo and media culture that also affects the work of the Becher students.

Ruff, Sasse and Gursky especially, develop their works digitally. This inevitably distances them from their teachers’ documentary approach more and more. The artists do not depict reality they create their own reality. This results in photographs that cannot be explained through analogue camera technology. The truth in the pictures is questioned, just like the viewer’s perception. In nascent form this approach is already present in the typologies created by the Bechers.

 

Digital interventions

This photo of an average residential block from 1987 marks a turning point in Thomas Ruff’s oeuvre. Things – namely a tree and a street sign – are missing. Ruff decided to have these details erased. He also retouched an opened skylight. This is one of the first digitally edited pictures in the circle of the Becher students. Ruff’s idea is to emphasise the symmetrical appearance and the hermetic quality of the building. Still, he is not really meddling with the picture’s structure of reality.

Ruff’s photos of the House Series confront the viewer with urban banality. The enormous scale of the works, measuring nearly 2 x 3 metres exaggerates the uneventfulness as a crucial characteristic of this architecture. From the 1980s the Becher students increasingly use large formats. They become a trademark of the group. Mostly presented with a wooden frame the artists elevate the photos to the level of paintings. Like the Bechers, Ruff worked in series, but no longer arranged his works in typologies. His series preserve the suspicion of a single image that might represent the world.

 

Thomas Ruff (b. 1958) 'House No. 1 I' 1987

 

Thomas Ruff (b. 1958)
House No. 1 I
1987
Chromogenic colour print
179 × 278 cm
Loan from the artist

 

 

Giant Grid

In photos like Paris, Montparnasse Andreas Gursky enlarges the image to a monumental scale of over four metres in width. He, too, relies on digital editing. The frontal view of the residential block is presented in strictly right-angular lines. The building is so wide that it would be impossible to capture it in a single photo. Hence, Gursky used two photos and joined them on the computer.

From a distance, the geometrical grid of the building looks abstract. The skeleton structure of the block also means that the windows offer hundreds of single images. However, it is impossible to simultaneously perceive the detail as well as the overall structure. Gursky requires the viewer to constantly alternate his focus between close-up and distance.

“My pictures are always composed for two aspects […]. The smallest detail can be read from close up. From afar they are mega-signs.”

 

Exhibition view "Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class"

 

Exhibition view “Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class”
Photo: Städel Museum

 

Andreas Gursky (b. 1955) 'Paris, Montparnasse' 1993 (before 2003)

 

Andreas Gursky (b. 1955)
Paris, Montparnasse
1993 (before 2003)
Chromogenic colour print
207 × 422 cm
On loan from the artist / Courtesy Sprüth Magers

 

 

Pixel and Pixel and Pixel

Sasse’s work 1546 (1993) also plays with perception at the border of abstraction. The single pixels as a trace of the digital reworking are immediately visible. The realistic representation of a curtain is ruptured. Instead pixel and square colour fields become the focus, while the original sense of space is lost. The photo appears two-dimensional.

Sasse takes up a basic issue with the illusion of space that has a long art historic tradition. Already in early Renaissance the artist and scholar Leon Battista Alberti considers painting as a window to the world. He considered it important for an illusionist way of painting to conceal the two-dimensionality of the canvas. In his oeuvre Sasses draws on this issue. He questions photography and painting’s claim to realism and questions the possibility of pictorially representing reality at all.

