Posts Tagged ‘Gas Tanks

05
Nov
22

Exhibition: ‘Bernd and Hilla Becher’ at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Exhibition dates: 15th July – 6th November 2022

Curators: Jeff L. Rosenheim, Joyce Frank Menschel Curator, Department of Photographs, assisted by Virginia McBride, Research Associate, Department of Photographs, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

 

 

Bernd & Hiller Becher exhibition banner

 

Bernd & Hiller Becher exhibition banner

 

 

Ghosts in the machine

In a way that Plato would recognise with his perfect forms (abstract yet perfect, unchanging concepts or ideals that transcend time and space and live on a spiritual plane behind the representation of a physical reality), I feel as though Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) has existed outside of time – a model of directness that was always there – in a timeless way, before the actual concept emerged into consciousness in the 1920s German art tradition.

German photographers Bernd & Hiller Becher (1931-2007; 1934-2015) were devoted to the ideals of Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) and their work evolved from these older traditions of objective photography as practiced by artists such as August Sander (German, 1876-1964) and Karl Blossfeldt (German, 1865-1932) during the 1920s. The typologies that the Bechers collected – their beautiful, multiple, conceptual, objective, documentary fine art ‘record photographs’ – made them among the most important figures in postwar German photography.

Their teaching at the Kunstakademie Dusseldorf in the mid 1970s lead to the formation of the Dusseldorf School of Photography which refers to a group of photographers who studied under the artist duo who also shared (and then modified) their aesthetic – a commitment to controlled objectivity and a documentary orientation. These important next generation artists included people such as Andreas Gursky, Candida Höfer, Axel Hütte, Thomas Ruff and Thomas Struth. The Bechers influence on contemporary documentary fine art photography continues today.

“The Bechers specialized in the photography of anonymous industrial sites and structures, methodically employing the same neutral perspective in each image, as in Water Towers. The nine nineteenth-century metal water towers are displayed in a grid as a single work, the black-and-white images revealing the differences between objects that had an identical function, and so bestowing an aesthetic value on them.”1

Here a definition of typology may be useful. ‘Typology’ is the study and interpretation of types and symbols, a classification according to a general type, especially in archaeology, psychology, or the social sciences. In this sense, the Becher’s photographs of industrial archetypes displayed in grids are excavations of historical types, representations of both pattern (type, grid) and randomness (interpretation, aesthetics). What does this mean? According to Katherine Hayles, pattern (in this case grids of photographs of the same archetype) cannot exist without its opposite, randomness, enacted through mutation of the code.

“Although mutation disrupts pattern, it also presupposes a morphological standard against which it can be measured and understood as mutation. We have seen that in electronic textuality, the possibility for mutation within the text are enhanced and heightened by long coding chains. We can now understand mutation in more fundamental terms. Mutation is critical because it names the bifurcation point at which the interplay between pattern and randomness causes the system to evolve in a new direction…

Mutation is the catastrophe in the pattern/randomness dialectic… It marks a rupture of pattern so extreme that the expectation of continuous replication can no longer be sustained… The randomness to which mutation testifies is implicit in the very idea of pattern, for only against the background of nonpattern can pattern emerge. Randomness is the contrasting term that allows pattern to be understood as such.”2

The pattern of the Bechers photographs are the grids, the randomness evidenced as we move in to observe individual images within the grid, for every water tower is different and its own form… and then we pull back to compare one image with another, one mutation with another. As we move closer the individual image becomes whole in its own right, but contains within the pictorial frame evidence of the subjects mutation through decay, evidence of an industrial revolution and means of production that is now archaic and arcane. It is as though we are looking at a fractal in which similar patterns recur at progressively smaller scales, but which in fact describe partly random or chaotic phenomena, the seeds of their own mutation. And the possibility for mutation within the text is enhanced and heightened by long coding chains, such as large typologies of objects and large grids of images.

As much as the Bechers objective photographs seek a cool sameness, they undermine their own project by their photographs inherent subversiveness. It’s as though the beauty of their object of desire is being played off against a rage against the machine, a critique of what industrialisation is doing to the divine landscape of the earth.

Of course images are always seen in context which, together with their formal characteristics and conditions, limits the meanings available from them at any one moment. As Annette Kuhn observes, “Meanings do not reside in images, then: they are circulated between representation, spectator and social function.”3 We understand the Bechers images then, through a representation of reality which always and necessarily entails, “the use of the codes and conventions of the available cultural forms of presentation. Such forms restrict and shape what can be said by and / or about any aspect of reality in a given place in a given society at a given time, but if that seems like a limitation on saying, it is also what makes saying possible at all.”4 Richard Dyer continues,

“I accept that one apprehends reality only through representations of reality, through texts, discourse, images; there is no such thing as unmediated access to reality. But because one can see reality only through representation, it does not follow that one does not see reality at all. Partial – selective, incomplete, from a point of view – vision of something is not no vision of it whatsoever.”4

Despite the Bechers attempt to catalogue vast typologies, there is no order without disorder. Their vision, and our vision, is only ever selective, incomplete and from a point of view. Much as they desire an enchantment of the subject so that the object of desire falls under their spell in order to validate its presence, so there is no single determinate meaning to any presentation of their work, for people make sense of images in different ways, according to the cultural codes available to them. “What is re-presented in representation is not directly reality itself but other representations. The analysis of images always needs to see how any given instance is embedded in a network of other instances…”4

The ghosts in the machine of the Bechers networks, those random bits of code that lurk behind a not so perfect representation, group together to form unexpected protocols seen from different points of view. “Unanticipated, these free radicals engender questions of free will, creativity, and even the nature of what we might call the soul.” (Asimov)

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Footnotes

  1. Anonymous. “A Movement in a Moment: The Düsseldorf School,” on the Phaidon website [Online] Cited 01/11/2022
  2. Katherine Hayles. How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999, p. 33.
  3. Annette Kuhn. The Power of the Image: Essays on Representation and Sexuality. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1985, p. 6.
  4. Richard Dyer. The Matter of Images: Essays on Representations. London: Routledge, 1993, pp. 2-3.

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

 

 

“I think it’s best to imagine that they cast a doubting eye on earlier aspirations to scientific and technical order. After all, the Bechers hit their stride as artists in the 1960s and early ’70s, at just the moment when any aspiring intellectual was reading Thomas Kuhn’s “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions,” which pointed to how the sociology of science (who holds power in labs and who doesn’t) shapes what science tells us. The French philosopher Roland Barthes had killed off the all-powerful author and let the rest of us be the true makers of meaning, even if that left it unstable. European societies were in turmoil as they faced the terrors of the Red Brigades and Baader-Meinhof gang, so brilliantly captured in the streaks and smears of Gerhard Richter, that other German giant of postwar art. The Bechers were working in that world of unsettled and unsettling ideas. By parroting the grammar of technical imagery, without actually achieving any technical goals, their photos seem to loosen technology’s moorings. By collecting water towers the way someone else might collect cookie jars, they cut industry down to size… To get the full meaning and impact of the Bechers’ Machine Age black-and-whites, they should really be viewed through the windows of their Information Age orange van.”

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Blake Gopnik. “Photography’s Delightful Obsessives,” on The New York Times website July 28, 2022 [Online] Cited 20/10/2022

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bernd & Hilla Becher' at The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Installation view of the exhibition Bernd & Hilla Becher at The Metropolitan Museum of Art showing at centre, Water Tower, Verviers, Belgium 1983, below
Photo: Anna-Marie Kellen/The Met

00 Basic Forms
01 Framework Houses
02 Early Work
03 Industrial Landscapes
04 Zeche Concordia
05 Art and Evolution
06 Typologies

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007) 'Water Tower, Verviers, Belgium' 1983

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007)
Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007)
Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015)
Water Tower, Verviers, Belgium
1983
Gelatin silver print
Image: 23 7/8 × 19 13/16 in. (60.6 × 50.4cm)
Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 1992

 

 

Both as artists and teachers, Bernhard and Hilla Becher are among the most important figures in postwar German photography. For the last thirty years, the artists have examined the dilapidated industrial architecture of Europe and North America, from water towers and blast furnaces to the surrounding workers’ houses. Photographing against a blank sky and without any pictorial tricks or effects, the artists treat these forgotten structures as the exotic specimens of a long-dead species.

 

 

The renowned German artists Bernd and Hilla Becher (1931-2007; 1934-2015) changed the course of late twentieth-century photography. Working as a rare artist couple, they focused on a single subject: the disappearing industrial architecture of Western Europe and North America that fuelled the modern era. Their seemingly objective style recalled nineteenth- and early twentieth-century precedents but also resonated with the serial approach of contemporary Minimalism and Conceptual art. Equally significant, it challenged the perceived gap between documentary and fine-art photography.

Using a large-format view camera, the Bechers methodically recorded blast furnaces, winding towers, grain silos, cooling towers, and gas tanks with precision, elegance, and passion. Their rigorous, standardised practice allowed for comparative analyses of structures that they exhibited in grids of between four and thirty photographs. They described these formal arrangements as “typologies” and the buildings themselves as “anonymous sculpture.”

This posthumous retrospective celebrates the Bechers’ remarkable achievement and is the first ever organised with full access to the artists’ personal collection of working materials and their comprehensive archive.

Text from the Metropolitan Museum of Art website

 

Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007) 'Eisernhardter Tiefbau Mine, Eisern, Germany' 1955-1956

 

Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007)
Eisernhardter Tiefbau Mine, Eisern, Germany
1955-1956
Graphite and watercolour on paper
16 5/16 × 16 5/16 in. (41.5 × 41.5cm)
Estate Bernd & Hilla Becher, represented by Max Becher, courtesy Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – Bernd & Hilla Becher Archive, Cologne

 

 

The earliest surviving independent works by Bernd Becher are several rare drawings and photocollages of the Eisernhardter Tiefbau Mine, made before the formation of his artistic partnership with Hilla Wobeser in 1959. These include the works presented on this wall and directly opposite. They reveal the artist’s lifelong interest in the accurate description of mining and manufacturing structures familiar to him from his childhood. Here, Bernd takes special care to focus on the mine’s wooden framework features and its idiosyncratic winding tower, which rises above the buildings like an enormous windblown flag.

