Bernd & Hilla Becher live near Dusseldorf, Germany. Over the years their extensive documentation of industrial structures has taken them outside of Germany to France, England, Scotland, Wales, Holland, and the United States. Their cool, objective photographs have earned them a special position in international photography. The Bechers follow in a distinguished line of German photographers including August Sander, Albert Renger-Patzsch, and Werner Mantz, all of whom contributed in different ways to the definition of “objective” photography. Though they have worked together since 1959, have exhibited widely (most recently representing Germany in the 1990 Venice Biennale), and influenced a generation of younger artists such as Thomas Ruff, Andreas Gursky and Thomas Struth, their work has been surprisingly little seen on the West Coast.
The installation at Fraenkel Gallery has been designed by the Bechers specifically for the new gallery space and draws from their widely praised exhibition at the Dia Center for the Arts in New York, which closed on June 21. For both exhibitions the Bechers have chosen to present their work as single images, encouraging the viewer to consider their photographs as independent entities rather than the typologies for which they were first recognized. Included in the exhibition are photographs of water towers, cooling towers, gas tanks, grain elevators, and blast furnaces. Taken in overcast skies or in the hazy sunlight of industrial zones, these seemingly artless photographs belie the elaborate processes and decisions involved in creating them — elevating the camera on scaffolds or ladders, waiting for clouds to block the sun, enlisting the cooperation of plant foremen and security guards to remove all signs of human life from the scene.
After twelve years and 110 exhibitions at 55 Grant Avenue, Fraenkel Gallery has moved to expanded quarters at 49 Geary Street. The new gallery was designed by C. David Robinson & Associates, whose principal, David Robinson, designed the interiors of the Friends of Photography/Ansel Adams Center and the recently completed the San Jose Museum of Art.
This exhibition is in association with Introductions 1991 sponsored by the San Francisco Art Dealers Association.