 

Exhibition view "Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class"

Jörg Sasse (b. 1962) 1546, 1993 (centre) and Jörg Sasse (*1962) 7341, 1996 (right)

 

Jörg Sasse (b. 1962) '1546' 1993

 

Jörg Sasse (b. 1962)
1546
1993
Chromogenic colour print
137 × 200 cm
Private collection

 

Jörg Sasse (*1962) '7341' 1996

 

Jörg Sasse (*1962)
7341
1996
Chromogenic colour print
93 x 150 cm
DZ BANK art collection at the Städel Museum
© Jörg Sasse; VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2017

 

 

Städel Museum
Schaumainkai 63
60596 Frankfurt

Opening hours:
Tuesday, Friday – Sunday 10.00 am – 6.00 pm
Wednesday and Thursday 10.00 am – 9.00 pm

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14
Aug
12

Exhibition: ‘Naoya Hatakeyama: Natural Stories’ at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)

Exhibition dates: 28th July – 4th November 2012

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Many thankx to SFMOMA for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Naoya Hatakeyama
Lime Hills #12801
1986
Chromogenic print
11 13/16 in. x 14 15/16 in (30 cm x 38 cm)
Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photograph
© Naoya Hatakeyama, courtesy Taka Ishii Gallery

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Naoya Hatakeyama
Lime Hills #22916
1988
Chromogenic print
11 13/16 in. x 14 15/16 in (30 cm x 38 cm)
Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography
© Naoya Hatakeyama, courtesy Taka Ishii Gallery

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Naoya Hatakeyama
Lime Hills #23514
1988
Chromogenic print
11 13/16 in. x 14 15/16 in (30 cm x 38 cm)
Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography
© Naoya Hatakeyama, courtesy Taka Ishii Gallery

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Naoya Hatakeyama
Lime Hills #27403
1989
Chromogenic print
11 13/16 in. x 14 15/16 in (30 cm x 38 cm)
Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography
© Naoya Hatakeyama, courtesy Taka Ishii Gallery

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Naoya Hatakeyama
Lime Hills #29211
1990
Chromogenic print
11 13/16 in. x 14 15/16 in (30 cm x 38 cm)
Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography
© Naoya Hatakeyama, courtesy Taka Ishii Gallery

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“Lime Hills (Quarry Series), 1986-1991

Each year nearly two hundred million tons of limestone – virtually the only natural resource in Japan – are cut to produce the cement necessary to build the nation’s many cities, as well as to make additives used in paper, medicine, and food products. Hatakeyama was drawn to this industrial subject from a young age; his first artistic explorations took the form of paintings of the cement factory that he passed each day as a child. For Lime Hills, his earliest photographic series, Hatakeyama returned to the area near his hometown on the northeastern coast of Japan to investigate the nearby limestone quarries and their corresponding factories. Over the next five years he broadened his scope to include mines throughout Japan, from Hokkaido in the north to Okinawa in the south. Reflecting on the physical connection between these sites and civilization, the artist later noted: “If the concrete buildings and highways that stretch to the horizon are all made from limestone dug from the hills, and if they should all be ground to dust and this vast quantity of calcium carbonate returned to its precise points of origin, why then, with the last spoonful, the ridge lines of the hills would be restored to their original dimensions.”

These small-scale photographs offer visions of the excavated land that at first glance seem idyllic. Often shooting in the golden evening light with a large-format camera, Hatakeyama captured the sculptural contours of the processed earth, infusing it with the luminous glow seen in many Romantic landscape paintings of the nineteenth century. Yet the Romantic tradition, which highlighted the awesome terror of nature, is upended in Hatakeyama’s pictures, which instead uncover unexpected pleasures in the tamed and built environment, ultimately suggesting the artificiality of conventional notions of beauty.”

Wall text from the exhibition

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Naoya Hatakeyama
Sollac Méditerranée, Fos-sur-Mer, #06709
2003
from the series Atmos
Chromogenic print
27 9/16 in. x 35 7/16 in (70 cm x 90 cm)
Courtesy the artist
© Naoya Hatakeyama, courtesy Taka Ishii Gallery

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Naoya Hatakeyama
Sollac Méditerranée, Fos-sur-Mer, #06709
2003
from the series Atmos
Chromogenic print
27 9/16 in. x 35 7/16 in (70 cm x 90 cm)
Courtesy the artist
© Naoya Hatakeyama, courtesy Taka Ishii Gallery

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“Atmos, 2003

In 2003 Hatakeyama was invited to the Camargue, near Fos-sur-Mer, France, to photograph the landscape surrounding a steel factory located on the eastern edge of the Rhône delta. He worked from two perspectives, shooting on the factory grounds as well as from the surrounding landscape, much of which is conserved as a nature park. His photographs contrast the idyllic serenity of the flat plains where the Rhône river meets the Mediterranean Sea with the dramatic clouds of steam – formed when the coke used in steel making is doused in cool water – that often rise above this terrain.