 

Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007) 'Eisernhardter Tiefbau Mine, Eisern, Germany' 1957

 

Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007)
Eisernhardter Tiefbau Mine, Eisern, Germany
1957
Collage of five gelatin silver prints
Sheet: 15 3/4 × 11 3/4 in. (40 × 29.9cm)
Estate Bernd & Hilla Becher, represented by Max Becher, courtesy Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – Bernd & Hilla Becher Archive, Cologne

 

Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007) '[Assemblage of Pipes]' 1964 or later

 

Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007)
[Assemblage of Pipes]
1964 or later
Gelatin silver prints with graphite
Sheet: 14 3/8 × 13 1/16 in. (36.5 × 33.2cm)
Estate Bernd & Hilla Becher, represented by Max Becher, courtesy Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – Bernd & Hilla Becher Archive, Cologne

 

 

This exceptional assemblage includes three razor-cut photographs of blast-furnace pipes braided together into a handsome knot. Part Giorgio de Chirico (one of the artist’s favourite painters), part pretzel, the metaphysical work shows Bernd Becher’s playful sense of humour and appreciation for the complexity and visual wonderment of industrial forms.

 

Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015) '[Mountain Elm Leaf]' 1965

 

Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015)
[Mountain Elm Leaf]
1965
Gelatin silver print
9 5/16 × 6 15/16 in. (23.7 × 17.7cm)
Estate Bernd & Hilla Becher, represented by Max Becher, courtesy Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – Bernd & Hilla Becher Archive, Cologne

 

 

In these studies of tree leaves, Hilla Becher is operating in a long tradition of natural realism that connects her work to that of many earlier German artists, including the photographs of Karl Blossfeldt and the printed botanical and zoological studies of Ernst Haeckel (see display case). What was important to Blossfeldt, Haeckel, and the Bechers was not simple exactitude but a particular type of graphic description and presentation that could reveal the unique, often quirky, and at times humorous structure of any form.

 

Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015) '[Spruce Branch]' 1965

 

Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015)
[Spruce Branch]
1965
Gelatin silver print
9 7/16 × 7 1/16 in. (24 × 17.9cm)
Estate Bernd & Hilla Becher, represented by Max Becher, courtesy Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – Bernd & Hilla Becher Archive, Cologne.

 

Hilla Becher (German, 1934–2015) '[Shell, for the German Industrial Exhibition, Khartoum, Sudan]' 1961

 

Hilla Becher (German, 1934–2015)
[Shell, for the German Industrial Exhibition, Khartoum, Sudan]
1961
Gelatin silver print
15 3/8 × 11 7/8 in. (39 × 30.1cm)
Estate Bernd & Hilla Becher, represented by Max Becher, courtesy Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – Bernd & Hilla Becher Archive, Cologne.

 

 

Even after the establishment of the Bechers’ professional partnership in 1959, Hilla continued to accept commission work. She produced this study of the inner architecture of a seashell as a graphic for a display of industrial design at a German trade fair in Khartoum. This vintage photograph was copied and used by the pavilion designer as oversize enlargements. Hilla also documented the interior and exterior of the innovative prefabricated shed pavilion with its lively metal banding.

 

Ernst Haeckel (German, 1834-1919) "Echinidea. – Igelsterne" 'Kunstformen der Natur' (Leipzig and Vienna: Verlag des Bibliographischen Instituts, 1904)

 

Ernst Haeckel (German, 1834-1919)
“Echinidea. – Igelsterne”
Kunstformen der Natur (Leipzig and Vienna: Verlag des Bibliographischen Instituts, 1904)
1904
Lithograph
Sheet: 13 5/8 × 10 1/4 in. (34.6 × 26cm)
Joyce Frank Menschel Library, Department of Photographs, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

For both research purposes and aesthetic pleasure, Hilla Becher assembled a collection of illustrated books dedicated to scientific classification. None on the theme of biological order was more important to the artists’ development than Ernst Haeckel’s 1904 Kunstformen der Natur. The plate from a disbound volume presented here shows a typological comparison of sea urchins and sand dollars.

 

 

From July 15 to November 6, 2022, the renowned American museum is showing a retrospective of the important artist couple in cooperation with Studio Bernd & Hilla Becher, Dusseldorf, and Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur, Cologne.

Bernd and Hilla Becher (1931-2007, 1934-2015) are among the most important artists of the second half of the 20th century. Since the 1960s, their works have provided decisive impetus for photography, art and also generally for dealing with our culture, economy, science and society. For more than 50 years, the artist couple has devoted themselves to the subject of the industrial landscape, the functional buildings and constructions of the mining industry in Western Europe and North America. They created countless black-and-white photographs, which they took with their large-format cameras, of winding towers, blast furnaces, water and cooling towers, coal bunkers, gas tanks, half-timbered houses, entire industrial plants and landscapes. The photographs show precise, at the same time analytical views and individual forms, which Bernd and Hilla Becher subjected to a comparative analysis. So-called typologies, unfolding photographic sets or also large-format typologically conceived individual photographs were the results of their collaboration, which they exhibited internationally and published in monographs. Works that received a special appreciation under the term “Anonymous Sculptures” and attained top-class awards.

The method used by the Bechers can be regarded as style-defining. It transformed the descriptive, objective view of photography of the 19th and early 20th century, which the artist couple highly valued, into a new era, integrating it into clearly sequenced series of images and thus at the same time pointing to perspectives of minimal and conceptual art, which further underscores the innovative power of their work.

Between 1976 and 1996 Bernd Becher taught at the Art Academy in Dusseldorf. Numerous well-known photographers and artists emerged from his photography class. As of the 1960s Bernd and Hilla Becher had their studio in Dusseldorf. Today the studio is being continued as the Bernd & Hilla Becher Studio by their son, estate administrator and artist Max Becher. From 1995 until their death, the artist couple worked together with Die Photographische Sammlung / SK Stiftung Kultur in Cologne, from which the Bernd & Hilla Becher Archive emerged. The majority of the exhibition is furnished from this collection, including numerous previously little-shown and unknown materials by Bernd and Hilla Becher. Overall, the retrospective, which will be on view in a second venue at the SFMoMA between December 17, 2022 and April 2, 2023, introduces all of the artist couple’s areas of work.

The exhibition was curated by Jeff L. Rosenheim, Joyce Frank Menschel Curator, Department of Photographs, assisted by Virginia McBride, Research Associate, Department of Photographs, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Text from the Metropolitan Museum of Art website

 

Unknown photographer. 'Bernd and Max Becher, Kintzel Coal Company, Big Lick Mountains, Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania' 1978

 

Unknown photographer
Bernd and Max Becher, Kintzel Coal Company, Big Lick Mountains, Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania
1978
Chromogenic print
4 3/8 × 3 7/16 in. (11.1 × 8.8cm)
Estate Bernd & Hilla Becher, represented by Max Becher, courtesy Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – Bernd & Hilla Becher Archive, Cologne

 

Unknown photographer. 'Bernd and Hilla Becher, Ensdorf Mine, Saarland, Germany' 1979

 

Unknown photographer
Bernd and Hilla Becher, Ensdorf Mine, Saarland, Germany
1979
Gelatin silver print
4 3/4 × 5 9/16 in. (12 × 14.1cm)
Estate Bernd & Hilla Becher, represented by Max Becher, courtesy Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – Bernd & Hilla Becher Archive, Cologne

 

 

Their camera’s lens, facing Hilla, has been raised higher than the film plane that’s facing Bernd, a trick that lets them capture the tops of tall structures.

 

Unknown photographer. 'Hilla Becher, Youngstown, Ohio, United States' 1981

 

Unknown photographer
Hilla Becher, Youngstown, Ohio, United States
1981
Instant diffusion transfer print (Polaroid)
2 7/8 × 3 3/4 in. (7.3 × 9.5cm)
Estate Bernd & Hilla Becher, represented by Max Becher, courtesy Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – Bernd & Hilla Becher Archive, Cologne

 

Bouwen voor de Industrie in de 19e en 20e eeuw, een fotografische dokumentatie door Bernd en Hilla Becher, Stedelijk van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, The Netherlands 1968

 

Bouwen voor de Industrie in de 19e en 20e eeuw, een fotografische dokumentatie door Bernd en Hilla Becher, Stedelijk van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, The Netherlands
1968
Photomechanical reproduction
Sheet: 34 5/8 × 24 3/16 in. (88 × 61.5cm)
Frame: 36 15/16 × 26 7/16 in. (93.8 × 67.2cm)
Estate Bernd & Hilla Becher, represented by Max Becher, courtesy Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – Bernd & Hilla Becher Archive, Cologne

 

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher were notoriously exacting about how their photographs were constructed in the camera, printed in the darkroom, and sequenced and reproduced in their many publications. Interestingly, they were rather generous with how and where their photographs were used in other printed materials, such as promotional leaflets, invitations, and exhibition posters. The posters gathered in this exhibition display a variety of typographic treatments and arrangements.

 

Bernd och Hilla Becher, Form genom Funktion, Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden 1970

 

Bernd och Hilla Becher, Form genom Funktion, Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden
1970
Photomechanical reproduction
Sheet: 39 5/16 × 27 1/2 in. (99.8 × 69.8cm)
Frame: 41 9/16 × 29 3/4 in. (105.6 × 75.6cm)
Estate Bernd & Hilla Becher, represented by Max Becher, courtesy Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – Bernd & Hilla Becher Archive, Cologne

 

Bernd und Hilla Becher, Typologien industrieller Bauten, Museum für Fotografie im Hamburger Bahnhof, Museum für Gegenwart, Berlin, Germany 2005

 

Bernd und Hilla Becher, Typologien industrieller Bauten, Museum für Fotografie im Hamburger Bahnhof, Museum für Gegenwart, Berlin, Germany
2005
Photomechanical reproduction
Sheet: 46 7/8 × 33 1/16 in. (119 × 84cm)
Frame: 49 1/16 × 35 5/16 in. (124.6 × 89.7cm)
Estate Bernd & Hilla Becher, represented by Max Becher, courtesy Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – Bernd & Hilla Becher Archive, Cologne

 

 

Bernd & Hilla Becher, First Posthumous Retrospective of the Highly Influential Photographers to Open at The Met July 15

Bernd and Hilla Becher (1931-2007; 1934-2015) are widely considered the most influential German photographers of the postwar period. Working as a rare artist couple, they developed a rigorous practice focused on a single subject: the disappearing industrial architecture of Western Europe and North America that fueled the modern era. Opening at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on July 15, 2022, Bernd & Hilla Becher features some 200 works of art and is the artists’ first posthumous retrospective of their 50-year career. It is organised with full access to the Becher’s comprehensive archive and personal collection of working materials and is the first American retrospective since 1974 (when their mature style was still evolving).

