Bernd and Hilla Becher. Water Towers (detail), 1980.
Black-and-white photographs mounted on board, 617/8
x 497/8" (157 x 126.7 cm). Solomon R. Guggenheim
Museum, New York. Purchased with funds contributed
by Donald Jonas, 81.2793.
About the Art
Water Towers is a grid of nine black-and-white
photographs of water towers. In each image the
structures are cylindrical and are raised off the
ground by long supports. Looking closely at the
nine images, differences start to emerge: the
shapes of the water tanks vary, as do the metal
features ringing the tanks, the design of the
supports, and the environment in which each
Germany, and met Bernd Becher at the Dusseldorf Academy of Art. Together, they began
photographing the many industrial structures
of Germany, later exploring those of Europe and
the United States as well.
The Bechers, who married in 1961, explain
that these structures “tell the story of the time
before World War I, the steel boom.” They documented industrial sites at a time when they
were disappearing; “if we didn’t photograph
these structures right then,” says Bernd Becher,
“they would be lost.”
The Bechers are important both because of
their art, and because of their roles as teachers
and mentors to a younger generation of artists.
Bernd Becher taught at Dusseldorf Academy of
Art from 1976 until 1996, and many of his students from that era are now important artists
in their own right, including Candida Höfer,
Andras Gursky, and Thomas Struth.
Bernd and Hilla Becher
“We wanted to provide a viewpoint or rather a grammar for
people to understand and compare different structures.”
— Bernd Becher
About the Artists
Bernd (1931–2007) and Hilla (b. 1934) Becher
have been photographing industrial structures—such as water towers, silos, cooling towers, blast furnaces, and grain elevators—since
the late 1950s. Bernd Becher began his art career
as a painter, and was drawn to these structures
in part because of his childhood in Siegen, Germany, where he recalls that “practically in the
middle of the town, we had a small blast furnace. That’s completely unimaginable today….
All the grime spread through the old town
center. I could see, hear, and smell the smelter
from our window.” Becher began photographing
industrial structures by 1956, but these initial
works were intended as study images for prints,
sketches, and paintings.
Hilla Wobeser was born and raised in East
Germany. Unlike Bernd, she began her career
as a photographer. In 1954 she escaped to West