Upon discovering this impressive phenomenon the artist reflected: “The etymology of ‘atmosphere’ is the ancient Greek words for vapor (atmos) and sphere (sphaira). Once I learned this, the air that filled the Camargue and the steam from the factory seemed to fuse into one before my eyes. It no longer felt strange to see signs of humanity in the sky and the land, or to sense nature in the cloud of steam from the factory. And I began to feel that it would no longer be possible to draw a clear line at the border between nature and the artificial.” Through Hatakeyama’s lens, the factory seems at once tranquil and volatile, surrounded by the golden light, billowing pastel clouds, and thick atmosphere found in many early twentieth-century paintings of industrial sites. Like the Impressionists, who embraced modern life by finding their subjects in new technologies, Hatakeyama presents new landscapes that complicate the conventional boundaries between nature and industry.”

Wall text from the exhibition

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“From July 28 through November 4, 2012, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) will present the work of one of Japan’s most important contemporary photographers in the exhibition Naoya Hatakeyama: Natural Stories. This will be the artist’s first solo exhibition in a U.S. museum and the first presentation of his work on the West Coast.

Organized by the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography in association with SFMOMA, the exhibition gathers work spanning Naoya Hatakeyama’s entire career, including more than 100 photographs and two video installations, offering viewers new insight into the artist’s practice and place in the rich history of Japanese photography. The presentation at SFMOMA, the sole U.S. venue for this internationally traveling retrospective, is overseen by Lisa J. Sutcliffe, assistant curator of photography.

Hatakeyama is known for austere and beautiful large-scale color pictures that capture the extraordinary powers routinely deployed to shape nature to our will – and, in the case of his photographs made after the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, the equally powerful impact of natural forces on human activities. Whether photographing factories, quarries, mines, or tsunami-swept landscapes, Hatakeyama has developed a thorough and analytical method for observing the ways in which the human and natural worlds have both coexisted and clashed. “For the past 25 years Naoya Hatakeyama has made pictures that focus on the complicated relationship between man and nature,” says Sutcliffe. “Approaching his subjects from diverse perspectives and across time, he redefines the ways in which we visualize the natural world.”

Hatakeyama has long been interested in the relationship between human industry and the natural environment. His early series of photographs of limestone quarries, Lime Hills (1986-91), references the Romantic painterly tradition of the sublime, but links it to the relentless pursuit of raw materials for modern development. After observing that “the quarries and the cities are like negative and positive images of a single photograph,” Hatakeyama began to investigate urban centers built from limestone and concrete. In Underground (1999), he explores the pitch-black depths of Tokyo’s underbelly from the tunnels of the Shibuya River, revealing the ecosystems of the city’s sewer network that often go unseen. Nearly a decade later he returned to the subject, photographing the remnants of decaying limestone quarries underneath Paris in Ciel Tombé (2007).

Several of Hatakeyama’s photographic series capture scenes of destruction with calm precision. Contemplating the abandoned structures surrounding a disused coal mine, Zeche Westfalen I/II Ahlen (2003/2004) includes images of a German factory hall seemingly suspended in midair at the moment of its demolition. For the Blast series (2005), the photographer used a high-speed motor-driven camera to document explosions in an open-cast limestone mine, framing the instant of impact in a series of still photographs. The exhibition will present the U.S. debut of Twenty-Four Blasts (2011), a video installation of his still photographs from Blast that transforms these explosions into a found sculptural event.

Hatakeyama has applied his measured and unsentimental method of observation to landscapes in transition around the world. In the series Atmos (2003), his representations of tranquil French landscapes include steam clouds generated by steelworks. Also made in France, the series Terrils (2009-10) pictures the massive conical hills created by coal mining, documenting landscapes transformed by the human exploitation of natural resources. Considering a different type of human impact on the natural world, Hatakeyama observes the conquest of the Swiss Alps by tourism in Another Mountain (2005), invoking the sublime both through choice of subject matter and through the contrast in scale between man and nature.

The most recent series in the exhibition, Rikuzentakata (2011), records the aftermath of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami that devastated northeastern Japan. For Hatakeyama, the disaster struck very close to home: his hometown of Rikuzentakata in Iwate Prefecture was left in ruins, his mother was killed, and the house he grew up in was destroyed. Although these are some of the most personal photographs the artist has ever exhibited, they are remarkably unsentimental, displaying the same clarity and refinement that mark the rest of his work. The video installation Kesengawa (2002-10), named after the river that flows through Rikuzentakata, presents his personal photographs of the area made before the tsunami, creating a poignant dialogue with the 2011 series.”

Press release from the SFMOMA website

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Naoya Hatakeyama
A BIRD/Blast #130
2006
#7 from a series of 17 chromogenic prints
8 in. x 10 in (20.32 cm x 25.4 cm)
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, promised gift of Kurenboh
© Naoya Hatakeyama, courtesy Taka Ishii Gallery

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Naoya Hatakeyama
A BIRD/Blast #130
2006
#15 from a series of 17 chromogenic prints
8 in. x 10 in (20.32 cm x 25.4 cm)
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, promised gift of Kurenboh
© Naoya Hatakeyama, courtesy Taka Ishii Gallery

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Naoya Hatakeyama
Still from Twenty-Four Blasts
2011
HD video installation from a sequence of 35 mm film
Courtesy the artist
© Naoya Hatakeyama, courtesy Taka Ishii Gallery

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Blast, 1995
Zeche Westfalen I/II, Ahlen, 2003-2004

While photographing Japanese quarries and factories for Lime Hills, Hatakeyamabecame intrigued by the regular explosions designed to free limestone from the cliffs. He was interested in the violence and force of the blasts as well as in the engineers’ deep understanding of the “nature” of the rock. Working with these experts, he was able to calculate exactly how close he could place his remotecontrolled, motorized camera to the blast to capture the explosion in still frames. The striking large-scale photographs this method produced dramatize the tension between the slow geologic formation of the rocks and the split-second detonation that destroys them. Distilling his study to a series of frozen moments of intense scrutiny, Hatakeyama emphasizes the volatile character of the blast, offering a perspective that cannot be seen by the naked eye. In the video projection Twenty-Four Blasts, presented in the next room, these explosions are set to motion, serving as documentation of the mining process while also reflecting an understanding of the blast as a sculptural event.

In Zeche Westfalen I/II, Ahlen, a series taken in Germany, Hatakeyama used a remote-controlled camera shutter to photograph the destruction of the Zeche Westfalen coal plant at the time of detonation. An industrial center since the mid-nineteenth century, the area is experiencing new development as mines are destroyed to make way for commercial and residential growth. These pictures serve as a record of one such transition, trapping the building as it hovers in midair in the moments just before its destruction. Although photography is often used to capture an image of something before it is gone, these pictures reveal Hatakeyama’s interest in documenting destruction analytically and in real time, as a celebration of the future rather than an elegy to the past.

