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Deconstructing Fairyland: Ethnographic Tracings of the Industrial Photography of Bernd and Hilla Becher Research in the Built Environment School of Architecture and the Built Environment, University of Newcastle

Timothy Burke B.Design (Architecture) Submitted for the Masters of Architecture, November 2013

Water Towers Typology of Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, Great Britain and USA, ca.1971-1998. [source: Bernd & Hilla Becher, Typologies, (Cambridge MA: MIT Press, 2003): p.39]



I hereby certify that the work embodied in this thesis is the result of original research and has not been submitted for a higher degree at any other university or institution.



Acknowledgements I would like to extend my sincere thanks to my supervisor Michael Chapman who’s insights and unassailable knowledge never ceased to amaze or inspire me throughout the course of this year. I would also like to thank the many people that cast their eyes over my thesis at its many stages, trying to discern the various misnomers, verbose syntax and implausibly long sentences. I would finally like to acknowledge the camaraderie of my fellow students in the architecture studio that patiently sat through my ramblings as I attempted to grasp the broader concept of my thesis topic.


Contents Plates




Introduction: Ur-ethnographie Bernd and Hilla Becher: Photographers of Ethnography

Part 1 (Etic): Industrie

10 12


Walter Benjamin’s Epistemological Language of Photography


Sigfried Giedion’s Industrialised Modernity


Part 2 (Emic): Fotographie New Objectivity and the Rise of Ethnography in Mass–Culture

Conclusion (Re)reading History


60 62

114 116


Appendix I: Wassertürme


Appendix II: Pithead Archeology


Appendix III: Wooden Cooling Towers


Appendix IV: Letter from Walter Benjamin


Appendix V: Bauen in Frankreich, Bauen in Eisen, Bauen in Eisenbeton





Plates Cover

Bernd & Hilla Becher, Wassertüme [Water Towers]: ‘Crailsheim, D 1980’; ‘Verviers, B 1983’; ‘Koblenz, D 1970’; ‘Pittsburg, Pa, USA 1980’; ‘Berka an der Wipper, D 1995’; ‘Pfalzfeld, D 1980’; ‘Mayen, Eifel, D 1979’; ‘Goole, Yorkshire, GB 1997’; ‘Leipzig, D 1998’; ‘Béziers, Hérault, F 1984’; ‘Fulda, D 1980’; ‘Donnas, Valle d’Aosta, I 1986’; ‘La Ferté Gaucher, F 1972’; ‘Amermont, F 1979’; & ‘Herve/Liége, B 1971’.

Plate 1

Bernd & Hilla Becher, ‘Kühltürme’ [Cooling Towers] (c.1964–1970).

Plate 2

Double–page spread from the magazine Bauwelt (1966).

Plate 3

Sigfried Giedion, ‘PONT TRANSBORDEUR (1905) and HARBOUR of MARSEILLES’, (1928).

Plate 4

Sigfried Giedion, ‘STEEL. Broken Steel Rod Enlarged Three Times,’ (1928).

Plate 5

Karl Blossfeldt, ‘Aspidium filix mas. Shield-fern. Young rolled-up fronds enlarged 3.6 times,’ (1928).

Plate 6

Moholy-Nagy, ‘Frog,’ (1925).

Plate 7

Albert Renger–Patzsch, ‘Zeche Rosenblumendelle,’ (1929).

Plate 8

Albert Renger-Patzsch, ‘Hot–blast Furnace Seen from Below, Herrenwyk Blast Furnace Plant, Lübeck,’ (1928).

Plate 9

Bernd & Hilla Becher, ‘Herrenwyk–Lübeck,’ (1983).

Plate 10 August Sander, ‘Odd Job Man’, (1905). Plate 11 Karl Blossfeldt, ‘Milk Plant’ (n.d). Plate 12 Bernd & Hilla Becher, Getreidesilos [Grain Elevators]: ‘Grant Park, Illinois, USA 1982’; ‘Jenera, Ohio, USA 1987’; ‘Kankakee, Illinois, USA 1982’; ‘Gilman, Illinois, USA 1982’; ‘Sycamore, Ohio, USA 1987’; ‘Band Lansick, D 1998’; ‘Duisbuerg, D 2002’; ‘Buffalo, New York, USA 1982’; ‘Neuss, Hafen, D 1996’; ‘Rethel/Reims, F 2000’; ‘Smithville, Ohio, USA 1987’; ‘Elliottt, USA 1982’; ‘Pipercity, Illinois, USA 1932’; ‘Bluffton, Ohio, USA 1987’; & ‘West Salem, Ohio, USA 1987’. Plate 13 Georges Bataille, Cover of DOCUMENTS 1, (1929).


Plate 14 Unknown, ‘Monnaies Grecques et Gauloises (agranies)’ [Greek and Gallic coins (enlarged)], (1929). Plate 15 Bernd & Hilla Becher, Wassertüme [Water Towers]: ‘Leeds, GB 1968’; ‘Hasselt, B 1958’; & ‘Newton le Willows, GB 1966’. Plate 16 Bernd & Hilla Becher, Wassertüme [Water Towers]: ‘Leipzig, D 1988’; ‘Leipzig, D 1988’; ‘Nienburg/Weser, D 1978’; ‘Elze/Hidesheim, D 1979’; ‘Müheim an der Ruhr, D 1963’; ‘Hagen, Westfalen, D 1963’; ‘Burg/ magdeburg, D 1995’; ‘Bielefeld, D 1980’; & ‘Stendal, Brandenburg, D 1995’. Plate 17 Bernd & Hilla Becher, Wassertüme [Water Towers]: ‘Gadsden, Alabama, USA 1983’; ‘Greencastle, Pennsylvania, USA 1974’; ‘Macedonia, Ohio, USA 1982’; ‘West Paterson, New Jersey, USA 1980’; ‘Findlay, Ohio, USA 1977’; ‘Gary, Indiana, USA 1977’; ‘Oregon, Ohio, USA 1977’; ‘Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA 1978’; & ‘Toledo, Ohio, USA 1978’. Plate 18 Bernd & Hilla Becher, Wassertüme [Water Towers]: ‘Dortmund-Grevel, D 1965’; ‘Essen-Borbeck, D 1965’; ‘Krefeld, D 1969’; ‘Duisburge-Wedau, D 1970’; ‘Bochum-Langendreerl, D 1965’; ‘Ahlen, Westfalen, D 1976’; ‘Gelsenkirchen-Bismarck, D 1970’; ‘Ahlen, Westfalen, D 1976’; ‘Weil am Rhein, D 1963’; ‘Essen-Burgaltendorf, D 1972’; ‘Wanne-Eickel, D 1970’; & ‘Altenkirchen, Westerwald, D 1980’. Plate 19 Bernd & Hilla Becher, Wassertüme [Water Towers]: ‘Homécourt, Lorraine, F 1982’; ‘Dieppe, Seine-Maritime, F 1972’; ‘Maisoncelles, Seine et Marne, F 1972’; ‘Scotteville-sur-Mer, Seine-Maritime, F 1972’; ‘Maiziéres-leslMertz, Mosselle, F 1972’; ‘Dole, Jura, F 1984’; ‘Dieulord, Lorraine, F 1972’; ‘Ormesson/Paris, F 1972’; ‘Carmaux, Tarn, F 1981’; ‘Béziers, Hérault, F 1984’; ‘Charleville-Méziéres, Ardennes, F 1985’; & ‘Francheville, Lorraine, F 1972’; Plate 20 Bernd & Hilla Becher, ‘Mannheim, D 1970’. Plate 21 Bernd & Hilla Becher, ‘Lens, Pas-de-Calais, F 1979’. Plate 22 Hilla Becher, ‘Bernd Becher photographing a mining town in Northern England,‘ (1968).



Abstract The photographic work of Bernd and Hilla Becher—who's oeuvre of industrial photography is unmatched in both scale and rigour—have, since the late 1960s, witnessed their work transgress the institutional categories of Concept–Art, Minimalism and, most significantly, New Objectivity. The Bechers’ industrial ‘typologies’ demarcate the boundaries of archaeology and ethnography within the discipline of photography. It is the fecundity of photography in the Twentieth-Century that has allowed the practice of ethnography—among the radical experimentation of the creative advancements of the photograph as an art-object—to emerge in cultural criticism of art theory. It is here, within the confines of the procedures of avant–gardist photographers, where the domain of architectural photography and art photography spectacularly conflate. Historical (re)readings of architecture inevitably emerge from this radical recoding: employing ethnography as an aperture to view architectural history from the historicised position of the art–photographer.

This thesis engages with ethnography as defined by the Bechers, and the influential historical period between 1925—1935 that engaged heavily with a popularised, or ‘lay’ (Ur-)ethnography within German mass–culture. In particular, this paper will examine Walter Benjamin‘s epistemological re-conceptualisation of photography in 1930s, and the ‘photo-essays’ that defined the 1920s photographic movement, New Objectivity: plotting the tradition of the ethnographic praxis that defined the domain in which Bernd and Hilla Becher operate. The discourse surrounding photography of this period plays an essential role in illuminating the undercurrents of industrialisation in defining architecture, art and philosophy of the Weimar Republic. Similarly, this paper will examine the historical discourse surrounding industrialisation and architecture with an emphasis on Sigfried Giedion’s Building in France, Building in Iron, Building in FerroConcrete (1928). Here, an expanded field of photographic discourse may shed new light on the industrial imagery of modernity.