The exhibition is made possible by Joyce Frank Menschel, the Barrie A. and Deedee Wigmore Foundation, the Edward John & Patricia Rosenwald Foundation, and Linda Macklowe. It is organised by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, in association with Studio Bernd & Hilla Becher and Die Photographische Sammlung / SK Stiftung Kultur.

“Bernd and Hilla Becher changed the course of late 20th-century photography, and their groundbreaking work continues to influence artists to this day,” said Max Hollein, Marina Kellen French Director of The Met. “It is a privilege to present this first posthumous retrospective and to celebrate their legacy and remarkable artistic achievement.”

 

Exhibition Overview

The Bechers seemingly objective aesthetic looked back to 19th- and early 20th-century precedents but also resonated with the serial, premeditated progressions of contemporary Minimalism and Conceptual art. Equally significant, their aesthetic challenged the perceived gap between documentary and fine-art photography. The artists used a large-format view camera – similar to those used by 19th-century photographers such as the Bisson Frères in France and Carleton Watkins in the American West – and spurned the handheld, 35 mm roll-film cameras of the type preferred by journalists and pre- and postwar artists such as Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Frank. They worked exclusively with black-and-white photographic materials, intentionally avoiding the medium’s inevitable move to colour that took place during the 1960s and 1970s, and methodically recorded blast furnaces, winding towers, grain silos, cooling towers, and gas tanks with precision, elegance, and passion. Their standardised approach allowed for comparative analyses of structures that they exhibited in grids of between 4 and 30 photographs. They described these formal arrangements as “typologies” and the buildings themselves as “anonymous sculpture.”

The Bechers had a direct and profound influence on several generations of students at the renowned art academy Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, where Bernd was appointed the first professor of photography in 1976. Among the members of the so-called Becher School or Düsseldorf School of Photography are some of the most recognised German artists of the past 40 years, such as Thomas Struth, Andreas Gursky, Candida Höfer, and Thomas Ruff.

Featured in the exhibition alongside the individual and grids of photographs for which the Bechers are best known are extraordinary works in photography and other media executed by them before and after the formation of their creative partnership in 1959. These rarely seen lithographs, collages, photographs, ink and pencil sketches, Polaroids, and personal snapshots offer a deep understanding of the artists’ working methods and intellectual processes.

Following its debut at The Met, the exhibition will travel to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), where it will be on view from December 17, 2022 through April 2, 2023. Bernd & Hilla Becher is curated by Jeff L. Rosenheim, Joyce Frank Menschel Curator in Charge of the Department of Photographs, with assistance from Virginia McBride, Research Assistant in the Department of Photographs, both at The Met. The Met developed the exhibition with Max Becher, the artists’ son, and with Gabriele Conrath-Scholl, director of the Photographische Sammlung / SK Stiftung Kultur in Cologne, where the artists’ vast photographic print archive is preserved.

The exhibition is accompanied by a scholarly publication, the first posthumous monograph published on the Bechers. It features essays by Gabriele Conrath-Scholl; Dr. Virginia Heckert, curator of photographs at the J. Paul Getty Museum and an expert on the Bechers; and Lucy Sante, arts critic, essayist, artist, and visiting professor of writing and photography at Bard College. The publication also includes an extensive interview with Max Becher that, together with the essays, introduces and surveys the Bechers’ photographs and the significance of their achievement over a remarkably productive half-century career. The catalogues is made possible by the Mary C. and James W. Fosburgh Publications Fund.

Press release from the Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007) 'Blast Furnaces (United States, Germany, Luxembourg, France, and Belgium)' 1968-1993

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007)
Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007)
Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015)
Blast Furnaces (United States, Germany, Luxembourg, France, and Belgium)
1968-1993
Gelatin silver prints
Estate Bernd & Hilla Becher, represented by Max Becher

 

Such series may have been less about the glories of heavy industry than its approaching demise in the West.

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007) 'Blast Furnace, Youngstown, Ohio, United States' 1983

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007)
Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007)
Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015)
Blast Furnace, Youngstown, Ohio, United States
1983
Gelatin silver print
23 1/8 × 18 1/4 in. (58.8 × 46.4cm)
Estate Bernd & Hilla Becher, represented by Max Becher, courtesy Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – Bernd & Hilla Becher Archive, Cologne

 

 

The buildings Bernd and Hilla Becher chose to photograph were meant to be altered or demolished when superseded technologically. Given the planned obsolescence of their subjects, the artists’ timing played an important role in the success of their practice. In one of their last books, Industrial Landscapes (2002), they commented: “Once we were in northern France, where we found a wonderful headgear [the top of a blast furnace] – a veritable Eiffel Tower. When we arrived the weather was hazy and not ideal for our work so we decided to postpone taking the photos for a day. When we arrived the next day, it had already been torn down, the dust was in the air.”

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007) Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007) Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015) 'Gravel Plants' 1988-2001

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007)
Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007)
Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015)
Gravel Plants
1988-2001
Gelatin silver prints

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007) 'Gravel Plant, Günzburg, Germany' 1989

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007)
Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007)
Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015)
Gravel Plant, Günzburg, Germany
1989
Gelatin silver print
24 3/16 × 19 3/16 in. (61.4 × 48.7cm)
Estate Bernd & Hilla Becher, represented by Max Becher, courtesy Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – Bernd & Hilla Becher Archive, Cologne

 

 

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Bernd and Hilla Becher completed a thorough documentation of the many gravel plants in and near Günzburg, a small city on the Danube River in Bavaria. This oddly shaped yet functional building was used as a stone breaker to produce gravel, the still-lucrative industrial material required for making roads and high-quality concrete. The asymmetrical facade delights the eye, recalling the Bechers’ frequently stated agenda: “We were fascinated above all by the shape of technical architecture, and hardly by its history.”

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007) 'Cooling Tower, Zeche Mont Cenis, Herne, Ruhr Region, Germany' 1965

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007)
Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007)
Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015)
Cooling Tower, Zeche Mont Cenis, Herne, Ruhr Region, Germany
1965
Gelatin silver print
23 5/8 x 18 1/4 in. (60.5 x 46.4cm)
Collection of James Kieth Brown and Eric Diefenbach

 

 

Influenced by the formal rigour and conceptual methods of pre-World War II artists, such as August Sander and Walker Evans, Bernd and Hilla Becher were considered equals and fellow travellers by Minimalist sculptors, such as Carl Andre and Sol LeWitt. They treated their subject matter – the disappearing industrial architecture of the West – as “anonymous sculpture.” Here, a fabulous tower used to cool water at the Mont Cenis colliery rises from the ground like a modernist top hat made for a wooden giant. In 1978, just thirteen years after the Bechers visited the busy complex, it closed permanently, ending more than one hundred years of coal extraction on the site.

The Bechers photographed against a blank sky and without any pictorial tricks or effects, using an old-fashioned tripod-mounted view camera of the kind used by Eugène Atget and Walker Evans. They treated their subjects as “anonymous sculpture” (the name of their first monograph) that could only be fully rendered through either multiple views from different perspectives or more often, through the typological accumulation and serial presentation of multiple specimens. Although they were artists not scientists, the Bechers used an almost Linnean system of classification – another important 19th century precedent which they made resolutely modern.

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007) 'Cooling Tower, Caerphilly, South Wales, Great Britain' 1966

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007)
Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007)
Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015)
Cooling Tower, Caerphilly, South Wales, Great Britain
1966
Gelatin silver print
Image: 14 5/8 × 11 3/4 in. (37.1 × 29.9cm)
Gift of the LeWitt Family, in memory of Bernd and Hilla Becher, 2018

 

 

As both artists and professors at the Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf, the husband-and-wife team of Bernd and Hilla Becher have influenced an entire generation of German photographers with their typological approach to the medium, in which a single archetypal subject is described through an accumulation of diverse examples. For more than three decades, they have systematically examined the dilapidated industrial architecture of Europe and North America, from water towers and blast furnaces to the surrounding workers’ houses, all recorded against a blank sky and without expressive effects. As it developed in the 1960s, the Bechers’ project chimed with Conceptual Art in its emphasis on impersonal series as well as with older traditions of objective photography as practiced by such artists such as August Sander and Karl Blossfeldt.

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007) Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007) Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015) 'Cooling Towers (Wood)' 1976

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007)
Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007)
Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015)
Cooling Towers (Wood)
1976
Gelatin silver prints
16 × 12 in. (40.6 × 30.5cm), each
Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007) Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007) Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015) 'Cooling Towers (Wood)' 1976 (detail)

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007)
Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007)
Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015)
Cooling Towers (Wood) (detail)
1976
Gelatin silver prints
16 × 12 in. (40.6 × 30.5cm), each
Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007)
Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007)
Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015)
Cooling Towers (Wood) (detail)
1976
Gelatin silver prints
16 × 12 in. (40.6 × 30.5cm), each
Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

 

The Bechers’ purpose has always been to make the clearest possible photographs of industrial structures. They are not interested in making euphemistic, socio-romantic pictures glorifying industry, nor doom-laden spectacles showing its costs and dangers. Equally, they have nothing in common with photographers who seek to make pleasing modernist abstractions, treating the structures as decorative shapes divorced from their function.

The Bechers’ goal is to create photographs that are concentrated on the structures themselves and not qualified by subjective interpretations. To them, these structures are the ‘architecture of engineers’ and their pictures should be seen as the photography of engineers – that is, record pictures. …

[Record photographers are the unsung heroes of the history of photography. They are the anonymous commercial photographers who were commissioned to record both great and everyday industrial and civic projects, from the construction of canals to the blooming of floral clocks.]

The Bechers are fascinated by the idiosyncratic appearance of each structure. The mass-produced, design-conscious assemblies devised by architects with an eye on appearance do not appeal as much as those with a mindfulness of function. What interests the Bechers are constructions made by engineers whose plans are pragmatic, where function dictates the form, rather than, as is increasingly the case, the other way round. In the words of Bernd: ‘There is a form of architecture that consists in essence of apparatus, that has nothing to do with design, and nothing to do with architecture either. They are engineering constructions with their own aesthetic.’

