Düsseldorf Photography in Frankfurt

The Städel Museum is showing an exhibition on the disciples of Bernd and Hilla Becher

Besides Andreas Gursky, Thomas Ruff and Thomas Struth, many lesser known photographers can be detected.

Bernd (1931–2007) and Hilla Becher (1934–2015), Half-Timber Houses, 1959-61 / 1974

Bernd (1931–2007) and Hilla Becher (1934–2015), Half-Timber Houses, 1959-61 / 1974

Only a few days left to visit the exhibition of the Städel Museum in Frankfurt on Germany's most successful group of photographers: the Becher Class, consisting of Andreas Gursky, (born 1955), Thomas Ruff (1958), Thomas Struth (1954), Axel Hütte (1951). Candida Höfer (1944), Petra Wunderlich (1954), Volker Döhne (1953), Tata Ronkholz (1949-97) and Jörg Sasse (1962).

They all were pupils of one husband-and-wife pair of photographers and teachers: Bernd (1931-2007) and Hilla Becher (1934-2015) whose best-known photos are those of former steel plants and other objects in Germany's Ruhr region (see titke photos and photo below).

Bernd (1931–2007) and Hilla Becher (1934–2015), Gutehoffnungshütte, Oberhausen, Ruhrgebiet, 1963

Bernd (1931–2007) and Hilla Becher (1934–2015), Gutehoffnungshütte, Oberhausen, Ruhrgebiet, 1963

The Becher couple took exceptional care and time when taking their photos, used a large-format camera (13 x 18 cm) and made several photos of the same object, each from a slightly different angle. Their photos were without people and mostly against a grey sky.

These characteristics led the Becher photos form the 1970s onward to be regarded by the art world as conceptual artworks rather than "mere" photographs. At the same time, photography proper became accepted in Europe as art, following the lead of the United States.

Volker Döhne (*1953), Untitled (Colourful), 1979 (2014)

Volker Döhne (*1953), Untitled (Colourful), 1979 (2014)

When in 1976 a photography class was created on the Düsseldorf Academy of Art - the same where Germany's most prominent artist, Gerhard Richter, had studied a few years earlier (see our article) - Bernd Becher became its professor and the above-mentioned artists his students. They are today labelled as the Düsseldorf School.

Thomas Struth (*1954), West 21st Street, Chelsea, New York, 1978 (1987) (1987)

Thomas Struth (*1954), West 21st Street, Chelsea, New York, 1978 (1987) (1987)

Many of them, especially Gursky, Ruff and Struth, have meanwhile become even more recognized than their teachers. One of the aims of the exhibition is to make the art world acquainted also with the lesser-known Becher disciples (see remaining photos)

Andreas Gursky (*1955), Paris, Montparnasse, 1993 (before 2003)

Andreas Gursky (*1955), Paris, Montparnasse, 1993 (before 2003)

But what connects these photographers with each other and their teachers and what separates them?

The curators of the exhibition, Martin Engler and Jana Baumann, argue that the Düsseldorf School photographers took "the interpenetrations (sic) of the mediums of painting and photography to an extreme", resulting in "the dissolution of media boundaries." This belief also shaped the exhibition's title: When Photographs Become Pictures.

Andreas Gursky (*1955), Doorman, Passport Control 1982 (2007)

Andreas Gursky (*1955), Doorman, Passport Control 1982 (2007)

Another interpretation may, however, be more accurate and less speculative: namely, that the Düsseldorf School taught its disciples to photograph in a rigorous way, both technically and in the choice of their motives. Not less but also not more.

Until the exhibition closes on 13 August, there is still time for everyone interested to make up his own mind.

Candida Höfer (*1944), Bibliothèque Nationale de France Paris XIII 1998, 1998

Candida Höfer (*1944), Bibliothèque Nationale de France Paris XIII 1998, 1998