Introduction: Ur-ethnographie


“By close-ups of the things around us, by focusing on hidden details of familiar objects, by exploring common-place milieus under the ingenious guidance of the camera, the film [...] extends our comprehension of the necessities which rule our lives.” — Walter Benjamin 1

1 Walter

Benjamin, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction," in

Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, ed. Hannah Arendt (New York: Schocken Books, 1969), p.238. Originally published in French as Walter Benjamin, "L'œuvre d'art à l'époque de sa reproduction méchanisée," in Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung (Paris: Félix Alcan, 1936), pp.40–68.


Bernd and Hilla Becher: Photographers of Ethnography Since the 1920s, the procedures of avant–garde photographers have obscured the boundaries of photography and art. Within this demarcation, photography and philosophy coalesced: Marxism, for example, recognised the ability of the mechanical reproducibility of photography to empower art, making it available for the proletarian and wrenching the austere beau monde modes of the bourgeois artwork. The camera was instrumental in articulating the cultural (or political) Zeitgeist, exuded by the sweeping epistemological changes of industrialisation. Not surprisingly then, architectural discursive praxis was inevitably drawn into the expanding pull of photography. Architecture was given an unprecedented forum to be viewed, eschewed, championed, challenged, dismantled and disseminated. It is on this platform that the industrial photography of Bernd Becher 2 (1931—2007) and Hilla Becher (b. 1934) emerges in architectural discourse. Working together, their oeuvre cultivated the industrial monuments of the post–industrial era with absolute objectivity, allowing ‘new ways of seeing’ the industrial imagery that inspired architecture and the avant–garde. The way their lens fell across the heavy industry in Europe and America has infiltrated the iconoclastic aesthetic categories of these (architectural) structures.

Originating from Germany, Bernd and Hilla Becher operated for most of the second half of the Twentieth-Century: their photographic material roughly

2 In

some cases Bernd Becher may appear in literature as Bernhard Becher (Bernd

being the diminutive form of Bernhard in German), however in almost all instances he will appear as Bernd Becher.


spanning between 1959—1994.3 The Bechers’ oeuvre is considered one of the seminal bodies of work in the photographic movement New Objectivity,4 which is notorious for the disassociation of subjectivity within art–photography. Essential to a reading of this movement, Walter Benjamin (1829—1940)— arguably one of the most influential philosophers and cultural critics of the Twentieth-Century—provides an essential perspective of the cultural Zeitgeist: specifically how the culture of photography will develop a language for modernism. In a definition of the broad cultural movement, Benjamin writes,


it should be recognised that retrospective exhibitions of their work are still

occurring. See: Susanne Lange, Bernd and Hilla Becher: Life and Work, trans. Jeremy Gaines (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2005). p.9. 4New

Objectivity may also be known as Die Neue Sachlichkeit, Bauhaus Photography,

and New Vision: variations therein attempt to describe stylistic differences according to content and artistic methodology. New Objectivity is derived from the title Neue Sachlichkeit, coined by G.F. Hartlaub (director of the Kunsthalle Gallery at Mannheim) who curated an exhibition of fine art titled Neue Sachlichkeit in 1925. This exhibition travelled around central Germany featuring post-expressionist artists George Grosz, Otto Dix, and Max Beckmann, showcasing the emerging avant–garde art of the left wing social revolutionists of the Weimar Republic. The collectivist ideals represented in these artists’ work provided, for the first time, a definitive point of departure that would come to affect mass–culture in the arts, architecture, theatre, and music. Photography thrived in the arts as the literal materialisation of emerging values of utility, realism and factual portrayal. Photography provided a medium for the artist to withdraw towards anonymity and away from subjectivity and expressionism in favour of collectivist ideals. See: Eleanir Hight, Picturing Modernism: Moholy-Nagy and Photography in Weimar Germany

(Cambridge & London: MIT Press, 1995). p.97.; & Michael Mack,

"Architecture, Industry and Photography: Excavating German Identity," in Reconstructing Space: Architecture in Recent German Photography, ed. Michael Mack (London: AA Publications, 1999), pp.8-9.


Plate 1 Cooling Towers — Belgium, France, Germany & Great Britain, ca.1964—1970 [source: Becher, Typologies: plate 20]


[t]he ‘[N]ew [O]bjectivity’—die Neue Sachlichkeit—was a movement which began in the plastic arts and painting in reaction to the storm, stress and religious mysticism of later German expressionism. It replaced the distortions and exaggerations of the latter with a documentary, factual and unsentimental style. 5

Here, the development of New Objectivity as movement in photography is owed to the 1920s exploration by the photographers Albert Renger–Patzsch, August Sander and Karl Blossfeldt during the cultural development of the Weimar Republic.6 As acolytes of these proponents, the Bechers’ oeuvre is unique in their quasi-encyclopaedic photography of industrial architecture. Their objective stance is enhanced by the way they composed their work into gridded tableaux: denoting comparable ‘typologies’ of industrial structures that reflect function, region, and era.7 It is here, within the confines of this methodological approach, that their oeuvre implicitly reveals the morphological evolution of industrial structures (see plate 1). In an elaboration of their motivations, the Bechers reveal that, 5 Walter

Benjamin, "The Author as Producer," in Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms,

Autobiographical Writings, ed. Peter Demetz (New York: Schocken Books, 1978), p.88. 6Weimar

Republik (1919—1933). For New Objectivity during this period see: Juliana D

Kreinik, "The Canvas and the Camera in Weimar Germany: A New Objectivity in Painting and Photography of the 1920s" (PhD, New York University, 2008).; Michael Jennings, "Agriculture, Industry, and the Birth of the Photo-Essay in the Late Weimar Republic," October 93(2000): pp.23-56.; & the chapter ‘Weimar: Anonymity & Objectivity’ in Mack, "Architecture, Industry and Photography: Excavating German Identity," pp.8-9. 7 The

Bechers’ typologies are sometimes referred as a visual abstraction of

hermeneutics See: Lange, Bernd and Hilla Becher: Life and Work: p.9. See also: JeanChristophe Ammann, Bewegung im Kopf. Vom Umgang mit der Kunst (Regensberg: Lindinger and Schmin Verlag, 1993), p.126; & Manfred Lurker, Wörterbunch der Symbolik, 3rd. ed. (Stuttgart: Alfred Kröner Verlag, 1938), p.717.


[t]he main object of our work is to prove that the technological forms are the forms of our day even if they have not emerged for form’s sake. Just as medieval thought is manifest in a Gothic cathedral, our age reveals itself in technological buildings and devices. The significance of the architect has dwindles sharply, while the main achievement quite evidently stems today from the domain of technology. 8

It is within the Bechers’ methodological approach that they attempt to prove this doctrine. Drawing from the developments of their predecessors, the Bechers’ photography is imbued with methodologies that are more familiar to other disciplines: the various strains of the natural sciences, archaeology, anthropology, history and the social sciences resonate within their work. Hilla Becher acknowledges this concept, as a central theme to their work, suggesting that their methodology

is like a system in biology where types of species of animals are divided into families, types, and subjects. Without this ordering principle we would have lost the overviews. So we limited ourselves to the repetition of building types. 9

This notion of morphological categorisation is comparable to ethnography. Here lies the most fundamental quality of their work in its application to architectural discourse: the undercurrents of ethnography that permeate the 8 Unpublished

working recording by Bernd and Hilla Becher (1971) as quoted in

Susanne Lange, "On the Photographs of Bernd and Hilla Becher," in Vergleichende Konzeptionen: August Sander, Karl Blossfeldt, Albert Renger-Patzsch, Bernd, Hilla Becher (Munich: Schirmer / Mosel, 1997), p.155. 9 Hilla

Becher, as quoted in "The Birth of the Photographic View from the spirit of

History: Bernd and Hilla Becher in conversation with Heinz–Norbert Jocks," Kunstforum International 171(2004). Excerpted in Lange, Bernd and Hilla Becher: Life and Work: p. 215.


Bechers’ oeuvre, and their unerring objective methodology, provide an opportunity to use their photography of industrial structures as ethnographic data to position, test, examine and radicalise architectural theory. A study of their ethnographic industrial imagery allows an expanded field of knowledge in the discipline of architecture by drawing from the field of photography. The crucial connection between ethnography and the photography of Bernd and Hilla Becher offers historical illuminations of their industrial subject matter. Ethnography, defined in relation to New Objectivity, and by the Bechers photography, is essential in uncovering how their methodology can contribute to architectural theory.