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Naoya Hatakeyama
Underground #7109
1999
Chromogenic print
19 5/16 in. x 19 5/16 in (49 cm x 49 cm)
Collection of Michael and Jeanne Klein
© Naoya Hatakeyama, courtesy Taka Ishii Gallery

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Naoya Hatakeyama
Underground #6302
1999
Chromogenic print
19 5/16 in. x 19 5/16 in (49 cm x 49 cm)
Collection of Michael and Jeanne Klein
© Naoya Hatakeyama, courtesy Taka Ishii Gallery

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Naoya Hatakeyama
Underground #7001
1999
Chromogenic print
19 5/16 in. x 19 5/16 in (49 cm x 49 cm)
Collection of Michael and Jeanne Klein
© Naoya Hatakeyama, courtesy Taka Ishii Gallery

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“Underground, 1999 / Ciel Tombé, 2007

After photographing the limestone quarries around Japan, Hatakeyama realized that the urban fabric of Tokyo resembles a mirror image of the excavated earth when viewed from above. As he later wrote, “the quarries and the cities are like negative and positive images of a single photograph.” This revelation led him to photograph the city from great heights and, later, to document the tunnels snaking beneath it. The Shibuya River, diverted beneath Tokyo like a sewer, echoes the chambers Hatakeyama observed within the quarries, yet it is shrouded in darkness and mystery. His abstract and often theatrically lit pictures of the underground river, illuminated by a strobe at the center of each composition, investigate the process of photographing complete darkness.

Long interested in exploring the subterranean landscapes of France, where limestone was quarried in the carrières below Paris beginning in the thirteenth century, Hatakeyama followed his Tokyo pictures with a Parisian series. For Ciel Tombé he photographed the tunnels beneath the Bois de Vincennes, a wooded park to the east of the city. The series title, which translates literally as “fallen sky,” is a term often used to describe the collapsed ceilings in Parisian underground tunnels. The resulting pictures, which share the dramatic lighting of his Shibuya River series, emphasize the fragility of a built environment exposed to the ravages of time. Hatakeyama has remarked that in these tunnels, “the sky has now become an ancient layer of earth permeating below the city [in which] we live.””

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Naoya Hatakeyama
Noyelles-sous-Lens, #07729
2009
from the series Terrils
Chromogenic print
23 5/8 in. x 29 1/2 in (60 cm x 75 cm)
Courtesy the artist
© Naoya Hatakeyama, courtesy Taka Ishii Gallery

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Naoya Hatakeyama
Loos-en-Gohelle, #02607
2009
from the series Terrils
Chromogenic print
23 5/8 in. x 29 1/2 in (60 cm x 75 cm)
Courtesy the artist
© Naoya Hatakeyama, courtesy Taka Ishii Gallery

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“Terrils, 2009-2010

During 2009 and 2010 Hatakeyama was a photographer in residence in the Nord-Pas de Calais, a region in northern France along the Belgian border. A historically contested area often in the path of wars between France and its neighbors, the Nord became a major center for industry in the nineteenth century due to its wealth of coal mines, steel mills, and textile factories. Today the landscape is marked by terrils, slag heaps composed of waste products from the mining process, which in the context of the region’s current economic troubles serve as monumental reminders of a prosperous industrial past.

Hatakeyama’s photographs explore the terrain from different perspectives, with conical towers of slag looming in nearly every picture. While some of the pictures expose the burnt orange soil just beneath the earth’s surface, others soften the mining site with a wintry, atmospheric haze. By transforming this man-made wasteland to the point that the viewer can no longer determine its contours, Hatakeyama reveals a complex natural environment that incorporates human developments. According to the artist, “history is not simply a list of events, but a human narrative which weaves together time and memory. The interweaving of passing time and the memory of events creates the fabric where History appears as a pattern from which each individual perceives his own personal story.” In these pictures Hatakeyama maps the traces of one such story on the landscape through the conical forms of the mining deposits. These “hills” not only serve as reminders of the ways in which the land has been used but also evoke the long-established cultural role of mountains as mythological symbols.”

Wall text from the exhibition

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San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
151 Third Street
San Francisco, CA 94103

Opening hours:
Open daily (except Wednesdays): 11 am – 5:45 pm
Open late Thursdays, until 8:45 pm

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Mask’ 1994

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