Their fascination is rooted in an understanding of the structures. The Bechers are the first to acknowledge the primarily functional role of the constructions, that their existence is justified solely by their industrial performance, and that once this has been superseded the structures will be modified or demolished. They liken the way a blast furnace develops over time, as furnaces and pipework are added, to the organic but apparently chaotic growth of a medieval city. This purpose-led rationale is what attracts them. They refer to some of the structures as ‘nomadic architecture’. Once they photographed a blast furnace that was being dismantled by Chinese workers in Luxembourg, who then had to reassemble it in China.

By placing photographs of similar subjects alongside each other, the individual differences emerge, making the fine details in each picture more noticeable, more distinct. Drawing on this, they began exhibiting the pictures as typologies; by the early 1960s they showed their work only in typological groups. Typically, a piece of work would comprise four small prints of, for example, water towers, adjacent to a larger print of one of the four. They would not supply prints of individual pictures; the typology was the work. Later, their typologies contained prints of equal size, measuring 30 cm by 40 cm. It could be three rows of five prints, a grid of nine or, in one case, 28 blast furnaces in three rows; a symphony of industrial structures.

The Bechers’ pictures do not have to be viewed in typologies in order to make sense, as they have validity as individual images. The typology has been developed for two reasons. First, by amassing such a detailed survey of industrial structures they are revealing sets and subsets, much like 19th-century zoologists did. With water towers, for example, there are round steel ones with conical tops, like hats, and semi-circular ones. Others are circular with sloping roofs, or without roofs, or on steel derricks, or brick towers, and so on. The more fine the differences, the better they are illustrated by the typology.

Second, the typology used by the Bechers emphasises the rewards of close scrutiny, and it is this that makes each and every one of their pictures fascinating. By presenting 15 water towers in a grid, the first effect is an imposing mass of industrial structures. You must stand back in order to take them all in as a group, but to look closer at an individual picture it is necessary to draw nearer.

Up close, only one tower is visible at a time. Isolated in pristine, black-and-white definition, this everyday object is revealed as an ‘anonymous sculpture’, an unostentatious but fabulous creation by mankind. To compare it with the others is to stand back again, and from here the impulse is to step up and examine another. Just as the beauty of the individual structure (for that is what they are) is there to see, so together as a typology they are a thrilling spectacle. …

There is a wisdom and honour in the Bechers’ work which frees them from imposing a conditional reading upon the viewer. The wisdom is the methodology they recognise in the ‘neutral’ depiction of record photography. The honour stems from a principle about not imposing their ideas on other people.

Hilla and Bernd both grew up under Adolf Hitler. They saw how he corrupted German art to promote his propaganda. This was particularly pertinent to photography, and it remained tainted after the war; witness the grim examples of Leni Riefensthal’s glorifying images of Nazis and the pseudo-scientific eugenic portrait studies that were published to defend anti-semitism and supremacism. This is why the legacy of August Sander (1876-1964), whose neutral approach to portraiture was damned by the Nazis, is so precious in Germany. It is also why the Bechers’ continuing example is extremely important. …

Because photography has, for so long, been used for commercial reasons, notably in advertising, people are accustomed to absorbing manipulative images, and have come to expect – or even rely on – a conditional presentation. Take away this interpretative control and the viewer is left free, which is unnerving if one is not used to it. This is why some regard the Bechers’ photographs as ‘cold’. There is no editorial, no soundtrack, no suggestions nor judgments. You are left to your own devices.

Of course, their motivations are not invisible, nor their presence unfelt. What does it mean when something ‘rings true’? How is it that one can sense the sincerity in another’s words? Perhaps this lies in the realm of intuition, not explanation. To analyse art is not necessarily to experience it. Sometimes, by focusing on a deliberation of it, one limits the engagement to a cerebral encounter. In the West particularly, we use explanations to try to control the unknown, to make uncertainties certain. Maybe there is a wisdom we have that is not learnt but is within us. Far better to look rather than puzzle, and to open one’s senses to what is there.

Here lies the wonder in the Bechers’ photographs. They are like rounding a hill and seeing a view spread out before you. In Cwmcynon Colliery, Mountain Ash, South Wales, 1966, a minehead stands above lines of terraced houses in the village. The giant pair of wheels on top of the single-tier steel headframe is an engineer’s structure. A device to do a job, not to win design awards. You could not dream up such structures, neither could you invent, say, your grandparents’ kitchen. These things arise from the conditions in which they are used.

They are the lines on the face of the world. The photographs are portraits of our history. And when the structures have been demolished and grassed over, as though they were never there, the pictures remain.

Michael Collins, “The long look,” Tate Research Publication, 2002 originally published in Tate Magazine issue 1 on the Tate website [Online] Cited 01/11/2022

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007) 'Winding Towers (Belgium and France)' 1967-1988

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007)
Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007)
Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015)
Winding Towers (Belgium and France)
1967-1988
Gelatin silver prints
15 15/16 × 12 3/8 in. (40.5 × 31.5cm), each
The Doris and Donald Fisher Collection at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007) 'Winding Tower, Cwm Cynon Colliery, Mountain Ash, South Wales, Great Britain' 1966

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007)
Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007)
Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015)
Winding Tower, Cwm Cynon Colliery, Mountain Ash, South Wales, Great Britain
1966
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15 9/16 × 11 13/16 in. (39.6 × 30cm)
Purchase, Vital Projects Fund Inc. Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, Denise and Andrew Saul Fund, Louis V. Bell, Harris Brisbane Dick, Fletcher, and Rogers Funds and Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, and Jade Lau Gift, 2018

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007) 'Winding Tower, Zeche Neu-Iserlohn, Bochum, Germany' 1963

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007)
Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007)
Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015)
Winding Tower, Zeche Neu-Iserlohn, Bochum, Germany
1963
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15 9/16 × 11 1/4 in. (39.5 × 28.5cm)
Purchase, Vital Projects Fund Inc. Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, Denise and Andrew Saul Fund, Louis V. Bell, Harris Brisbane Dick, Fletcher, and Rogers Funds and Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, and Jade Lau Gift, 2018

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007) 'Water Towers (Germany, France, Belgium, United States, and Great Britain)' 1963-1980

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007)
Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007)
Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015)
Water Towers (Germany, France, Belgium, United States, and Great Britain)
1963-1980
Gelatin silver prints
Estate Bernd & Hilla Becher, represented by Max Becher

 

Is there some quiet comedy in revealing all the ways industry has managed the single job of storing water?

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007) 'Water Towers (New York, United States)' 1978–1979

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007)
Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007)
Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015)
Water Towers (New York, United States)
1978-1979
Gelatin silver prints
15 15/16 × 12 3/8 in. (40.5 × 31.5cm), each
Estate Bernd & Hilla Becher, represented by Max Becher, courtesy Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – Bernd & Hilla Becher Archive, Cologne

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007) 'Water Towers (New York, United States)' 1978–1979 (detail)

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007)
Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007)
Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015)
Water Towers (New York, United States)(detail)
1978-1979
Gelatin silver prints
15 15/16 × 12 3/8 in. (40.5 × 31.5cm), each
Estate Bernd & Hilla Becher, represented by Max Becher, courtesy Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – Bernd & Hilla Becher Archive, Cologne

 

 

One wall is gridded up with photos of industrial cooling towers, portrayed in wildly detailed black-and-white.

Another gives us 30 different views of blast furnaces, at plants across Western Europe and the United States. You can just about make out each bolt in their twisting pipework.

An entire gallery surveys the vast Concordia coal plant in Oberhausen, Germany: Teeming photos present its gas-storage tanks, its “lean gas generator,” its “quenching tower,” its “coke pushers.”

These and something like another 450 images fill “Bernd & Hilla Becher,” a fascinating, frankly gorgeous show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Met’s curator of photography, Jeff Rosenheim, has organized a thorough retrospective for the Bechers, a German couple who made some of the most influential art photos of the past half-century. Bernd (1931-2007) and Hilla (1934-2015) mentored generations of students at Düsseldorf’s great Kunstakademie, whose alumni include major photographic artists such as Andreas Gursky and Candida Höfer.

But for all the heft of the heavy industry on view in the Met show – it’s easy to imagine the stink and smoke and racket that pressed in on the Bechers as they worked – you come away with an overall impression of lightness, of delightful order, even sometimes of gentle comedy.

Wall after wall of gridded grays soothe the eye and calm the soul, like the orderly, light-filled abstractions of Agnes Martin or Sol LeWitt. The very fact of gathering 16 different water towers, from both sides of the Atlantic, onto a single museum wall helps to domesticate them, removing their industrial angst and original functions and turning them into something like curios, or collectibles. A catalog essay refers to the Bechers’ “rigorous documentation of thousands of industrial structures,” which is right – but it’s the rigour of a trainspotter, not an engineer. Despite their concrete grandeur, the assorted water towers come off as faintly ridiculous: Whether you’re collecting cookie jars or vintage wines – or shots of water towers – it’s as much about our human instinct to amass and organise as it is about the actual things you collect.

Consider the 32 Campbell’s Soup Cans (1962) that launched Andy Warhol’s pop career, which are a vital precedent for the Bechers’ ordered seriality. You can read the Soup Cans as a critical portrayal of American consumerism, but a catalog of canned soups also reads as a quiet joke, at least when it’s presented for the sake of art, not shopping. Ditto, I think, for the Bechers’ famous “typologies” of industrial buildings, presented without anything like an industrial goal.

Indeed, the one thing you don’t come away with from the Becher show is real knowledge of mechanical engineering, or coal processing, or steel making. In long-ago student days, I cut out and framed a wallful of images from the Bechers’ glorious book of blast-furnace photos. (Their art has always existed as much in their books as in exhibitions.) After living with my furnaces for a decade or so, I can’t say I could have passed a quiz from Smelting 101.

Early coverage referred to the Bechers as “photographer-archaeologists” and the Met’s catalog talks about how they revealed the “functional characteristics of industrial structures.” There are certainly parallels between the preternatural clarity and unmediated “objectivity” of their images and earlier, purely technical and scientific photos meant to teach about the constructions and processes of industry. The Bechers admired such pictures. But however systematic their own project might seem, its goal was art, which means it was always bound to let function and meaning float free.