Through their industrial subject matter, the Bechers bring aspects of architecture into their photography, making available a historical architectural insight through their methodological photography of industrial structures. This methodology makes available unique perspectives on industry with an emphasis on illuminating architectural aspects: aspects that, although undervalued in contemporary scholarship, remain significant to the history of architecture. There is arguably a bias in architectural history that has neglected


Plate 2 The Bechers’ Half-Timbered Houses as arranged in Bauwelt 1/2 (1966) [source: Becher, Bauwelt: pp.23-23, 26-27]


this industrial material.10 In the late 1960s, the Bechers’ photography emerged in architectural discourse for the first time: their work appeared several German architecture journals including the monthly publication for the Deutscher Werkbund, Werk un Zeit (1965), 11 as well as the Weimar weekly architectural journal, Bauwelt (1966, plate 2), 12 and Deutsche Bauzeitung (1967).13 As a result in their work in the United Kingdom, the Bechers appeared in English for the first time in an architectural forum, finding their way into


is, the industrial material offered by the Bechers. This paper acknowledges, but

must exclude the contemporaneous industrial scholarship of Friedrich Georg Jünger, On the Perfection of Technology (1944); Max Horkeimer and Theodor W. Adorno, Dialectics of the Enlightenment (1947); Kal Jaspers, On the Origins and Aim of History (1949); Werner Heisenberg, The Image Nature in Physics Today (1955); Günter Anders, The Obsolence of Man 1956); Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker, The Responsibility of Science in the Nuclear Age (1957); & Arnold Gehlen, The Soul in the Technical Age (1967); Jürgen Habermas, One-Dimensional Man (1967); & Theodor W. Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, (1969). For the relationship of these texts to the Bechers photography, see: Armin Zweite, "Bernd & Hilla “Suggestion for a Way of Seeing”: Ten Key Ideas," in Bernd & Hilla Becher: Typologies, ed. Armin Zweite (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003), pp.24-25. 11

Volker Kahmen, "Möglichkeiten einer Dokumentation der Inustriearchiteckure. Zu

fotografischen Arbeiten Bern Bechers," [Possibilities for documentation of Industrial architecture. For photographic works of Bern Becher.] Werk und Zeit 14, no. 7/8 (1965): p.3ff. 12This

issue contains the early photographs of Bernd and Hilla Bechers’ half-timbered

houses typology. The Bechers have since been revisited twice in this serial. See: Bernd Becher and Hilla Becher, Bauwelt 1/2(1966): pp.21-27.; & Escher, Gudrun, Mühleim, “Bernd und Hilla Becher. Typologien industrieller Bauten, in Düsseldorf,” Bauwelt 38 (January 2013), pp.21-27. 13 See:

Wend Fischer, "Anonyme Industriebauten. Fotografische Dokumentation von

Hilla und Bernd Becher," [Anonymous Industrial Buildings: Photographic Documentation of Bernd and Hilla Becher.] Deutsche Bauzeitung 101, no. 11 (1967): pp.868-82. See also: Deutsche Bauzeitung 105, no.4 (March 1971): pp.414-16.


modestly sized articles in The Architectural Review in 1967 and again twice in 1968. 14 In 1969, the Bechers featured in Time Magazine,15 asserting the significance of their expanding notoriety and, in equal measure, the growing interest in popular culture regarding industrial scholarship.16 Despite the steady release of publication regarding their work in art theory after the 1960s (which in some part may be due to Bernd Becher’s teaching position at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf from 1976 to 1996), the industrial material offered by the Bechers has scarcely been revisited in architectural discussions since, 14The

article provides eleven examples of the Bechers’ photography of water towers

and succinct descriptions. Apart from a brief background of their themes, the most significant insight provide reads: [t]he Bechers’ pioneer work deserves the wildest support because the interest they are helping to arouse in structures of this kind comes at a time when they are rapidly disappearing as a result of the process of modernisation, technological change and the relocation of industry. See: "Wassertürme," The Architectural Review 141, no. 841 (1967): pp.227-30. (Refer to appendix I).; "Pithead Archaeology," The Architectural Review 143, no. 852 (1968): pp. 155-57. (Refer to appendix II).; & "Wooden Cooling Towers," The Architectural Review 143, no. 856 (1968): pp.472-76. (Refer to appendix III). 15See:

"Beauty in the Awful," Time Magazine 94, no. 10 (1969): pp.40-41.


industrial imagery can be traced through the scholarship of Francis D.

Klingender, Art and Industrial Revolution (London,1947); Reyner Banham, Theory and Design in the First Machine Age (London, 1960); Kenneth Frampton, “Labor, Work and Architecture,” in Charles Jencks and George Baird (eds), Meaning and Architecture (New York, 1969): pp.151-167; Kenneth Frampton, “Industrialisation and the Crises in Architecture,” Oppositions no.1 (September 1973) Neil Cossons, The BP Book of Industrial Archaeology (Newton Abbot, 1975); Maurice Daumas, L’archéologie industrielle en France (Paris, 1980); Antonello Negri et. al, Archeologia Industriale. Monumenti del Lavoro fra XVIII e XX secolo (Vicenza, 1983); Edgar Jones, Industrial Architecture in Britain 1750—1939 (London, 1985); Adrian Linters, Industria. Architecture industrielle en Belgique (Lüttich/Brussele, 1986); & The Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Industrial Archaeology (Oxford, 1992). See: Zweite, "Bernd & Hilla “Suggestion for a Way of Seeing”: Ten Key Ideas," pp.28-29.


and never to its full potential. English architectural critic, Reyner Banham, is the sole exception to this. In an introduction to the Bechers’ 1993 publication, Water Towers, Banham, in a two page essay, recognises that their work is perfectly set up for closer architectural examination, allegorically relating their work as “a dusty Corpus Machinorum awaiting the attention of some dry scholar with his magnifying glass and box of file cards.” 17

While the methodological practices of New Objectivity empowered critical theory in expanding the field of photography (by stylistically borrowing from the visual edifice of external disciplines, i.e. the natural sciences), there has been a latency in architectural discourse that has overlooked a study of this broadly influenced movement. This lends itself to a timely research opportunity that—despite the Bechers’ highly awarded status in German photography, and their vast archive of architectural photography—scholarship is yet to appreciate the value and insight their oeuvre offers to contemporary architectural discourse. In recent times, publication of their work has gained momentum in art theory. With the death of Bernd Becher in 2007 there has been a resurgence in theoretical discourse that retrospectively examines the significance of their life's work and its heavy influence on German culture. Therefore it can be argued that research that engages their work from an architectural agenda is overdue, and would coincide with the current expansion of new industrial centres that are concurrent with the disappearance of industrial relics of the past two centuries.


Banham, "The Becher Vision," in Water Towers, ed. Bernd Becher and Hilla

Becher (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1993), p.7.


Research Methodology The primary methodology that structures this thesis draws from the historical zone of critical theory in order to interweave the multiple strands of discourse in the theory of art–photography—as they relate to the Bechers’ photographic material of industrial structures—and applies them to the study of architecture. This paper draws heavily from the discipline of photography (framed by philosophy and New Objectivity), focussing on the formulation of lay– ethnography18 in mass-culture. While specific to fields typically outside the sphere of architecture, they serve to contribute to an understanding architectural history, particularly in relation to industrialisation. This methodological approach positions a historicised reading of ethnography as an aperture to illuminate photography, fine arts, philosophy, and architectural history and theory in equal measure.

In order to advance an argument using ethnography as the methodology to examine industrial photography, ethnography must be qualified by applying a limitation to its definition. Ethnography, as defined by the Encyclopædia Britannica, traces the etymology of ethnography, or ethnology, from the Greek: ἔθνος (ethnos), race; and γράφειν (grapho), to write (ethnography); or λόγος (logos), science (ethnology).19 To elaborate, ethnography is the methodology for ethnology, the scientific field. The definition reads:


pseudo, or layman)-ethnography. Georges Bataille refers this as Heterology.

19 Ethnology

and Ethnography, 11th ed., 29 vols., vol. 9, Encyclopædia Britannica

(London & New York: Encyclopaedia Britannica Company, 1911).


sciences which in their narrowest sense deal respectively with man as a racial unit (mankind), i.e. his development through the family and tribal stages into national life, and with the distribution over the earth of the races and nations thus formed.20

This definition satisfies ethnography as positioned historically within the discipline of anthropology. Critical theory, however, has repositioned ethnography (or critical ethnography) within other fields. In reframing ethnography in a post-modern era, James Clifford owns the theoretical space concerning ethnography in critical discourse.21 By Clifford’s definition,

[m]odern ethnography appears in several forms, traditional and innovative. As an academic practice it cannot be separated from anthropology. Seen more generally, it is simply diverse ways of thinking and writing about culture from a standpoint of participant observation. [...] This predicament—not limited to scholars, writers, artists, or intellectuals—responds to the TwentiethCentury's unprecedented overlay of traditions. A modern "ethnography" of conjunctures, constantly moving between cultures, does not, like its Western alter ego "anthropology," aspire to survey the full range of human diversity or development.22

Clifford’s work coincides with a fascination with ethnography in the 1970s and 1980s, motivated by the resurgence of discourse surrounding experiments of the surrealist avant–garde reframing of ethnography in the 1920s and 1930s. 20Ethnology 21See:

and Ethnography, vol. 9.

James Clifford and George E. Marcus, eds., Writing Culture: The Poetics and

Politics of Ethnography (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986). And James Clifford, The Predicament of Culture: Twentieth-Century Ethnography, Literature, and Art (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988). 22 James

Clifford, "The Pure Product go Crazy," in The Predicament of Culture:

Twentieth-Century Ethnography, Literature, and Art (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988), p.10.


The work of Bernd and Hill Becher falls under the same category as Clifford, revisiting and recoding (as this dissertation will explore) relationships between ethnography and photography of the 1920s (New Objectivity). The epistemological realignment of ethnography into the discipline of art– photography will, in this dissertation, be referred to as Ur-ethnography,23 drawing from the philosophical edifice of Walter Benjamin’s Ur-history.

