World's Fair

Industrial Strength Art

I came across this slide show by Christopher Benfey at Slate earlier this summer. It’s a series of photographs by the German photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher. Apparently Bernd passed away last year, so I don’t know (and Benfey didn’t know) if there will be more. All of the Becher’s pictures on display at a MoMA showing are black and white photos of industrial settings. Although they are images of a worked- and lived-in nature like those of Edward Burtynsky and other industrial landscape photographers, the ones recently displayed at MoMA are of places still at the center of those living worlds, not wastelands or polluted off-sites. “If one function of photography, as Susan Sontag argued long ago,” and as Benfey writes, “is to uncover new kinds of beauty, the Bechers have found it in unusual places.” Here’s one:


The photographs are part of the history of industrialization and the history of photography as a subset of that same industrialization. Slate‘s Benfey notes that the “astringent and impersonal attention [the Bechers] gave to all-but-anonymous buildings helped recover traditions reaching back to early daguerreotypes and to the frontal portraits of their compatriot August Sander.” Remember August Sander? If not, read more about him here.

The image above is “Zeche Consolidation, Gelsenkirchen, Ruhrgebiet, D, 1974.” It caught my eye because it reminded me of the convergences offering I had at Lawrence Weschler’s page some time back. Here, it’s this one. Go click and then come back. I’m taken again by the oddly organic appeal of the train tracks above.

And finally for this slapdash post, inquiring readers can apparently also read more about the Bechers in a forthcoming book by the incomparable Yale University Press (oh they’re good) Why Photography Matters as Art as Never Before, by Michael Fried.