Idris Khan, every… Bernd and Hilla Becher Spherical Type Gasholders, 2004
The objectivity that characterises Bernd and Hilla Becher’s recording of industrial architecture resulted in pictures that allow examination of the structures in almost forensic detail and their typological approach to display allows comparisons between buildings of the same type. The precision that comes from using a large format camera and the neutral lighting of an overcast sky makes for an extraordinary level of detail. There is a sense of completeness that comes from seeing multiple structures of each type.
Idris Khan has taken the Bechers’ work as a starting point for a different examination of the same territory. Rather than building up a picture of the whole from the precise detail of each individual image, Khan has taken an average. By overlaying all the Bechers’ images of a particular type of structure – for instance spherical type gasholders – Khan has produced sketchy pictures that seem to suggest an approximate version of how each type of building might be expected to look.
Bernd and Hilla Becher, Cooling TowersWood-Steel, 1959-77
It would, I suppose, be possible to see Bernd and Hilla Becher’s pictures of industrial structures as boring, particularly if one were to restrict one’s attention to one or two pictures, though for me I think fascination with the detail always wins out. These are perfect pictures. They record the appearance of industrial structures – water towers, gas holders, mine heads etc – with complete objectivity and in forensic detail. The pictures were made over a period nearly five decades – they started collaborating in 1959 and continued until Bernd Becher’s death in 2007 – using a large format camera in the neutral lighting of overcast weather. The structures are viewed straight on, so that verticals remain vertical; the large format camera helps here but the Bechers also worked from raised viewpoints so that we are looking at the structures as directly as possible.