November 13, 2015

Our Studio Visit with Hilla Becher

“There was always one of us who wanted to give up. But we were two, two people. And there was always one who said ‘Come on…’”

“There was always one of us who wanted to give up.  But we were two, two people.  And there was always one who said ‘Come on…’”

Bernd and Hilla Becher became icons of photography by essentially inventing their own art form. A decades-long pursuit undertaken by an unassuming West German couple to document old industrial structures in the Siegerland. Water towers, gas tanks, coal bunkers, blast furnaces, centered in frame, against a cool gray sky. Always in the center of the frame, always with the flat light. Hardly ever any people around. Displayed in a grid by what the Bechers called “typologies”.

Last fall, a team of four of us from SFMOMA visited Hilla Becher’s studio for a filmed interview. On a beautiful sunny day outside Düsseldorf, we met Mrs. Becher. Hilla. She was lovely. Sweet. Generous with her time. This 80-year-old woman, her eyes sparkling with mischief, with wonder at the oddity of the project that she and Bernd had set out for themselves. She spoke with us for a full hour, a rare English-language interview. She showed us her archive of negatives, meticulously labeled and color-coded (for example, water towers are marked in blue).

Several weeks ago, I heard the news about her passing. Since that time, my team and I have worked diligently to finish the clip you see here. I’m saddened by our loss, and extremely grateful to be able to share this encounter with you.

For more on Hilla Becher:

Hilla Becher, Photographer Who Chronicled Industrial Scenery, Dies at 81

How Hilla Becher found beauty and dignity in industrial decline


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