I think it’s best to imagine that they cast a doubting eye on earlier aspirations to scientific and technical order. After all, the Bechers hit their stride as artists in the 1960s and early ’70s, at just the moment when any aspiring intellectual was reading Thomas Kuhn’s “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions,” which pointed to how the sociology of science (who holds power in labs and who doesn’t) shapes what science tells us. French philosopher Roland Barthes had killed off the all-powerful author and let the rest of us be the true makers of meaning, even if that left it unstable. European societies were in turmoil as they faced the terrors of the Red Brigades and Baader-Meinhof gang, so brilliantly captured in the streaks and smears of Gerhard Richter, that other German giant of postwar art. The Bechers were working in that world of unsettled and unsettling ideas. By parroting the grammar of technical imagery, without actually achieving any technical goals, their photos seem to loosen technology’s moorings. By collecting water towers the way someone else might collect cookie jars, they cut industry down to size.

The Bechers weren’t the only artists working that seam. Their era’s conceptualists also played games with science and industry. When John Baldessari had himself photographed throwing three balls into the air so they’d form a straight line, he was simulating experimentation, not aiming for any real experimental result: The repeated throwing and its failure was the point, not the straight line that could never get formed, anyway. When the Bechers’ friend Robert Smithson poured oceans of glue down a hillside or bulldozed dirt onto a shed until its roof cracked, he was mimicking the moves of heroic construction, not aiming to build anything.

What made the Bechers different from their peers is that they did their mimicking from the inside: They used the language of advanced photographic technology to inhabit the technophilic world they portrayed. Their photos are almost as constructed as any “lean gas generator” they might depict. The just-the-facts-ma’am objectivity of their images is only achieved through serious photographic artifice.

Take the Bechers’ four-square photos of four-square workers’ houses. Several houses are photographed from so close that, standing right in front of them, you’d never take in their entire facades at one glance, as the Bechers do in their images. It takes a wide-angle lens to allow that trick, and only if it’s installed on the kind of technical view camera whose bellows lets lens and film slide in opposite directions. That’s how the Bechers manage to line up our eyes with the top step on a stoop (we see it edge-on) while also catching the home’s gables, high above.

The preternatural level of detail on view and its glorious range of grays and blacks require negatives the size of a man’s hand, a tripod as big as a sapling, lens filters and an advanced darkroom technique. And the couple were relying on such labour-intensive technology at just the moment when most of their photographic peers, and millions of average people, had moved on to cameras and film that let them shoot on the fly, in lab-processed colour. With the Bechers, the “decisive moment” of 35 mm photography gets replaced by a gray-on-gray stasis that feels as though it could last forever – as though it’s as immovable as the steel girders it depicts.

But, in fact, those steel girders were more time-bound than the Bechers’ photos let on. “Just as Medieval thinking manifested itself in Gothic cathedrals, our era reveals itself in technological equipment and buildings,” the Bechers once declared, yet the era they revealed wasn’t really the one they were working in. In many cases, their factories and plants and mines were about to close when the Bechers shot them – a few had already been abandoned – as Western economies made the switch to services and design and computing. The outdatedness of the Bechers’ technique matches up with their subjects. Both represent a last-gasp moment in the “industrial” revolution, which is why there’s something almost poignant about this show.

One of its most revealing moments involves a film, not a photo, and it’s not even by the power couple. The Bechers’ young son, Max, who has since become a noted artist in his own right, once captured his parents in moving colour as they set out to document silos in the American Midwest. Max filmed Bernd and Hilla unloading their heavy-duty equipment, still much as it was in Victorian times, from a classic Volkswagen camper of the 1960s. It was an absurdly underpowered machine, but who could resist its colourful paint job or its mod lines and stylings?

To get the full meaning and impact of the Bechers’ Machine Age black-and-whites, they should really be viewed through the windows of their Information Age orange van.

Blake Gopnik. “Photography’s Delightful Obsessives,” on The New York Times website July 28, 2022 [Online] Cited 30/07/2022

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007) 'Lime Kiln, Brielle, Netherlands' 1968

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007)
Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007)
Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015)
Lime Kiln, Brielle, Netherlands
1968
Gelatin silver print
24 in. × 19 1/2 in. (61 × 49.5cm)
Estate Bernd & Hilla Becher, represented by Max Becher, courtesy Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – Bernd & Hilla Becher Archive, Cologne

 

 

Lime, an important building material since ancient times, is used in the production of mortar and cement. Here, the Bechers focused their attention on six towering brick chimneys that look as much like sprouting asparagus as utilitarian structures. The artists chose a similar view of lime kilns for the cover image of Anonyme Skulpturen (1970), their ambitious first publication. The book presents comparative sequences of different industrial forms, from kilns and gasometers to cooling towers, blast furnaces, and winding towers.

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007) 'Gas Tank, Wesseling / Cologne, Germany' 1983

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007)
Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007)
Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015)
Gas Tank, Wesseling / Cologne, Germany
1983
24 in. × 19 13/16 in. (60.9 × 50.3cm)
Estate Bernd & Hilla Becher, represented by Max Becher, courtesy Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – Bernd & Hilla Becher Archive, Cologne

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007) 'Framework House, Schloßblick 17, Kaan-Marienborn, Siegen, Germany' 1962

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007)
Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007)
Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015)
Framework House, Schloßblick 17, Kaan-Marienborn, Siegen, Germany
1962
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15 7/8 × 11 5/8 in. (40.3 × 29.6cm)
Purchase, Vital Projects Fund Inc. Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, Denise and Andrew Saul Fund, Louis V. Bell, Harris Brisbane Dick, Fletcher, and Rogers Funds and Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, and Jade Lau Gift, 2018

 

 

Both as artists and teachers, Bernd and Hilla Becher are the most important figures in European photography since 1950. Influenced by the formal rigour and typological method of prewar artists such as August Sander and Walker Evans, they were considered equals and fellow travellers by Minimalist sculptors such as Carl Andre and Sol LeWitt and paved the way for the medium’s integration into the broader arena of contemporary art. As professors at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, their influence was paramount on the celebrated generation of photographers known as the “Düsseldorf School” such as Thomas Struth, Andreas Gursky, Thomas Ruff, and Candida Höfer.

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007) 'High Tension Pylon near Düsseldorf, Germany' 1969

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007)
Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007)
Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015)
High Tension Pylon near Düsseldorf, Germany
1969
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15 13/16 × 11 11/16 in. (40.2 × 29.7cm)
Purchase, Vital Projects Fund Inc. Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, Denise and Andrew Saul Fund, Louis V. Bell, Harris Brisbane Dick, Fletcher, and Rogers Funds and Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, and Jade Lau Gift, 2018

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007) 'High Tension Pylon near Düsseldorf, Germany' 1969

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007)
Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007)
Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015)
High Tension Pylon near Düsseldorf, Germany
1969
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15 3/4 x 11 1/2 in. (40 x 29.2cm)
Purchase, Vital Projects Fund Inc. Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, Denise and Andrew Saul Fund, Louis V. Bell, Harris Brisbane Dick, Fletcher, and Rogers Funds and Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, and Jade Lau Gift, 2018

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007) 'Comparative Juxtaposition, Nine Objects, Each with a Different Function' 1961-1972

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007)
Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007)
Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015)
Comparative Juxtaposition, Nine Objects, Each with a Different Function
1961-1972
Gelatin silver prints
Estate Bernd & Hilla Becher, represented by Max Becher

 

 

These photographs show that the photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher were sometimes more interested in aesthetic form than in what industry actually does.

Bernd and Hilla Becher found artistic inspiration in the under appreciated beauty of the built environment, specifically, commonplace industrial and residential architecture. The Bechers’ use of typological ordering, as seen here in a grid of fifteen framework-house studies, can be traced to Hilla’s interest in the concepts of taxonomy and morphology, which are systems of biological classification based on shape and function. They called their assemblages “typologies” and used this effective graphic structure to compare similar and different forms, as would a researcher studying a collection of fossils or butterflies.

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007) 'Terre Rouge, Esch-sur-Alzette, Luxembourg' 1979

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007)
Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007)
Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015)
Terre Rouge, Esch-sur-Alzette, Luxembourg
1979
Gelatin silver print
17 5/8 × 23 1/2 in. (44.8 × 59.7cm)
Estate Bernd & Hilla Becher, represented by Max Becher, courtesy Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – Bernd & Hilla Becher Archive, Cologne

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007) 'Charleroi-Montignies, Belgium' 1971

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007)
Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007)
Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015)
Charleroi-Montignies, Belgium
1971
Gelatin silver print
19 in. × 23 1/4 in. (48.2 × 59cm)
Estate Bernd & Hilla Becher, represented by Max Becher, courtesy Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – Bernd & Hilla Becher Archive, Cologne

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007) 'Duisburg-Bruckhausen, Ruhr Region, Germany' 1999

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007)
Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007)
Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015)
Duisburg-Bruckhausen, Ruhr Region, Germany
1999
19 3/8 × 23 7/8 in. (49.2 × 60.6cm)
Estate Bernd & Hilla Becher, represented by Max Becher, courtesy Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – Bernd & Hilla Becher Archive, Cologne

 

 

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24
Aug
16

Exhibition: ‘The Memory of the Future. Photographic Dialogues between Past, Present and Future’ at the Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne

Exhibition dates: 25th May – 28th August 2016

Curator: Tatyana Franck, Musée de l’Elysée, assisted by Lydia Dorner and Emilie Delcambre

Artists: Takashi Arai / Israel Ariño / Anna Atkins / Patrick Bailly-Maître-Grand Pierre Cordier / Bernd and Hilla Becher / Martin Becka / Binh Danh /Jayne Hinds Bidaut John Dugdale / Jean-Gabriel Eynard / Joan Fontcuberta / Dennis Gabor / Loris Gréaud / JR Idris Khan / Laure Ledoux / Gustave Le Gray / Gabriel Lippmann / Vera Lutter / Christian Marclay / Mathew Brady / Vik Muniz / Oscar Muñoz / Eadweard Muybridge / France Scully Osterman and Mark Osterman Andreas / Andreas Müller-Pohle / Florio Puenter Benjamin Recordon / Dino Simonett / Jerry Spagnoli / Joni Sternbach / James Turrell Martial Verdier / Paul Vionnet / Pierre Wetzel / Victoria Will / Nancy Wilson-Pajic

 

 

3D Digitization of Jean-Gabriel Eynard. 'Charles et Mathilde Horngascher-Odier' 1845

 

3D Digitisation of Jean-Gabriel Eynard (Swiss, 1775-1863)
Charles and Mathilde Horngascher-Odier
1845
© Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne

 

 

Gabriel Lippmann (colour photography) and Dennis Gabor (holograms). Eadweard Muybridge (movement) and Pierre Cordier (chemigrams). Daguerreotypes, calotypes, negatives on dry waxed paper, tintypes, ambrotypes, cyanotypes. Heliogravure, ferrotype, collage and carbon printing. 3D digitisations that “light up” the image from every angle.

