Bernd and Hill Becher

Seattle industrial typology study

I have always been fascinated by the forms that our modern building systems display. Exhaust, air, heating, and cooling systems are about as basic systems as one finds, and they usually have a place of prominence on rooftops, unadorned and standing like metallic animals and sculptures. Bernd and Hilla Becher called these forms typologies and made a career highlighting them in their master prints and publications. Check them out if you have never heard of them. They, more than any photographers in a long while, have influenced how I see the world and how I think about the ways we construct our physical environment to suit our economic system. (Click on each photograph to see a larger photo on a separate picture page.)

Under the spell of Bernd and Hilla Becher

My current expression through still photography, at this moment in time, remains heavily influenced by the highly acclaimed German photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher. The husband-wife duo (Bernd has passed on) influenced perhaps the most acclaimed and financially successful photographers of the past 20 years, through their late-in-life work at the “Dusseldorf School of Photography.” The Bernds’ now famous protégé‎s/students include Thomas Ruff and Andres Gursky. The latter is now on record for selling the world’s most expensive photographic print.

The Bernds were deeply enmeshed in showcasing industrial forms, which they arranged later in books and exhibitions as typologies. (Please read my post about their work and their influence.) They also were telling a story of the economy of the times and the industrial West, just as at was on its downward spiral, before the rise of industrial China and India.

My most recent photographic series on Tacoma and the Duwamish River industrial area of Seattle are in some ways indebted to this thinking, about how the industrial ports of the Pacific Northwest are the lands devoted to the overwhelming power of global trade, the last vestiges of Northwest industrial activity, and the world of high-paid blue collar work that is on the verge of extinction in the United States.

Here is the first of two provocative YouTube videos on the Bechers’ work and thinking, in their own words (you can see part two after part one finishes).