Bernd & Hilla Becher (1931-2007/ *1934) range among the most influential artists of our era. The 1960s in north Europe saw the end of the reign of coal and iron. Steel factories and mines were closed down one after the other. At issue was the radical mutation of a world, of a society, and of a landscape. In 1959 Bernd and Hilla Becher began an impressive photographic adventure, the object of which was this industrial patrimony threatened with extinction. They then started what would become one of the largest industrial archives of our era. “When I arrived in Düsseldorf in the 1950s,” says Hilla Becher in an interview, “I was always very moved when looking out of the window of the train and watching the procession of these numerous and strange creatures.” Water towers, blast furnaces, grain elevators, winding towers, cooling towers, gastanks… all objects they photographed with great rigor and according to an unchanging protocol which would become the Bechers’ signature. They photographed the objects from a distance, exclusively in black and white. The photographed object is generally centered and frontally framed. Shadowless, it cuts a profile against a cloudless sky. No effect or reflection appears. Nobody.
The Bechers photographed these industrial installations after they had come to a standstill. Barely photographed, some of these constructions were then dismantled and disappeared forever. Today some of these factories or structures still stand in the landscape as museums or monuments. Similar to entomologists, the Bechers have grouped their images together and classified them according to the object’s family or sub-family, thus creating typologies. Other objects they have photographed from all sides in order to underline, via the progression of images, the sculptural aspect of a same and unique object. Lastly, some sites they studied in a more systematic manner, in which case the artists’ camera indeed explores the entirety of the industrial site, as in the impressive series Zeche Zollern 2, published in 1977 and presented at the Foundation A for the occasion of this exhibition.
The exhibition Bernd & Hilla Becher – Imprimés 1964-2013 is a first. Not only does it present photographs but it is also interested in highlighting the image that the Bechers wish to give of their œuvre, i.e., the representation that they make of it on the basis of printed matter (books, catalogues, limited editions, brochures, invitation cards, posters). The exhibition enables us to understand the various stages of their approach, their transition from a sole photograph to images presented in series. Their typological construction, which was perfectly legible in the first publications, reviews and catalogues, would become less so in the later thematic monographs, in which only a single image is reproduced, page after page.
The exhibition has been organized in cooperation with the Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur, the Galerie Thomas Zander of Cologne, and the Goethe-Institut in Brussels, the exhibition of the Fondation A coincides with another, Bernd et Hilla Becher, Hochofenwerke, presented at the Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur from 20 September 2013 to 26 January 2014.
An exhibition of the Musée de l'Elysée of Lausanne.
Curators: Antoine de Beaupré and Jean-Christophe Blaser for the Musée de l’Elysée.