What’s old is new again. Then and now, here and there. The memory of future past.

Marcus

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Many thankx to the Musée de l’Elysée for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

This exhibition is an odyssey into the history of photography where different eras are juxtaposed and where artists and their methods dialogue with each other. Through a selection of historic photographic processes and the works of contemporary artists, the spectator is encouraged to observe the influence of the past on today’s artistic creations. The exhibition The Memory of the Future proposes a three-pronged vision: that of the past with the works of the pioneers of photographic techniques, that of the present with contemporary works that revive this know-how, and that of the future with technologies that give a new perspective on the works of the past.

Through century-old processes such as daguerreotypes, calotypes, negatives on dry waxed paper, tintypes, ambrotypes, cyanotypes and including holograms, The Memory of the Future celebrates the founding fathers of photographic techniques by establishing a dialogue between them and contemporary artists. From Gabriel Lippmann to James Turrell, including Robert Cornelius and Oscar Muñoz, this exhibition brings together for the first time some one hundred works whose common thread is their ability to withstand time. The Memory of the Future also proposes a selection of works from the Musée de l’Elysée’s collections that have never before been presented to the public.

After having launched a campaign to digitise its photography books in 2014 – 1,500 books have been digitised as of this time – the Musée de l’Elysée continues to explore techniques to dematerialise its visual heritage in order to preserve and enhance it. Consistent with its ambition to not only preserve works of value but to prospect for new ones, the Musée de l’Elysée has undertaken a 3D digitisation project of its works using a prototype developed by the EPFL (Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne). This technology of the future is presented in this exhibition in the form of a touch screen monitor.

 

 

Oscar Muñoz. 'Ante la Imagen' 2009

 

Oscar Muñoz (Colombian, b. 1951)
Ante la Imagen
2009
© Oscar Muñoz, courtesy of the artist and Mor charpentier gallery

 

 

Oscar Muñoz’s work combines photography, engraving, drawing, installation, video and sculpture, defying all attempts at categorisation. Using non-conventional techniques, his work is a reflection on social concerns and addresses the themes of memory and forgetting, appearance and disappearance, loss and the insecurity of human life. In his work El Coleccionista, the artist uses a triple video projection to show a figure that is sorting, organising and grouping what appears to be personal archives. Oscar Muñoz evokes here the ability of images to be part of multiple narratives, from one image to another, from one context to another. These images propose multiple narrations that overlap and intermingle between the past and present, memory and time.

For Ante la Imagen, Muñoz uses the portrait of the chemist Robert Cornelius (1809-1893), known for having reduced the exposure time of the photographic process of the daguerreotype and for producing one of the first self-portraits, to demonstrate the effectiveness of his method. Muñoz reproduces this portrait by engraving it on a reflecting metallic surface, like a daguerreotype. With each manipulation, the viewer sees the portrait of Cornelius superimposed on his own. The work is composed and decomposed and questions the interior multiplicity of one and the same image. Muñoz replaces this frozen image by a constantly-changing one, vulnerable to deterioration under the effect of air, like life itself.

 

Gabriel Lippmann. 'Selfportrait' c. 1892

 

Gabriel Lippmann (Franco-Luxembourgish, 1845-1921)
Selfportrait
c. 1892
© Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne

 

 

Professor of physics at the Sorbonne, a member of the French Academy of Sciences and author of many scientific works, the international renown of Gabriel Lippmann Is mainly due to his invention of colour photography using the interferential method. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics in 1908.

In 1891, he presented his invention, which would revolutionise photography, to the public. Lippmann developed the “wave theory of light”, which held that light bodies vibrate (like sound) and that light is propagated by waves of different speeds. The variations in wavelengths lead to changes in colour. To prove the validity of his theory, Lippmann worked for five years to find a method that would fix these interferences. To do so, he developed a device that made it possible to place a special photographic plate (made of layers proportional to the wavelengths) in contact with a mercury mirror, a very complicated process. The sensitive layer of an average wavelength, green, for example, has 4,000 bright points per millimetre in its thickness, separated by dark intervals. The Musée de l’Elysée has the largest collection of Lippmann prisms in the world.

 

McDonnell Douglas Corp. / Spindler & Hoyer. 'Portrait of Dennis Gabor' 1975

 

McDonnell Douglas Corp. / Spindler & Hoyer
Portrait of Dennis Gabor
1975
© Jonathan Ross Hologram Collection

 

 

Engineer and physicist, Dennis Gabor is known for having invented the hologram in 1947, for which he was awarded the Holweck prize in 1970, and then the Nobel Prize in physics in 1971. Fascinated by Abbé’s theory of the microscope and Gabriel Lippmann’s method of colour photography, he studied electron optics, which led him to propose the concept of holography that he referred to as “wavefront reconstruction” at the time. The initial project consisted of an electron microscope capable of visualising atom networks and the atoms themselves, but that was not put into practice until 20 years later, whereas the hologram as a photographic process would have to wait for the invention of the laser in the 1960s, the light source necessary for the hologram. Subsequently, Emmett Leith and Juris Upatnieks in the United States and Yuri Denisyuk in Russia contributed to the improvement of Gabor’s invention and presented three-dimensional holograms. Since then, holograms are widely know to the general public through advertising, the production of packaging materials and jewellery items.

The life-size version of the portrait of Gabor can be seen at the offices of the McDonnell Douglas Corporation in the United States, one of the first companies to have attempted to market the holograph. The reduced-size copy presented here was made several years later by Spindler & Hoyer, a German optical company.

 

Eadweard Muybridge. 'Animal Locomotion, Plate 597' 1887

 

Eadweard Muybridge (English, 1830-1904)
Animal Locomotion, Plate 597
1887
© Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne

 

Christian Marclay. 'Memento (Survival of the Fittest)' 2008

 

Christian Marclay (American-Swiss, b. 1955)
Memento (Survival of the Fittest)
2008
© Christian Marclay, courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York

 

 

A well-known filmmaker and multimedia artist, Christian Marclay made his mark on the contemporary art scene by combining the visual arts, film and musical culture. In 2007, he began a project that explores the interactions between sound and vision, as well as the manipulation and the conservation of different forms of recordings. He initiated a series together with the Graphicstudio, University of South Florida involving the use of two archaic recording systems – the cyanotype photography process and the audiotape.

He adopted and adapted the subject of the audiotape, which has become just about obsolete as a result of technological developments, and placed it at the center of his visual abstraction to capture the old soundtracks of hundreds of cassette tapes unfurled like so many streamers, using the cyanotype process. “We assume, because we’re able to capture sounds or images, that they will exist forever – when, in fact, obsolescence makes you feel the limit of those assumptions.” By combining these two mediums, the artist brilliantly explores the resonances between the past and present.

 

JR. 'UNFRAMED, Man Ray revu par JR, Femme aux cheveux longs, 1929, Vevey, Suisse' 2010

 

JR
UNFRAMED, Man Ray revu par JR, Femme aux cheveux longs, 1929, Vevey, Suisse
2010
© JR / Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne

 

 

JR has “the largest art gallery in the world”. Thanks to the technique of photo collage, he freely exhibits his work on walls worldwide, thus attracting the attention of those who rarely or never go to museums. His work is a mixture of art and action and deals with commitment, freedom, identity and limits. After finding a camera in the Paris Metro in 2001, he travelled throughout Europe to meet other people whose mode of artistic expression involved the use of the walls and façades that give form to our cities. After observing the people he met and listening to their message, JR pasted their portraits up in streets and basements and on the roof tops of Paris.

JR thus creates “pervasive art” that he puts up on buildings in the Paris suburbs, on walls in the Middle East, on broken bridges in Africa and in the favelas of Brazil. These artistic actions make no distinction between the actors and the spectators. JR’s approach presented here is a mixture of the reinterpretation and recontextualisation of the icons of the history of photography taken from the collections of the Musée de l’Elysée of Lausanne, which he applies to the façades of buildings in the city of Vevey. He thus crops and enlarges the photos of Robert Capa, Man Ray, Gilles Caron and Helen Levitt so that the city becomes a gigantic open-air museum.

 

Binh Danh. 'Sphinxes' (by Arthur Putnam, 1912) 2014

 

Binh Danh (American born Vietnam, b. 1979)
Sphinxes (by Arthur Putnam, 1912)
2014
Artist and Haines Gallery courtesy, San Francisco
© Binh Danh

 

 

“Landscape is what defines me. When I am somewhere new or unfamiliar, I am constantly in dialogue with the past, present and my future self. When I am thinking about landscape, I am thinking about those who have stood on this land before me. Whoever they are, hopefully history recorded their makings on the land for me to study and contemplate.”

Born in Viet Nam, Binh Danh addresses themes of collective and personal memories, history, heritage and mortality. Known for printing his works on unconventional supports such as leaves or grass, he experiments with the photographic process of the daguerreotype in his most recent creations in order to document the history of the city of San Francisco.

Reminiscent of the work of photographic pioneers such as Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904), Charles Marville (1813-1879) and Eugène Atget (1857-1927), Binh Danh explores the complexities of a constantly evolving city, from the first major expansion in recent years of Silicon Valley. He places San Francisco, cliché of the culture of technology and success, in another time space in order to incite the viewer to reflect on the rapid pace of changes in a city. By choosing the daguerreotype, the artist works on the reflecting surface of the process to incorporate the spectator into his work and to thus transform it into a shared experience.

 

Paul Vionnet. 'La cure d'Etoy' 1870

 

Paul Vionnet (Swiss, 1830-1914)
La cure d’Etoy
1870
Tirage sur papier aristotype
13.4 × 17.8 cm
Collection iconographique vaudoise
© Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne

 

 

With the exhibition The Memory of the Future. Photographic Dialogues between Past, Present and Future, the Musée de l’Elysée encourages contemporary artists to take a close look at photography as a medium, innovates as it reveals a 3D digitization technology developed by a spin-off from Lausanne’s Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL), and displays its unique visual heritage. 