In order to advance ethnography as a methodological instrument in this dissertation, contemporary ethnographic practices based on a historical premise will interweave with the contextual undercurrent of New Objectivity (as an institutional ethnographic structure which supports and legitimises an interpretative definition of Ur-ethnography). Michael Angrosino identifies that, at the core of an ethnological practice that ensures academic rigour, ethnographic methodology is structured into distinct etic and emic studies.24 By Angrosino’s definition, etic research involves theoretical analysis that considers the existence of patterns in light of existing literature, while emic research employs descriptive analysis of patterns, regularities, themes to illuminate the ontological position of the art objects under the study.25 As a result, this discussion has been dived into two parts: Part I (Etic): Industrie and Part II (Emic): Fotographie. By positioning industrial architecture within this broader context of ethnology and art theory, and within the confines of a

23 The

German prefix ‘ur-’, meaning proto-, primitive, or original: derived from

ursprünglich (meaning original), or ursprung (origin). The prefix is capitalised when used with noun, i.e. Ur-ethnography (noun), ur-ethnographic (adjective) or urethnographically (adverb). Here, Ur-ethnography is the prototype of ethnography in art-photography at its point of origin. 24Michael

Angrosino, Doing Ethnographic and Observational Research (London: SAGE

Publications, 2007). p.75. 25Angrosino,


Doing Ethnographic and Observational Research: pp.67-75.

critique launched at Bernd and Hilla Becher, the specific creative edifices of photography and Ur-ethnography are favoured over the strict architectural definitions. This reframing of photography is intended to amplify the significance of industrial structures within architectural discourse, and to advance ethnography in architectural history.

Moreover, the alternative model of Ur-ethnography acknowledges the important contribution of knowledge in the field of visual arts provided by Michel Foucault, who’s methodological approach in art history is historically aligned to the Bechers’ work, and presupposes the contribution made by Clifford. In his text, The Archeology of Knowledge (1976), a post-structuralist approach to history can amplify the significance of Ur-ethnography in mapping the work of Bernd and Hilla Becher, and locates it within critical discourse. As Foucault writes,

[t]ake the notion of tradition: it is intended to give a special temporal status to a group of phenomena that are both successive and identical (or at least similar): it makes it possible to rethink the dispersion of history in the form of the same; it allows a reduction of the difference proper to every beginning, in order to pursue without discontinuity the endless search for the origin; tradition enables us to isolate the new against a background of permanence, and to transfer its merits to originality, to genius, to the decisions proper to individuals. There is the notion of influence, which provides a support—of too magical a kind to be very amenable to analysis—for the facts of transmission and communication; which refers to an apparently casual process (but neither rigorous demolition nor theoretical definition) the phenomena of resemblance or repetition; which links, at a distance and through time [...] such defined unities as individuals oeuvres, notions, or theories. 26


Foucault, The Archeology of Knowledge, trans. A. M. Sheridan Smith (New

York: Harper & Row, 1976). pp.23-24.


By this definition critical theory is essential to conflate ethnographic art– photography and architectural theory in order to demarcate the traditional assumptions of where industry and architecture collide. Therefore this paper will privilege the discussion of tradition (in unraveling Ur-ethnography) to uncover the points of intersection of the various discourses. This stance is significant in propagating architectural outcomes, but recognises that, as Foucault concedes simply “intersects at certain points problems that are met with in other fields. [...] These problems may, if one so wishes, be labeled structuralism. But only under certain conditions: they do not, of themselves, cover the entire methodological field of history, they occupy one part of that field.” 27

By coalescing the various strands of competing (but relevant)

unfinished discourses—made available through the work of Bernd and Hilla Becher—a subversive, post-structuralist advancement of (Ur-)ethnography will illuminate a more complete history of architecture.

Critical theory serves to illuminate the structure upon which knowledge is based in the field of ethnology, and develops a dialectical relationship between historical knowledge and critical perspectives of the author. To ensure academic credibility and integrity this thesis will synthesise a study of relevant primary sources, and contemporary, peer reviewed secondary source literature from authors within their relevant disciplines of study. However, it should be noted that qualitative research of this type has limitations and partialities: it is confined by the subjective and interpretative field of critical theory; so too will inevitable exclusions and concessions exist within the scope of this dissertation; and most significantly, literature is confined to existing Anglophone translations. Moreover, it must be noted that this paper is written from a post—critical position and, as such, acknowledges Hal Foster’s



The Archeology of Knowledge: p.11.

recognition of the decline of critical theory in a post-critical era. 28 However, the significance of redeploying the devices of critical-theory to illuminate a study of the Bechers (in relation to New Objectivity and Ur-ethnography) is wholly intentional.


launched critique of hermeneutics and critical theory in science studies and art

theory, citing Bruno Latour, Jacques Rancière and Michel Foucault. See Hal Foster, "Post–Critical," OCTOBER 139(2012): pp.4-6. See also: Jacques Rancière, Aesthetics and Its Discontents, trans. Steven Cochran (Cambridge: Polity, 2009), pp. 46–47; Bruno Latour, “Why Has Critique Run Out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern,” Critical Inquiry 30 (Winter 2004), p. 237; & Bruno Latour, “What Is Iconoclash? Or Is There a World Beyond the Image Wars?,” in Iconoclash: Beyond the Image Wars in Science, Religion, and Art, ed. Latour and Peter Weibel (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2002).


Part 1 (Etic): Industrie


“The most fantastic creations of fairyland are near to being realised before our very eyes. . . . Each day our factories turn out wonders as great as those produced by Doctor Faustus with his book of magic.” — Eugéne Buret 29


Buret, De la Misére des classes laborieuses en France et en Angleterre, vol. 2

(Paris, 1840). pp.161-62. As quoted in Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, trans. Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin (Cambridge & London: Harvard University Press, 1999). p.673. Translated text prepared on the basis of Rolf Tiedemann and Hermann Schweppenhäuser, eds., Das Passagen-Werk, vol. 5, Gesammelte Schriften (Berlin: Suhramp Verlag, 1982).


Walter Benjamin’s Epistemological Language of Photography It has already been established in various historical discourses that the major changes which occurred in Germany in the interwar period as the Deutscher Werkbund 30

propelled the nation into a new industrial era, inspiring new

political and cultural motivations for art in the process. With the continual development of the camera and mechanical reproduction, the Deutscher Werkbund developed its own characteristic language of photography in order to disseminate a modern industrial architecture in Germany. 31 During this time, photography was both symptomatic of the intense paradigmatic changes sweeping Germany, and simultaneously, came to define it. Here the work of


Werkbund, an association of artists, architects and industrialists, influenced

the Bauhaus & modernity across Europe. This is particularly relevant in the architectural work of Mies van der Rohe, Walter Gropius, Bruno Taut, & Le Corbusier, and the theoretical writings of Theodor Lipps and Wilhelm Worringer. For a definitive explanation of the origins of these movements and how they manifested highly influential multidisciplinary global force, see: Reyner Banham, Theory and Design in the First Machine Age (London: The Architectural Press, 1960). pp.68-88. 31Michael

Mack elaborates on the Deutscher Werkbund—organised by Walter Gropius—

undertaking archival of industrial imagery in order to disseminate functionalism in modernity. He writes, [a]t a meeting of the Werkbund’s steering committee in Würzburg in February 1909, it was agreed to gather a collection of photographs of exemplary factories for an exhibition at the annual conference in Frankfurt later that year. [...] By 1910 the collection included forty thousand prints and formed a resource for the Werkbund magazine (Der Industriebau) and Yearbook, as well as for local exhibits and international touring shows. See Mack, "Architecture, Industry and Photography: Excavating German Identity," pp. 7-8.


Walter Benjamin and Siegfried Giedion are wedded.32 Their commentary of the epistemological changes occurring in Germany during the 1920s and 1930s illuminate multiple perspectives of mass-culture and the Zeitgeist. Here, in contemporary scholarship, Susan Buck-Morss argues that “Benjamin's critical understanding of mass society disrupts the tradition of modernism.” 33 Moreover, in Buck-Morss’ text, Benjamin's Passagen–Werk: Redeeming Mass Culture for the Revolution (1983), she writes,

Benjamin's answer is clear: The result is the liquidation of art in its traditional form. Arts power as illuminations moves over into industry (painting into advertising, architecture into technical engineering, handcrafts or sculpture into the industrial arts) creating what we have come to call mass-culture. 34

32 One

should acknowledge the contribution in contemporary scholarship of Hilde

Heynen when engaging a dialogue that espouses Benjamin and Giedion. Identifying their engagements with art-theory, Heynen discern’s the distinction between modernism and the avant–garde, identifying their work with the latter. See: Hilde Heynen, "What Belongs to Architecture? Avant-Garde ideas in the Modern Movement," Journal of Architecture 4(1999).; & Hilde Heynen, Architecture and Modernity: A Critique (London: The MIT Press, 1999). 33

Buck-Morss, "Aesthetics and Anaesthetics,” p.5.


is advanced a decade later by Detlef Mertins,who comments, [f]or Benjamin, it was the destiny of the working masses to realise the noninstrumental potentiality of industry and yet the latent physiognomy of technical forms remained constrained under the rule of the bourgeoisie, just as the workers were themselves.

See: Susan Buck-Morss, "Benjamin's Passagen-Werk: Redeeming Mass Culture for the Revolution," New German Critique, no. 29 (1983): p.212.; Detlef Mertins, "Walter Benjamin and the Tectonic Unconscious: Using Architecture as an Optical Instrument," in The Optic of Walter Benjamin, ed. Alex Coles, Vol. 3 of de-, dis-, ex- (London: Black Dog Publishing, 1999), p.197.


It is to this foundation that the photography of Bernd and Hilla Becher can be traced. Their way of viewing industry, despite its decline in the postmodern era, implicitly builds upon the language for industrialisation that emerged during this period. To Reyner Banham, in his essay “The Becher Vision” (1993), this way of viewing not only uniquely cultivated the value of industry in the post-industrial age, it implicitly challenged the austerity of modernism. As Banham writes,

[t]he industrial vision of the Bechers has become part of the way we see today; our shared experience of their dead-pan portraits of pit-head gear and water towers and blast furnaces has been an essential part of what one might properly term (paraphrasing le Corbusier), la Formation de l’Optique PostModerne. 35

This notion resonates with Walter Benjamin’s way of viewing industrial structures as fossils, from which an ontological Zeitgeist is traceable.36 Observing this in the industrial photography of the Bechers, this is what Banham refers to as Industrial Archeology, 37 or what Susanne Lange—in her monograph of the Bechers’ oeuvre—would refer to as ethnographic subdivision.38

35That 36

is, “the formation of postmodern optics.”See: Banham, "The Becher Vision," p.7.

Summarising Benjamin’s position, Buck-Morss recognises that,“Benjamin viewed the

world of industrial object as fossils, as the trace of living history that can be read from the surfaces of the surviving objects, and it introduces the significance of visual “concreteness” in Benjamin's methodology of dialectical images.” Susan Buck-Morss, The Dialectics of Seeing: Walter Benjamin and the Arcades Project (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1989). p.56. 37Banham, 38Lange,


“The Becher Vision,” p.7.

Bernd and Hilla Becher: Life and Work: p.50.

The purpose of this chapter is to etically trace the theoretical patterns of industrialisation and ethnography, as they might be applied to an interpretation of the Bechers’ photography. This chapter structures the historic literature of Benjamin and Giedion in two parts to unpack the different disciplinary schools of thought, however at multiple points the dialogue between the two will be examined. This section is important in establishing an understanding of the influential precedent that Giedion and Benjamin set in photographic and industrial discourse. It will observe that, although significant in the discourse of architecture, their work can be seen to have a larger influence on photography. By privileging their theoretical constructs as they relate to the nature of industrialisation and photography, with the intention to unravel ur-ethnographic tracing on the photography of Bernd and Hilla Becher, these construct may be reapplied to contemporary architectural theory.

Within the literature of the highly influential German cultural–critic and philosopher, Walter Benjamin, philosophical praxis serves to provide critical interpretations in discerning the industrial photography of Bernd and Hilla Becher when applying a study of ethnography to their work.39 The significance


Benjamin is recognised in contemporary ethnographic theory. Ball and Smith

(2001), discuss the implication of Benjamin’s theory of aura in the photographic representation of pre-modern and modern cultures. Here, Benjamin’s position is adopted to illuminate the modes of pictorial representation and the relative position of the observer. Moreover, Ball and Smith emphasis the impact of photographic ethnography as “on the development and apprehension of the visual cultures of modernity and late modernity.” See: Mike Ball and Greg Smith, "Technologies of Realism? Ethnographic Uses of Photography and Film," in Handbook of Ethnography, ed. Paul Atkinson, et al. (London: SAGE Publications, 2001), p.303.


of Benjamin’s prolific commentary is well established in various academic discourses: at multiple points, the polemic discursive practices of New Objectivity come under scrutiny as Benjamin explores the epistemological language of photography. During the Weimar period, Benjamin wrote a series of seminal works that asserted the role of photography as an emerging aperture that emancipated art through industrialisation, particularly his 1930s photography essays: A Small History of Photography (1931),40 The Author as Producer (1934),41 and The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (1936).42 While the philosophic tropes of Benjamin were not a central concern to the Bechers, Benjamin’s Marxist commentary on the transformative role of photography on the political Zeitgeist is inseparable with contemporary poststructuralist scholarship when approaching German photographic art-theory.

In Author as Producer (1934)—Benjamin’s polemic Marxist critique on the various modes of (political) discourse—Benjamin posits the radical value of the author over the aesthetic commoditisation of the art-object. 43 For Benjamin,


Walter Benjamin, "A Small History of Photography," in Walter Benjamin, One Way

Street and Other Writings, ed. Edmund Jephcott and Kingsley Shorter (London: Verso, 1985). Originally published as Walter Benjamin, "Kleine Geschichte der Photographie," Die Literarische Welt, no. 38 (1931). 41Benjamin,

"The Author as Producer."


"The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction."


As Benjamin writes, [a] question which is somewhat more modest, which is less encompassing, but which seems to me to have a better chance of being answered. Namely, instead of asking: what is the relationship of a work of art to the relationships of production of the time? Is it in accord with them, is it reactionary or does it strive to overthrow them, is it revolutionary?

See: Benjamin, “the Author as Producer,” p.85.


photography “[...]can no longer depict a tenement block or a refuse heap without transfiguring it.” 44 Here, he draws the concept of umfunktionierung (refunctioning) from Bertolt Brecht,45

a notion he expands upon in das

Passagen–Werk. As Benjamin writes,

Brecht elaborated the concept of ‘functional transformation’ (Umfunktionierung) for the transformation of the forms and instruments of production by a progressive intelligentsia—interested in the liberation of the means of production and thus useful in the class struggle. He was the first to formulate for intellectuals this far-reaching demand: do not simply transmit the apparatus of production without simultaneously changing it to the maximum extent possible in the direction of socialism.46

Here, one can observe the way umfunktionierung occurs in the industrial photography of the Bechers, as they transforming the functional machinery of imagery into an art-object. Moreover, drawing from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Ur-phenomena, Benjamin’s illuminations on the Ur-history47


obligatory in establishing the philosophical and cultural domain that propagate the Bechers’ trans-generational return to New Objectivity in the 1960s. In locating a philosophical foundation of Ur-ethnography, one can observe Benjamin's philosophical tracings of the concept of origin as it corresponds to Ur-history. In, as early as his 1935 Paris Exposé, had Benjamin began to explore the significance of this concept, writing, “[i]n the dream, in which each epoch entertains images of its successor, the latter appears 44Benjamin, 45See:

"The Author as Producer," p.230.

Bertolt Brecht, Brecht on Theatre: The Development of an Aesthetic, ed. and

trans. John Willett (London: Methuen, 1964). 46

Benjamin, “the Author as Producer,” p.230.


German this term appears as Urgeschichte.


wedded to elements of Ur-history [...] as stored in the unconscious of the collective.” 48 Here, Benjamin drew heavily from Carl Gustav Jung’s Urbilder (Archetypes), that is, the inherited collective unconscious from primitive human. 49 Jung, as Benjamin cites in his ongoing manuscript das Passagen– Werk, proposed that,

the creative process . . . consists in an unconscious activation of the [Urbilder] and in an . . . elaboration of this [Ur-image] into the finished work. By giving it shape, the artist in some measure translates this image into the language of the present. . . . Therein lies the social significance of art: . . . it conjures up the forms in which the Zeitgeist, the spirit of the age, is most lacking. The unsatisfied yearning of the artist reaches back to the [Ur-image] in the unconscious which is best fitted to compensate the . . . one-sidedness of the [Zeitgeist]. [...] As [the artist] . . . brings it to consciousness, the image changes its form until it can be excepted by the minds of his contemporaries.50


Benjamin, "Paris, the Capital of the Nineteenth Century: Exposé of 1935," in

The Arcades Project (Cambridge & London: Harvard University Press, 1999), p.4. 49One

should note the German translation of ‘Urbilder’ as ‘archetype’ is comprised of

the the German prefix ‘Ur‘ applied to ‘bilder,’ (which translates to picture). The Oxford dictionary defines archetype as “an original which has been imitated; a prototype.” To Jung, Urbilder (in psychology and psychoanalysis) refers to the inherited collective unconscious from primitive man or, as the Oxford reads, “Psychoanalysis (in Jungian theory) a primitive mental image inherited from the earliest human ancestors, and supposed to be present in the collective unconscious”. In a similar vein, one can see the definition of Ur-ethnography enhanced by the psyche of Jung’s Urbilder. See: “archetype,” The Oxford English Dictionary, 3rd ed. (Oxford University Press, 2008); See also: Tiedemann, "Dialectics at a Standstill," p.941. 50Carl

G. Jung, "Über die Beziehungen der analytischen Psychologie zum dichterischen

Kunstwerk," in Seelenprobleme der Gegenwart (Zürich, Leipzig & Stuttgart: 1932), p. 71. Republished in Carl G. Jung, "On the Relation of Analytical Psychology to Poetry," in Jung, Complete Works (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970-1992), pp.82-83. As cited in Benjamin, The Arcades Project: pp.471-72.


Recognising the significance of Benjamin’s interest in the Jungian Urbilder. Rolf Tiedemann notes that, “in the 1935 exposé, [...] Benjamin localised dialectical images as dream and wish images in the collective subconscious, [...] should refer back to the ‘Ur-past’.” 51 Tiedemann continues, suggesting that, “according to which in the dialectical image is mythical, ur-historical experiences of the collective unconscious, [...] Benjamin devised his dialectic at a standstill in order to make such traces visible.” 52 Here, Benjamin’s dialectical image dispenses structuralist modes of historic continuity: the dialectical image allows the observer of history to critically observe the cultural forces that contribute to the Zeitgeist. 53 Buck-Morss furthers this concept of the dialectical image in her 1989 exposé of Benjamin’s das Passagen–Werk. Here she writes,

by attaching themselves as surface ornamentation to the industrial and technological forms which have just come into existence, collective wish images imbue the merely new with the radical political mean, inscribing visually on the products of the new means of production: an Ur-image.54


Tiedemann, "Dialectics at a Standstill: Approaches to the Passagen–Werk," in The

Arcades Project (Cambridge & London: Harvard University Press, 1999), p.943. 52Tiedemann, 53See

"Dialectics at a Standstill," p.945.

fore example, in das Passagen–Werk, where Benjemin posits: [i]mage is that wherein what has been comes together in a flash with the now to form a constellation. In other words, image is dialectics at a standstill. [...] Only dialectical images are genuine images (that is, not archaic); and the place where one encounters them is language.”

See: Benjamin, The Arcades Project: p.462. 54 Buck-Morss

continues: “Benjamin situated the dialectic solely within the objective

forces of superstructure, that is, within the mechanical technologies of arts reproduction.” See: Buck-Morss, The Dialectics of Seeing: pp.117-141.


It is on this platform that the Bechers’ photography resides. While their methodology remains rooted a structuralist representation of industry, poststructuralist interpretations emerge when their photography is viewed dialectically with ur-historical phenomena.

To determine which phenomena elicit ur-ethnographic tracings, Benjamin’s recoding of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Urphänomen (Ur-phenomenon) may assist the fathoming of origins. In his early works, Benjamin drew heavily from Goethe, exploring this concept in his texts Goethe’s Wahlverwandtschaften (Goethe's Elective Affinities, 1925), and Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiel (Origin of German Tragic Drama, 1928). 55 Expanding on these earlier works, Benjamin, in das Passagen–Werk, explores the Goethean concept of history, He writes,

[o]rigin—it is, in effect, the concept of Ur-phenomenon extracted from the pagan context of nature and brought into the Jewish contexts of history. [...] I pursue the origin of the forms and mutations, [...] [s]een from the standpoint of causality, however (and that means considered as the causes), these facts would not be [Ur-]phenomena; they become such only insofar as in their own individual development—”unfolding” might be a better term—they give rise to the whole series of the arcade’s concrete historical forms.56

Here, Benjamin reveals his Marxist roots, as he dissembles Karl Marx’s philosophical praxis on economy and culture to inform a “perceptible Ur-


Benjamin, The Origin of German Tragic Drama, trans. John Osborne (London:

Verso, 1998). 56 Excluded

from this quote, but significant the the broader discussion of origins,

Benjamin reveals that, ”[n]ow in my work on the arcades I am equally concerned with fathoming an origin.” See: Benjamin, The Arcades Project: p.462.


phenomenon, from out of which proceed all manifestations of life.” 57 For Benjamin, “the dialectical image is that form of the historical object which satisfies Goethe’s requirements for the object of analysis: to exhibit a genuine synthesis. It is the [Ur-]phenomenon of history.” 58 Here, the dialectical image, as Tiedemann writes, was to “explicate this concept of truth in Origin.”59 In Aesthetics and Anaesthetics (1992) Buck-Morss adds, “[p]erception becomes experience only when it connects with sense-memories of the past.” 60

Benjamin, taking as a point of departure the philosophic recoding of origin in the cultural unconscious,61 firmly establishes the cognitive and historic value of Ur-ethnography. In das Passagen–Werk, Benjamin writes, “[w]hat distinguishes 57Benjamin,

The Arcades Project: p.460.


The Arcades Project: p.474.

59Tiedemann, 60 Here,

"Dialectics at a Standstill," p.940-41.

disassembling Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical

Reproduction, Buck-Morss proposes that experience and memory is impoverished by shock, that “industrial production no less than modern warfare, [...] shock is the very essence of modern experience.” According to Buck-Morss, large scale industrialisation denies experience: the repression of memory and shell-shock of industry result in, what Buck-Morss terms, anaesthetics. Here the technical apparatus of he camera, she argues, medicates against this repression by delivering culturally rich experiences. See: Buck-Morss, "Aesthetics and Anaesthetics,” pp.16-17. 61Detlef

Mertins, in Walter Benjamin and the Tectonic Unconscious (1999), interrogates

the relationship of this concept to architecture. He writes, [t]he writings of Walter Benjamin include appropriations and transformations of modernist architectural history and theory that offer an opportunity to broaden the interpretation of how the relationship between the 'unconscious' and technologically aided 'optics' is figured in his commentaries on cultural modernity. See: Mertins, "Walter Benjamin and the Tectonic Unconscious: Using Architecture as an Optical Instrument," p.196.


images from the ‘essences’ of phenomenology is their historical index. [...] These images are to be thought of entirely apart from the categories of the ‘human sciences.’ ” 62 Therein lies the significant role of both the scholar and the artist in radicalising the Zeitgeist: what Benjamin would refer to as the artist-asphilosopher. In an elaboration by Buck-Morss, Benjamin’s artist-as-philosopher, using different view points, “can analyse modern reality with a scientific, politically critical eye”. 63 Expanding this notion in The Origin of Negative Dialectics (1977) Buck-Morss writes,

[a]s opposed to either the “naturalist” (empirical) or “supernatural” (theological) interpretation, Benjamin’s argument moved dialectically between these two. His method was to construct a series of dialectical images meant to “illuminate.” 64

Here the artist-as-philosopher, using the dialectical Ur-image of the cultural unconscious, could be called the artist-as-ethnographer. At this point, the value of the Bechers’ photographic methodology of industrial ‘typologies’ is made clear. Their ethnographic recoding of photography—drawing from the human sciences—inscribes meaning beneficial to an architectural reading of their work. What remains to be seen, however, is the way in which their work aligns with architectural theory.


The Arcades Project: p.462.

63 Buck-Morss,

"Benjamin's Passagen-Werk: Redeeming Mass Culture for the

Revolution," p.213. 64 Susan

Buck-Morss, The Origin of Negative Dialectics: Theodor W. Adorno, Walter

Benjamin, and the Frankfurt Institute (Sussex: The Harvestor Press, 1977). p.141.



The iron skeleton has found its true form.

A play of enormous forces is held in equilibrium. But not rigidly, like support and load, rather, almost floating.

It is the equilibrium of balance beam daring poised against continually varying forces. [...]




Giedion, Building in France, Building in Iron, Building in Ferro-concrete, trans.

Duncan Berry (Los Angeles: The Getty Center for the History of Art, 1995). p.142. Emphasis in original.


Sigfried Giedion’s Industrialised Modernity Drawing heavily from Giedion’s writing on industrialisation and the architectural avant–garde, this section frames the methods in which photographic praxis—within the modes of architectural history and theory– illuminate the development of architectural morphologies. Focusing on the formative views of the paradigmatic changes industrialisation was exerting on architecture, a historical overview positions both the Bechers’ subject matter, and the historical location of industrial photography within architectural theory. By establishing the Bechers in the boarder context of architectural discourse, a critique of Giedion’s industrial writings serve to illuminate the foundations on which the Bechers operated.

Sigfried Giedion (1888—1968), Swiss born historian and architectural critic, in 1928 published Bauen in Frankreich, Bauen in Eisen, Bauen in Eisenbeton.66 Despite not being translated to English until 1995, this publication positioned Giedion as a leading advocate of the modern movement in architecture.67 This reputation was, by no small measure, assisted by Giedion’s role as the first


Giedion, Bauen in Frankreich, Bauen in Eisen, Bauen in Eisenbeton (Leipzig:

Klinkhardt & Biermann, 1928). Translated in English as Building in France, Building in Iron, Building in Ferroconcrete, trans. Duncan Berry (Los Angeles: The Getty Centre for the History of Art, 1995). Here-forth will be referred to as Building in France. 67 Many

of the ideas Giedion first explored in Buildings in Iron, continued to gain

currency in his later publications as they developed, including his most acclaimed publication, Space, Time & Architecture (1941). Recent scholarship that engaged this publication as well as his other highly regarded work, Mechanisation Takes Command (1948), may explain the late translation to of Building in France to English.


secretary–general for the Congrès Internationaux d'Architecture Moderne (CIAM)—the International Congresses of Modern Architecture.68


significance of this work in the context of an ethnographic study of industrial architecture lies in Giedion’s interest in historicising the advancements of industrialised construction practices in order to disseminate an architecture that, in retrospect, is regarded as the beginnings of modernity in Europe. Here, Giedion’s advancement of architectural history, in light of industrialisation, briefly engaged with the rapid expansion of photographic theory, critically framing it within architectural discourse. Building in France simultaneously records an essential historical perspective during this significant period of change and, owing to its heavy influence to those who supported the work, illuminates contemporaneous discourse. 69 Within this context, ethnography can shed new light on this text vis-á-vis with an interpretation of the influence of


held this position from its formation in 1928 to its disbandment in 1959. A

complete history of CIAM and its significant contribution to the Modern Movement in Europe can be found in Part VI of Sigfried Giedion, Space, Time and Architecture - The Growth of a New Tradition, (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1941) and Eric Mumford, The CIAM Discourse on Urbanism - 1928-1960, (Cambridge MA & London: MIT Press, 2000). 69 See,

for example, fellow Swiss architect and historian, Peter Meyer (1894—1984),

who’s own publication Moderne Architektur und Tradition (Zürich: Girsberger, 1927) presented competing views on what Meyer labeled ‘New Monumentalism.’ The contention between the two authors stemmed from Meyer’s critique that Giedion’s industrialised ‘new style’ lacked human dimension and social responsibility.


Moravánszky writes on this division between the two schools of thought, commenting that, “[f]or Meyer, Giedion’s embrace of technology as the driving force of modern culture was just as unacceptable as Meyer’s emphasis on convention and historical continuity for Giedion.” See: Ákos Moravánszky, "Peter Meyer and the Swiss Discourse on Monumentality," Future anterior: journal of historic preservation history, theory, & criticism 8, no. 1 (2011): p.16.


industrial and photographic edifices as they relate to the photography of Bernd and Hilla Becher.

Among the many supporters of Building in France, Walter Benjamin championed the book, positioning it in the broader discursive modes of massculture. In a letter to Giedion (see appendix IV), Benjamin praises the publication with enthusiasm, writing that Giedion’s work had “electrified”70 him and that he intended to read it at great depth once he could “get in touch with [his] own related investigations,” 71 referring here to his ongoing work with das Passagen–Werk (The Arcades Project).72 Benjamin goes on to tell Giedion:

I am studying in your book (among so many other things that most directly concern me) the difference between radical conviction and radical knowledge that refreshes your heart. You possess the latter, and therefore you are able to illuminate, or rather to uncover, the tradition by observing the present. 73

In more recent scholarship, Detlef Mertins attempts to unravel the relationship of Giedion’s ideas in Building in France, within Benjamin’s das Passagen–

70 Letter

from Walter Benjamin, 15 February 1929, Archiv S. Giedion, Institus Für

Geschichte und Theorie der Architektur,


Zurich, as cited in Giedion,

Building in France, Building in Iron, Building in Ferroconcrete: p.53. 71 Letter

from Benjamin in, Giedion, Building in France, Building in Iron, Building in

Ferroconcrete: p.53. 72 Benjamin

would come to quote Giedion's Building in France, Buildings in Iron,

Building in Ferroconcrete more than twenty times in Das Passagen-Werk. 73 Letter

from Benjamin in, Giedion, Building in France, Building in Iron, Building in

Ferroconcrete: p.53.


Werk.74 As Benjamin began to reveal in his letter to Giedion, Mertins writes that Benjamin saw Giedion’s imagery of iron construction in Building in France as “optical instruments for glimpsing a space interwoven with unconsciousness, a new world of space the image of which had seemingly been captured by photography,” 75evoking Benjamin’s Ur-history. This idea is advanced by David Dunster in contemporary scholarship, who acknowledges that Giedion photographed much of the material in Building in France, allowing the images to be more “direct and visceral,” 76 qualities that appealed to Benjamin's bibliophilic das Passagen–Werk.77

In one such example, Benjamin, citing

Giedion, notes:

“[i]n the Nineteenth-Century,” [Giedion] writes, “construction plays the role of the subconscious.” Wouldn’t it be better to say “the role of bodily processes”— around which “artistic” architectures gather, like dreams around the framework of physiological processes? 78

Here, the idea of the artistic recognises the new architecture: Giedion’s industrialised modernity, placing it in the broader Ur-historical domain of 74According

to Mertins, Benjamin was already highly interested in iron construction,

particularly Alfred Gotthold Meyer's 1907 publication, Eisenbauten (Iron Constructions) —a text Benjamin regarded as a "prototype of materialist historiography"40—in which Meyer framed iron within tectonic theory. See Mertins, "Walter Benjamin and the Tectonic Unconscious: Using Architecture as an Optical Instrument," p.202. See also: Detlef Mertins, "System and Freedom: Siegfried Giedeon, Emil Kaufmann and the Constitution of Architectural Modernity," in Autonomy and Ideology: Positioning an Avant-Garde in America, ed. Robert Somol (New York: The Monacelli Press, 1997). 75Mertins, 76David

“Walter Benjamin and the Tectonic Unconscious”: p.196.

Dunster, "Architectural form," Architectural review 221, no. 1320 (2007): p.37.


“Architectural Form,” p.37.



The Arcades Project: p.858.

industrialisation.79 For Giedion this architecture must reconcile all disciplines of life. Giedion articulates this endeavour borrowing from the concept of Gesamtkunstwerk,80 writing,

[t]he whole range of human labor was to be embraced: all disciplines [...] from industry, from machines shown at work, to raw materials, to processed materials, to fine and applied arts. This is due to a remarkable need for a premature synthesis, [...] the synthesis of the arts. 81

Here, one can discern the intersection of industry and art: in retrospect, foreshadowing the Bechers’ industrial photography. Benjamin’s Marxism resurfaces as he rebuts, “[b]ut these “premature syntheses” also bespeak a persistent endeavour to close up the space of existence and of development.

79 The

implications of which meant that the once traditional, formal qualities of

architecture became redundant, and the perpetual discourse on architectural style was irrelevant as construction—the emerging force of the time—reshaped the industry. Giedion argues that “there is no ‘style,’ no proper building style,” to Giedion there is only “collective design,” made possible by Giedion concept of “constructors”. Here, architectural significance resurfaces through the tectonics of construction as opposed to style. See: Giedion, Building in France, Building in Iron, Building in Ferroconcrete: p. 91. Emphasis in original. 80 German

phrase meaning the synthesis of the arts, particularly how it relates to

Gesamtwerk (life), referring here to to the synthesis of Giedion’s invisible life process. Giedion would have been exposed to Lászlo Moholy–Nagy’s critique on Gesamtkunstwerk—in his most significant text, Malerei Fotografie Film (1925)—during the period Giedion worked on Building in France. See: Annette Michelson, ""Where Is Your Rupture?": Mass Culture and the Gesamtkunstwerk," October 56(1991). 81Giedion,

Building in France, Building in Iron, Building in Ferroconcrete: p.121.


To prevent the “airing-out of the classes.” 82 In recent scholarship, Susan BuckMorss observes that here, “Benjamin was suggesting that the objective (and progressive) tendency of industrialisation is to fuse art and technology [...] and that this fusion is, indeed, the very essence of socialist culture.” 83 Nonetheless, the ‘radicalism‘ that Benjamin praises in Geidion’s Building in France, Building in Iron, Building in Ferroconcrete validates the historical position of the work that, in the words of Harry Francis Mallgrave, “helped to shape the direction of modernism for the next four decades” 84


phrase, as cited in Benjamin's Das Passagen-Werk, appears as follows: “[a]ll regions and indeed, retrospectively, all times. From farming and mining, from industry and from the machines that were displayed in operation, to raw materials and processed materials, to art and the applied arts, In all these we see a peculiar demand for premature synthesis, of a kind that is characteristic of the Nineteenth Century in other areas as well: think of the total work of art. Apart from indubitably utilitarian motives, the century wanted to generate a vision of the human cosmos, as launched in a new movement.” [...] But these “premature syntheses” also bespeak a persistent endeavour to close up the space of existence and of development. To prevent the “airing-out of the classes”

See: Benjamin, The Arcades Project: pp.175-176. 83Buck-Morss,

The Dialectics of Seeing: Walter Benjamin and the Arcades Project: pp.

125-26. 84Giedion,


Building in France, Building in Iron, Building in Ferroconcrete: p.236.

It could be easy to mistake Giedion’s radicalism as a bias that over emphasises the significance of industry.85 However, for Giedion the disassociation with the ‘the invisible life process’—the invisible forces of social change caused by industrialisation, made visible (as Giedion attempts to prove) by the expanding construction practices of engineers—was the defining problem of the age. Giedion’s concept of Gesamtkunstwerk resurfaces here as the synthesis of art becomes a tool to emancipate architecture. As Giedion writes,

[w]e say that art anticipates, but when we are convinced of the invisibility of the life process, we must add: industry, technology, and construction also anticipate. Like construction, industry is an inner expression of the life process. [...] INDUSTRY anticipates society’s inner upheaval just as construction anticipates the future expression of building.86

Giedion attempted to illustrate this using both the new materials of industrialisation—iron and ferroconcrete—and the emerging techniques of 85 See,

for example, the 1940s critique launched by American historian and literary

critic, Lewis Mumford (1895—1990). Mumford criticises the legitimacy of how Giedion apotheosised the structures that emerged out of industrialisation. Mumford identified Giedion as a “leader of the mechanical rigorists,” suggesting that he placed more value in the “monumental and the symbolic”qualities of industrial architecture than humane qualities. Mumford went on, writing that, [t]he rigorists placed the mechanical functions of a building above its human functions: they neglected the feelings, the sentiments, and the interests of the person who was to occupy it. Instead of regarding engineering as a foundation for form, they treated it as an end. See: Lewis Mumford, "The Sky Line: Status Quo (Bay Region Style)," The New Yorker, Oct. 11 1947, pp.104-10. Republished in Lewis Mumford, "What Is Happening to Modern Architecture: A Symposium At the Museum of Modern Art," The Museum of Modern Art Bulletin 15, no. 3 (1948). 86 Giedion,

Building in France, Building in Iron, Building in Ferroconcrete: pp.87-88.

Emphasis in original.


construction.87 In contemporary scholarship, David Dunster recognises that, for Giedion, “only these can combine to produce the new forms that embody the Zeitgeist in a truthful fashion,” 88 beyond the shallow formalism that, combined with the “advances of science, the emerging religion of progress,” 89 would lead to a progressive architectural language for the avant–garde. For Giedion, this was a significant point to prove: one that could be only validated through the devices of industry, far removed from the old pathos of architecture. 90 Giedion, championing the engineered architecture of non-traditional building types, writes, 87 Arguing

for a new architectural language in light of new industrial construction

practices, Giedion contended that the functional requirements of construction allowed an architectonic expression that emancipated architecture from the stylistic residuals of its past. Expanding on Walter Curt Behrendt’s concept of Materialstil (Material Style) in Der Sieg des neuen Baustils (1927), Giedion cites iron construction as one such liberator. He writes, “[t]aking into account the molecular properties of iron, science had to study the material’s specific laws, and constructors had to find a formative process that differed from the treatment of wood.” See: Giedion, Building in France, Building in Iron, Building in Ferroconcrete: p.110. Emphasis in original. See also: Walter Curt Behrendt, Der Sieg des neuen Baustils (Stuttgart: Dr. F Wedekind & Co., 1927). p.5. 88Dunster,

“Architectural Form,” p.37.


“Architectural Form,” p.37.


Giedion, while industry expressed the tectonic of construction, architecture was

still carrying stylistic residuals. Unlike Peter Meyer’s attempt to reconcile the two, Giedion contested the idea of monumentality that architecture carried. Giedion writes, [t]he concept of architecture is linked to the material of stone. Heaviness and monumentality belong to the nature of this material, just as the clear division between supporting and supported parts does. [...] Architecture is linked to the concept of “monumentality.”

When the new building materials—iron and

ferroconcrete—assume the forms of gravity and “monumentality,” they are essentially misused. See: Giedion, Building in France, Building in Iron, Building in Ferroconcrete: p.90. Emphasis in original.


[t]oday everything rests on these elements. [...] We must concern ourselves with this raw material: with gray buildings, market halls, warehouses, exhibitions. However unimportant they may appear to be for the aesthetic titillation: In them lies the kernel!91

To Giedion the kernel, or the crux, is the future of architecture. He strongly believed that from these typologies one could “extract [...] elements that will be the point of departure for the future,”92 that is, the decisive point of departure that would lead to the avant–garde.93 It is within this resolute belief that the significance of Giedion’s work emerges. Giedion constructed much of the second half of Building in France to illustrate this point, relying on an ethnography of industrial and modern morphologies. Here the industrial imagery of Bernd and Hilla Becher intersect with architectural discourse: Giedion’s ethnographic edifice of industrial material carries the same aura that the Bechers propagate.

One such example of this exists in Giedion’s portrayal of the Pont Transbordeur harbour bridge in Marseilles. Here Giedion presents a series of photographs (plate 3) accompanied with the caption: “[i]t cannot be excluded from the urban image, [...] its interplay with the city is neither ‘spatial’ nor ‘plastic’. It


Building in France, Building in Iron, Building in Ferroconcrete: p.99.


Building in France, Building in Iron, Building in Ferroconcrete: p.85.


traces this point of departure as far back as the 1850’s, citing the french

romanticist Théophile Gautier, who wrote, [w]e will create a characteristic architecture of our own at the moment we make use of the new means offered by the new industries. The application of cast iron permits and enforces many new forms. See: Théophile Gautier,  Journal La Presse, (1850), as quoted in Giedion, Building in France, Building in Iron, Building in Ferroconcrete: p.94.


Plate 3 Pont Transbordeur, Harbour of Marseilles, ca. 1905 [source: Giedion, Building in France, Building in Iron, Building in Ferroconcrete, p.90]


engenders floating relations and interpenetrations. Boundaries of architecture are blurred.” 94

The notion of blurring boundaries 95

should not be

underemphasised in this instance: the Gesamtkunstwerk re-emerges in Pont Transbordeur, as Giedion writes

[t]he boundaries of individual fields blur. Where does science end, where does art begin, what is applied technology what belongs to pure knowledge? Fields permeate and fertilise each other as they overlap. It is hardly of interest to us today where the conceptual boundary between art and science is drawn. 96

This perspective is particularly illuminating of—beyond Giedion’s challenging of the boundaries of engineering and architecture—the undercurrents of contemporaneous experimentation, dissembling, cross-fertilisation and repackaging of disciplines outside of architecture. This is particularly obvious in Benjamin’s political and philosophical unpacking of Giedion’s portrayal of Pont Transbordeur. To Benjamin this industrialised structure empowers a 94 Giedion,

Building in France, Building in Iron, Building in Ferroconcrete: p.90.

Emphasis in original. 95 Giedion

writes that the boundaries between construction and architecture are ill

defined, that “[t]he fields overlap: one did not start with building members but with train rails.“ Giedion continues, suggesting that these typologies share a common ground: they “serve transient purposes: market halls, railroad stations, exhibitions,” especially “the factory and the large warehouse as iron-skeleton construction.” Referencing this passage in the das Passagen–Werk, Benjamin took this notion further, observing that “[w]hat was once functional and transitory, however, begins today, at an altered tempo, to seem formal and stable.” Much like Giedion, for Benjamin believed that the question of the ‘new’ architecture “has long since been solved by hangars and silos.“ See: Giedion, Building in France, Building in Iron, Building in Ferroconcrete: p. 110. Emphasis in original; and Benjamin, The Arcades Project: pp.154-55 96Giedion,

Building in France, Building in Iron, Building in Ferroconcrete: p.87.


“philosophic structure”, for the “philosopher who wishes here to garner fresh perspectives.” 97

Here, Benjamin’s Umfunktionierung of architecture has

radically transposed the Marxist ideal that relieves architecture from the bourgeoisie and empowers the proletariat. As Benjamin writes,

[the] magnificent urban views opened up by new constructions in iron— Giedion, in his Bauen in Frankreich [...], gives excellent examples with the Pont Transbordeur in Marseilles—for a long time were evident only to workers and engineers. For in those days who besides the engineer and the proletarian had climbed the steps that alone made it possible to recognise what was new and decisive about these structures. 98

Moreover, the repackaging of Buildings in France can extend beyond philosophy and politics, it also critically brings photography and ethnography into the discussion of industrial architecture. Much of Building in France continues as per the example of Pont Transbordeur, that is, using photography and captions to catalogue architecture in this way. The significance of this method should certainly not be undervalued: Benjamin expanded on this technique in his essay “Author as Producer” (1934), suggesting that “[w]hat we require of the photographer is the ability to give [their] picture the caption that wrenches it from modish commerce and gives it a revolutionary and useful value.” 99 The image rich historical portrayal of this evolution is unmistakably ethnographic, in-fact, this is outlined in the preliminary remarks:


The Arcades Project: p.459.


The Arcades Project: p.156.


"The Author as Producer," p.230.


[t]his book is written and designed so that [/] it is possible for the hurried reader to understand the developmental path from the captioned illustrations. 100

This emerged out of Giedion’s collaboration with the art photographer (and friend) Lászlo Moholy-Nagy101 for the publication of Building in France. During this period Moholy-Nagy was already deeply engaged with the discourse that challenged traditional notions of photography. The relationship between the two would suggest Giedion was (at the very least) aware of the expanding field of discourse in photography. This is evidenced in Building in France when observing the photographic enlargement of steel (plate 4), a technique analogous to the photography of Karl Blossfeldt (plate 5).

Here, Building in France exhibits the emergence of Ur-ethnography in architectural discourse, historically positioning the concept in the language of modernity. Moreover, in the introduction to Building in France, Sokratis Georgiadis, observes how the publication began Giedion’s “long standing and

100 Giedion,

Building in France, Building in Iron, Building in Ferroconcrete: p.83.

Emphasis in original. 101Giedion

collaborated with Moholy–Nagy against the publisher’s wishes, indicating

his commitment to advance the illustration of his ideas through the photography and captions. Moholy-Nagy is recognised in the preliminary remarks of Building in France as the designer of the jacket cover (see appendix V) and for overseeing typography and layout. See: Giedion, Building in France, Building in Iron, Building in Ferroconcrete: pp.49, 83.


Plate 4 Broken Steel Rod Enlarged 3.0 Times [source: Giedion, Building in France, Building in Iron, Building in Ferroconcrete, p.101]

Plate 5 Aspidium filix mas. Shield Fern, Enlarged 3.6 Times [source: Blossfeldt, Art Forms in Nature, plate 56]


intensive commitment to architectural photography.” 102 Furthermore, Giedion’s 1957 essay, “History and the Architect,” is telling of his endeavour into architectural photography in Building in France, and the significance of his relationship with Moholy-Nagy. In this essay, Giedion positions an argument that amplifies the role of both the scholar and artist as essential components when observing history through (what is comparable to a) visual ethnography. Here Giedion illustrates the vital role they both cultivate and challenge the Zeitgeist, arguing that

[t]he historian has to give insight into what is happening in the changing structure of his own time. His observations must always run parallel with those specialists of optical vision whom we call artists, because it is they who set down the symbols for what is going on in the innermost life of the period before the rest of us are aware of it.103

In this regard, the relationship between the historian and artist is essential: calling to mind Benjamin’s artist-as-philosopher. In this mindset one can clearly see the insights the photography of Bernd and Hilla Becher may impart in interpreting the industrial Zeitgeist. In this way Building in France foreshadows the work of the Bechers: Giedion’s unerring projection of industrial edifices onto the discourse of modernity opened a discourse that engages the field of ethnography in architectural history. