How Did Some Black and White Photos of Water Towers Transform Photography?

Two of the most important artists working as photographers in the second half of the twentieth century shaped our understanding of documentary image-making, largely through their photographs of cooling towers, coal bunkers, and water tanks.

As explored in this insightful video from T. Hopper, Bernd and Hilla Becher’s work and teaching had a huge impact on documentary and fine art photography, going on to influence significant figures in the photographic world, such as Andreas Gursky and Edward Burtynsky. Bernd and Hilla Becher's work has been exhibited at major arts institutions including the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

From my own experience, I feel Becher’s influence in the work of Belgian fine art photographer Jan Kempenaers, whose project, Spomenik, created an awareness of many of the monuments built in Former Yugoslavia to commemorate those who gave their lives during the Second World War. You can see the similarities in style — shot very straight and in very flat light — which received criticism for exaggerating the sense of abandonment and otherworldliness. As with the Bechers, the notion of memory plays a major role in the work.

Article thumbnail by Nathan Dumlao.

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German Simonson's picture

Thanks, Andy. Bechers legacy lives on, and I am trying to contribute with my modest efforts - :-)

Andy Day's picture

They are stunning.

Felix Hernandez's picture

Nice article!!!

Casper Maarly's picture

Check out the work of FSA photographers in the USA from decades earlier.