The Memory of the Future. Photographic Dialogues between Past, Present and Future is the first exhibition that Director Tatyana Franck has curated at the Musée de l’Elysée. It opens up a dialogue between the work of the pioneers of photographic techniques (the past), those of contemporary artists that breathe new life into these skills (the present), and avant-garde technologies that update these early processes (the future). Works from the museum’s collections, contemporary artists and new technologies come face to face and join forces to give a brand new vision of the history of photography. The Memory of the Future aims to configure the present by reconfiguring the past in order to prefigure the future.

 

Techniques over time

First of all, early photographic processes such as ambrotypes, daguerreotypes, ferrotypes, cyanotypes, etc. are displayed next to works by contemporary artists who breathe life into them. The technical innovations of the past are fertile ground for contemporary art and design. The exhibition includes a waxed paper negative by Gustave Le Gray in dialogue with those by Martin Becka, while cyanotypes by Anna Atkins and Paul Vionnet converse with those by Christian Marclay, Nancy Wilson-Pajic and John Dugdale. Jean-Gabriel Eynard’s daguerreotypes from the museum’s collections are exhibited next to portraits by Takashi Arai and Patrick Bailly-Maître-Grand and landscapes by Binh Danh and Jerry Spagnoli. And as for contemporary ferrotypes, The Memory of the Future shows the work of Joni Sternbach and Jayne Hinds Bidaut as well as portraits taken by Victoria Will at the Sundance Independent Film Festival in 2014.

Works of two scientists who won a Nobel Prize and invented a photographic technique also have pride of place – a self portrait by Gabriel Lippmann (Nobel Prize in Physics in 1908) who invented color photography using the interferential method and a portrait of Dennis Gabor (Nobel Prize in Physics in 1971), the inventor of the holographic process, a photographic technique in relief – echoing a holographic picture by James Turrell, a contemporary artist primarily concerned with light. Lastly, and as a point of convergence for all these photographic processes to fix an image on to a support, the camera obscura is presented through the works of Florio Puenter, Dino Simonett and Vera Lutter. Loris Gréaud – an artist invited to present an original installation capturing the spirit of the Musée de l’Elysée by recording its shadows and light – also explores this technique.

 

Homage and metamorphosis

The exhibition also presents the “mise en abyme” of iconic pictures from the history of photography reinterpreted by contemporary artists whose works examine the very notion of time or memory.

The earliest photograph in history – by Nicéphore Niépce and dating back to 1826 – is thus transformed by Joan Fontcuberta (Googlegramme Niépce, 2005) using PhotoMosaïque freeware connected online to the Google search engine, and by Andreas Müller-Pohle (Digital Scores VI). The first photographic self portrait in history – by Robert Cornelius in 1839 – is reproduced on a series of mirrors by Oscar Muñoz in 2009 to examine the paradox of the aging of the photographic support, which is, however, supposed to record an image for eternity. While Pierre Cordier pays homage to Eadweard Muybridge’s photographic breaking down of movement, Idris Khan (who took part in the reGeneration exhibition in 2005) pays homage to the iconic photographs of Bernd and Hilla Becher.

 

Innovating to preserve and showcase

Having launched a campaign in 2014 to digitise its photography books – 1500 books have been scanned so far – the Musée de l’Elysée is continuing to explore techniques to dematerialise its visual heritage for conservation and promotion purposes. Launched in 2015 thanks to the Engagement Migros development fund, an ambitious three dimensional digitisation project puts the Musée de l’Elysée at the forefront of museum innovation.

A venue for exhibitions, conservation and now an experimentation, as part of the exhibition La Mémoire du futur the Musée de l’Elysée is proposing for the first time a space dedicated to the presentation of digitised virtual objects from its collections. This innovative project aims to introduce new collaborative and interactive experiences using the Museum’s collections to a wide range of audiences – whether they be photography enthusiasts, curators or researchers.

Thanks to the Engagement Migros development fund, Innovation partner of the Musée de l’Elysée, the public is invited to experimentally test the first 3D digitisations carried out in partnership with the start-up Artmyn, created at EPFL’s Audiovisual Communications Laboratory (LCAV) led by Martin Vetterli. It will thus be possible to look at the works in 3D with unprecedented precision, but above all, to make the different textures of which they are composed appear on screen by lighting up the digital replicas from any angle.

This new technology comes in the form of a scanner made up of a dome on which are fixed several small lamps of precisely-adjusted intensity that switch on and off in turn depending on each picture scanned. “We are returning to an ancient theory of vision that imagined the eye’s projection towards the world, allowing the spectator once again to become an actor in the photographic experience,” explains Martin Vetterli in the exhibition catalogue.

Preliminary work was carried out with the Collections Department to select the processes that would most benefit from this scanning technology – heliogravure, ambrotype, ferrotype, collage and carbon printing. The first results will be presented in the exhibition. A tactile device supplemented by a video tour of the work presents a collage by René Burri from the René Burri Foundation housed at the Musée de l’Elysée. Rendered in real time and very high resolution, the images that have been cut out and superimposed by the artist can be freely explored so that the visitor can appreciate the visual richness of the work. Visitor experience appraisal is an integral part of the project to optimise presentation techniques and create a digital experimentation area in the museum.

The active participation of visitors to the Museum is an essential step for this first test phase: the interactions and different perceptions of the benefits of the prototype presented will be taken into account for the purpose of developing teaching and learning tools that will subsequently be used to refine and expand the user’s experience and to develop a digital, educational discovery space within the exhibition areas.

Press release from the Musée de l’Elysée

 

Paul Vionnet. 'Lausanne, le pont Chauderon en construction' 1904

 

Paul Vionnet (Swiss, 1830-1914)
Lausanne, le pont Chauderon en construction
1904
Tirage au gélatino-bromure d’argent
39.5 × 23.0cm
Collection iconographique vaudoise
© Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne

 

 

Paul Vionnet, a local photographic pioneer, is at the origin of the Iconographic Collection of the Canton of Vaud. This collection, devoted to the history of the Vaud, is at the very foundation of the creation of the Musée de l’Elysée in 1985 as a museum dedicated to the image. During his childhood, Paul Vionnet spent his vacations at his grandparents’ home in Aubonne and was a frequent visitor of Adrien Constant Delessert (1806-1876), a neighbour and renowned Vaud photographer. During his stays there in 1845, Delessert taught him photographic techniques and the calotype.

Fascinated by the sciences, nature and his canton, Paul Vionnet took it upon himself to collect the greatest number of iconographic documents possible concerning the history, landscapes and monuments of the region for the purpose of enriching the collection of the Historical Monuments Service in Lausanne. The documents that he was not able to acquire himself were reproduced using photography. Following in his father’s footsteps, he was ordained pastor in 1856, and assigned to Granges de Sainte-Croix, near Aubonne, and then to Pampigny in 1858. He nevertheless continued to take photographs, having since adopted the wet collodion technique, documenting landscapes and monuments during his free time.

He retired in 1896 and founded the Collection historiographique vaudoise that would house his documents. In 1903, Paul Vionnet bequeathed his private collection to the canton of Vaud, forming the fifth section of the Musée Cantonal des Antiquités. He was named assistant curator, and several years later, the municipality commissioned him to take the photographs for Lausanne à travers les âges.

 

Anna Atkins. 'Adiantum tenerum (Jamaica)' c. 1852

 

Anna Atkins (English, 1799-1871)
Adiantum tenerum (Jamaica)
c. 1852
© Wilson Centre for Photography

 

 

A British photographer considered to be the first woman to create a photograph, Anna Atkins is also known to have published the first books on botany illustrated with cyanotypes. Passionately interested in science and art, she became a member of the Botanical Society of London in 1839 and realised that the photographic process could be used to obtain precise and detailed botanical images and to provide information at all levels of a society increasingly eager for knowledge.

Anna Atkins drew her inspiration from the inventor of photography, William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1877), and from a close family friend, John Herschel (1792-1871), a scientist known for the invention and the improvement of the cyanotype. She subsequently developed the process on her own that would allow her to obtain authentic and inexpensive photographic reproductions and that would make her part of the great tradition of her teachers. In 1843, she published her work, British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions, the first volume of which preceded the famous work of Talbot, The Pencil of Nature, by several months. In 1853, she applied the same process to ferns and published Cyanotypes of British and Foreign Ferns, a page of which is presented here.

 

Anonymous. 'Portrait of a young girl' 1860-1870

 

Anonymous
Portrait of a young girl
1860-1870
© Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne

 

John Dugdale. 'The Clandestine Mind' 1999

 

John Dugdale (American, b. 1960)
The Clandestine Mind
1999
© The John Dugdale Studio

 

John Dugdale. 'Mourning Tulips' 1999

 

John Dugdale (American, b. 1960)
Mourning Tulips
1999
© The John Dugdale Studio

 

 

John Dugdale’s interest in photography goes back to his childhood when he received his first camera at the age of 12 and dreamed of becoming one of the major photographers of the 20th century. After a brilliant career as a fashion photographer, the year 1993 marked the turning point in the life of the artist who lost his sight following a stroke and CMV retinitis. Dugdale nevertheless refused to give up photography and began to take an interest in 19th century photographic techniques, using his family and friends as assistants. He discovered the large format and decided to use the cyanotype process, considering it to be the most direct and the easiest to use.

In his blue works, he portrays his everyday life by reversing the roles. Dugdale poses with a simplistic spirituality that could appear to be in contradiction with the 21st century. Generally posing in the nude, he considers that “life is transient. Once you leave this world, you fly into the universe without clothes. I want people to learn you cannot protect yourself by hiding behind clothes.”

Thanks to its low toxicity, the use of this process allows him to be involved in the printing of his photographs. His sensitivity to historic techniques emphasises the poetry of his work and the transitory nature of time and place. In the hopes of sharing his experience and his healing, Dugdale creates a new body of art by “showing the beauty of life and how one should act around illness.”

 

Jerry Spagnoli. 'Glass 10/9/12' 2012

 

Jerry Spagnoli (American, b. 1956)
Glass 10/9/12
2012
© Jerry Spagnoli

 

 

When the photographer Jerry Spagnoli discovered a daguerreotype at a flea market, he described it as the most perfect photograph he had ever seen, a discovery that would influence the rest of his work. After familiarising himself with the process in his studio in San Francisco, the artist experimented with it using equipment from the 19th century and studying the effects obtained in order to understand the technical aspects as well as the visual and expressive potential.

By studying the body and the roots of photographic imagination in his series Anatomical Studies, the portrait, objects and contemporary street scenes, events and non-events in his series The Last Great Daguerreian Survey of the Twentieth Century, Spagnoli attempts to highlight the qualities of the daguerreotype – uniqueness, richness of detail – through the four series presented here, in order to allow a contemporary public to rediscover its virtues. It is also a way for him to approach the optical essence of photography. “With other processes the material substrate of the image can be intrusive, but when you look at a daguerreotype, there is a transparency to the depiction as if you were looking through the lens itself.”

 

Vik Muniz. 'The Steerage (After Alfred Stieglitz)' 2000

 

Vik Muniz (Brazilian, b. 1961)
The Steerage (After Alfred Stieglitz)
2000
from the Pictures of Chocolate series

 

 

Non-conformist reproductions of masterpieces, trompe-l’œil, ephemeral homages… It is difficult to put a label on the work of Vik Muniz. Starting off as a sculptor, he became widely known in 1997 as a result of his series Pictures of Chocolate, an example of which is presented here, and again in 2006 through his series Pictures of Junk and by his film Waste Land that was released in 2014. For the past 20 years, the artist, fascinated by the power of the image and optics, has transformed all sorts of unusual raw materials into works of art. He then uses photography to immortalise the works that he creates with these materials.

In Steerage after Alfred Stieglitz, Muniz uses chocolate as the medium to pay tribute to one of the modern pioneers of photography, Alfred Stieglitz. He involves the spectator and forces him to take a new look at a painting or a photograph that has been seen time and time again and that has become commonplace despite its beauty. Vik Muniz encourages the public to look at and to decipher his compositions, as well as to use their other senses to transform his flat reproductions into original and three-dimensional works.

 

Pierre Cordier. 'Photo-Chimigramme 17/6/76 I "Hommage à Muybridge 1972"' 1976

 

Pierre Cordier (Belgian, b. 1933)
Photo-Chimigramme 17/6/76 I “Hommage à Muybridge 1972”
1976
© Pierre Cordier

 

 

Pierre Cordier is a Belgian artist known as the father of the chemigram and for its development as a means of artistic expression. In 1956, writing a dedication with nail polish on photographic paper to a young German woman, Pierre Cordier discovered what he later called the chemigram. This technique “combines the physics of painting (varnish, oil, wax) and the chemistry of photography (photosensitive emulsion, developer and fixer), without the use of a camera or enlarger, and in full light.”

He worked for 30 years as a lecturer on the history of photography at the École Nationale des Arts Visuels in Brussels. When he gave up photography in 1968 to devote himself exclusively to the chemigram, he wanted to pay tribute to the great photography pioneers – Muybridge in 1972 and Marey in 1975. The Homage to Muybridge presented here was inspired by Allan Porter, chief editor of the Swiss revue Camera, one of the most prominent revues in the history of photography. In the issue of Camera of October 1972, we can read: “Cordier used Muybridge’s famous sequence, The Horse in Motion, which he transformed in three different ways: 1. Still subject and mobile camera. 2. Mobile subject and still camera. 3. Subject and camera, both mobile. He then combined the three sequences into one and treated it according to the photochemigram process.”

 

Andreas Muller-Pohle. 'Digital scores V (after Nicephore Niepce)' 2001

 

Andreas Muller-Pohle (German, b. 1951)
Digital scores V (after Nicephore Niepce)
2001
Inkjet print
10 7/8 in x 11 in; mat: 16 1/8 in x 20 1/8 in; paper: 12 1/8 in x 12 1/8 in

 

 

Andreas Müller-Pohle is one of the key figures involved in the ontological as well as the representational nature of photography. Since the 1990s, he has reflected on the radical changes in the essence of technical images. His first artistic project focused on questions of photographic perception and on the recycled photograph.

In the mid-1990s, Müller-Pohle began to explore the use of digital, genetic and political codes. He is one of the first artists to have broken down and translated the analog and the digital codes of images. In his series Digital Scores (after Nicéphore Niépce), he takes us back to the origin of analog photography by translating the photograph of Niépce, View from the Window at Le Gras (taken from a window of his house in 1826), into alphanumeric code. The complete binary transcription of this photograph is then distributed over eight panels.

 

Martin Becka. 'Le Parc' 2002

 

Martin Becka (Czech, b. 1956)
Le Parc
2002
© Martin Becka

 

 

After studying photography, Martin Becka worked as a print developer for the Sepia Agency before becoming an independent news photographer. As of the beginning of the 1980s, he began doing research on the history of photography and the pre-industrial photographic processes that he incorporated into his personal creative work. By using traditional processes to photograph ultramodern cities like Dubai and business districts such as La Défense in Paris, the artist proposes a sort of “archeology of the present”, making the spectator reflect on the period in which he lives, the future, and the multiplication of images at a time when their reproducibility is unlimited. He sees photography as a means to “bend time in every possible direction.”

In his installation Le Parc (the André Citroën Public Park in Paris), Becka establishes a dialogue between the past and the present by paying homage to the photographic work of Alfred-Nicolas Normand (1822-1909) and the dry waxed paper negative process developed in 1851 by Gustave Le Gray (1820-1884). By choosing this century-old technique that requires an approach to work that is radically different from those currently in vogue, he is able to obtain negatives with a density adapted to a presentation by transparency and to create and control movement and unique atmospheres. Becka thus encourages the spectator to reflect on the notion of the photographic object.

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher. 'Gas Tank: Essen-Karnap D' 1973

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher
Gas Tank: Essen-Karnap D
1973

 

Bernd And Hilla Becher. 'Gasbehälter bei Wuppertal (Gas tank near Wuppertal)' 1966

 

Bernd And Hilla Becher
Gasbehälter bei Wuppertal (Gas tank near Wuppertal)
1966

 

 

Born during the period of industrial archeology, the Bechers’ work consists, in the words of Pierre Restany, “of an optical pilgrimage at the roots of the industrial world”. The couple proposes a way do see industrial architecture by taking an approach based on inventory methodology. Their work is a reflection on the creation of heritage and raises the question of the heritage value of industrial objects, which is inseparable from their artistic value.

With a focus on archiving and industrial memory, Bernd and Hilla Becher’s approach consists of establishing a detailed inventory and keeping track of industrial structures by photographing sites threatened by obsolescence and often abandoned. The series Gas Tanks includes nine photographs from the period between 1965 and 1973, taken according to the extremely stringent protocol that is characteristic of their work (frontal view, centring of the subject, mid-height, absence of light, etc.). The composition of each portrait is standardised and identical, with emphasis on the frontal aspect and the monumentality of industrial constructions classified according to their functionality and form.

Taking advantage of the extremely reproducible nature of the photograph, the Bechers reveal the massive diffusion and production of images that contribute to erasing our memories of their origins and their authors. In doing so, they observe a civilisation on the decline and highlight the production of an era, vestiges of the human imagination and life.

 

Idris Khan. 'Every ... Bernd and Hilla Becher Spherical Type Gasholder' One panel triptych, 2003

 

Idris Khan (British, b. 1978)
Every … Bernd and Hilla Becher Spherical Type Gasholder
One panel triptych, 2003
Lambda Digital C print mounted on aluminium
20½ x 26½ inches

 

Idris Khan. 'Every ... Bernd and Hilla Becher Prison Type Gasholder' 2004

 

Idris Khan (British, b. 1978)
Every … Bernd and Hilla Becher Prison Type Gasholder
2004
Lambda Digital C print mounted on aluminium
80 × 65 inches

 

 

“I try to capture the essence of the building – something that’s been permanently imprinted in someone’s mind, like a memory.”

Idris Khan is fascinated by the photographic medium. Fuelled by images and influential theoretical essays on the history of photography, he re-appropriates the works that had an impact on him and subjects them to a series of transformations in order to see them from a different perspective. His work is a reflection on the passage of time, the accumulation of experiences and, as such, the decrease of unique moments. In his series Homage…, he presents rephotographed works, enlarged and superimposed in multiple layers. He uses digital tools to play with the opacity of the layers so as to strengthen the mystery of the original objects whose layering reveals new details. The work Homage to Bernd Becher shown here reproduces and compiles the photographs that correspond to the Bechers’ typology in order to celebrate the vestiges of these vanished industrial infrastructures.

Fascinated by the ability of the photographic medium to capture the soul as well as the body image, Idris Khan, in his series Rising Series… After Eadweard Muybridge “Human and Animal Locomotion”, pays homage to Muybridge’s early scientific experiments using the camera to sequentially record human and animal movement. Beyond the tribute paid to photography that is defined here as a compilation of knowledge, Idris Khan positions himself with respect to a medium laden with history and with a bright future ahead of it.

 

Victoria Will. 'Kristen Stewart' 2014

 

Victoria Will (American, b. 1980)
Kristen Stewart
2014
© Victoria Will

 

 

Kristen Stewart poses for a tintype (wet collodion) portrait at The Collective and Gibson Lounge, during the 2014 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Victoria Will/Invision/AP)

Victoria Will began her career as a staff photographer for the New York Post. Specialized at the time in portraits and fashion, her photographs were disseminated worldwide by the magazines W, the New York Times and Vogue. When she was invited for the fourth time to the Sundance Film Festival, an American independent film festival, she decided to try something new and to replace her digital reflex camera with the century-old tintype process to make portraits of movie stars. Following her success, she renewed the experience in the following years and gradually improved this complex technique.

Overcoming the difficulties of the process, its sensitivity to time and the danger of the chemical products involved, the photographer successively made portraits in 7 to 8 minutes of actors such as Vincent Cassel, Robert Redford, Jennifer Connelly, Spike Lee and Ethan Hawke. “What I love about the process is how raw it is,” says Victoria. “We live in an age of glossy magazines and overly retouched skin. But there is no lying with tintypes. You can’t get rid of a few wrinkles like in Photoshop.”

Both the photographer and her public “appreciate the honesty of these photographs. Development leaves a lot of room for the unexpected: we discover a face that we thought was familiar while being the contrary of digital portraits. The stages in the darkroom contribute to the idea of creating something unique and refreshing.”

 

 

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CH - 1014 Lausanne
Phone: + 41 21 316 99 11

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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, an art and cultural memory archive, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Doctor 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.

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Orphans and small groups’ 1994-96 Part 2

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