One wall is gridded with highly detailed black-and-white photographs of industrial cooling towers.
The other is a plant in Western Europe and the US, providing 30 different views of a blast furnace. You can almost see each bolt in the twisted pipe.
The entire gallery explores the vast Concordia coal-fired power plant in Oberhausen, Germany. Numerous photographs show gas storage tanks, “lean gas generators”, “quench towers” and “coke pushers”.
Something like these and another 450 images “Bernd & Hilla Boettcher” A charming and frankly gorgeous show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Jeff Rosenheim, curator of photography at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, has curated an in-depth retrospective of the German couple Betcher, who captured some of the most influential fine art photographs of the past half century. Bernd (1931-2007) and Hilla (1934-2015) mentored generations of students at the great University of Düsseldorf. art academyalumni include leading photographic artists such as Andreas Gursky and Candida Höfer.
But for all the heavy-duty heavyweights seen at the Met show — it’s easy to imagine the stench and smoke and racket pressed against Bechers as he worked — an overall lighthearted and joyful order. I get the impression of Sometimes gentle comedy.
Like the orderly, light-filled abstractions of Agnes Martin and Sol LeWitt, one latticed gray wall after another soothes the eye and soothes the soul. The fact that he assembled 16 different water towers from both sides of the Atlantic into one museum wall helped to tame them, stripping them of their industrial unrest and their original function, making them more like antiques and collectibles. change it into something It is true that his catalog essay refers to Bechers’ “rigorous documentation of thousands of industrial structures”, but this is the rigor of a railroad expert, not an engineer. Despite their concrete grandeur, the various water towers look faintly silly. Whether he collects jars of cookies or vintage shots of wine, or water towers, collecting and organizing is as much a human instinct as a real one. you collect
think 32 Campbell’s Soup (1962) launched Andy Warhol’s pop career. This is an important precedent for Bechers’ ordered serialization. Soup can be read as a critical depiction of American consumerism, but canned soup catalogs can also be read as quiet jokes, at least when presented for art rather than shopping. I think it’s the same with Mr. and Mrs. Boetcher’s famous “typology” of industrial buildings, but it’s presented without any sort of industrial goal.
In fact, one thing you won’t get from the Becher show is real knowledge of mechanical engineering, coal processing, and steel making. Back in my school days, I cut and framed a wall of images from his Bechers glorious Blast Furnace Photobook. (Their art has always existed in their books as much as in their exhibitions.) After living with the furnace for a decade or so, I can’t say I passed the Smelting 101 quiz.
Early reports called the Bechers “photographers and archaeologists,” and the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s catalog tells how they revealed “the functional characteristics of industrial construction.” Between the supernatural clarity and unmediated “objectivity” of their images and the earlier purely technical and scientific photographs intended to teach about industrial structures and processes, there is certainly There are similarities. Bechers admired such pictures. But no matter how systematic their own project seemed, its goal was art. In other words, we had to let function and meaning emerge freely.
I think it’s best to imagine that they cast a skeptical eye on their previous aspirations for a scientific and technological order. . Thomas Kuhn’s “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” This pointed to how the sociology of science (who has power in the lab and who doesn’t) shapes what science tells us. The French philosopher Roland Barthes killed the all-powerful author and left the rest of us to be true makers of meaning. European societies were in turmoil when they faced terror. red brigade and Bader Meinhof’s gang were captured brilliantly Gerhard Richter streaks and stains, another German giant of post-war art. Bechers worked in that volatile, unstable world of ideas. By parroting the grammar of technical imagery without actually achieving a technical goal, their photography seems to loosen the moorings of technology. They scaled back the industry by collecting water towers like someone else collects cookie jars.
The Bechers weren’t the only ones working in that seam. The conceptualists of their time were also playing games about science and industry.When John Baldessari took a picture of himself Throw 3 balls into the air He was simulating an experiment, not aiming for actual results. Anyway, the point was that I threw repeatedly and failed, rather than a straight line that never formed. When Bechers’ friend Robert Smithson pours copious amounts of glue down a hillside or bulldozes mud until the roof of a shed cracks, he doesn’t aim to build anything. It was mimicking heroic construction moves.
Where the Bechers differ from their peers is that they imitate from within. They lived in the technophilic world they portrayed, using the language of advanced photography. Their photographs are structured much like the “lean gas generators” they describe. The fair factual objectivity of their images is achieved only through serious photographic techniques.
Take a picture of 4 squares of Bechers’ 4 squares worker’s house. Some of the houses are shot so close that if you’re standing directly in front, you can’t catch the entire facade at a glance, as Bechers does in his images. A wide-angle lens is required to be able to do that trick, and only if a technical his view with a bellows that slides the lens and film in opposite directions is attached to his camera. In this way, Bechers captures the gables of the house overhead, much like how we line up our eyes on the top step of our stoop (we’re looking at it from the side). increase.
The supernatural level of detail and its stunning range of grays and blacks require hand-sized negatives, sapling-sized tripods, lens filters, and sophisticated darkroom techniques. And while the couple relied on such labor-intensive technology, most of their fellow photographers, and millions of average people, had a camera that could shoot on the fly with lab-processed color. At Bechers, the ‘decisive moment’ of a 35mm photograph is as immovable as the steel frame it depicts, a gray color that feels as if it lasts forever. replaced by gray stagnation.
But in reality, these steel girders were more time-bound than the Boetchers’ photographs would allow. “Just as medieval thinking appeared in Gothic cathedrals, so our age appears in technical installations and buildings,” Bechers once declared, but the era they reveal is actually theirs. It was not the time when was working. In many cases their factories and mines were about to close when the Bechers shot them – some had already been abandoned – as the Western economy switched to services and design and computing. The obsolescence of Bechers’ technique is consistent with their subject matter. There’s something almost poignant about this show, as both represent the final moments of the “industrial” revolution.
But one of its most revealing moments has to do with the film, not the photo, and it’s not even by a power couple. Since then, Max, who has become a prominent artist in his own right, I once photographed his parents in inspiring color as they set off to document the silos of the American Midwest. Max filmed Bernd and Hilla unloading their classic 1960s Volkswagen camper, just like they did in the Victorian era. It was a seriously underpowered machine, but who could resist its colorful paint job, mod lines and styling?
To fully understand the meaning and impact of Bechers’ Machine Age black-and-white photography, you have to actually look through the windows of Information Age’s orange van.
Bernd & Hilla Becher
At the Metropolitan Museum of Art through November 6, 1000 Fifth Avenue, Manhattan, (212) 535-7710. metmuseum.org.