Sunday, November 7, 2010

Reading: Industrielandschaften

Yesterdays trip to my favorite discounted book shop turned up another gem of German photography, Industrielandschaften (Industrial Landscapes) by Bernd and Hilla Becher, at half the normal price on Amazon, but still quite expensive at 40 Euros.  However, money well spent, this book is a remarkable record of heavy industry in Europe and America.

The photos were taken over a period of 30-40 years, starting in the mid 1960's.  Each stark black and white image documents the industrial past, buildings that now are probably gone.  This is typical of their meticulous typographies of industrial buildings, however, these are the images that I am most interested in.  Using a large format camera each image is very carefully composed to present an objective view of the buildings in the frame, the goal was to record a vanishing landscape as faithfully as possible.  There is no romanticization or sunset lighting, the buildings are almost brutally photographed, these are machines that consume human beings.  Very noticeable is the complete absence of people in the frames, the building is the subject not the activity it is supporting.

Commented on many times, but still very striking on looking at these photographs for the first time is the sense of geometric design in the landscapes and the similarity between buildings separated by thousands of miles but linked in function. This is good example of form following function.  Another aspect of the photographs is the frequent inclusion of domestic buildings sitting alongside the grim factories and mines, I am immediately drawn to them with the thoughts of the lives that were lived there.

This is not a subject that I am necessarily drawn to for my own work, however, there is a great deal to learn from the compositional structure of their work and the methodical approach to documenting a critical aspect of our lives that is usually ignored or even shunned, due to mistaken views of its ugliness.

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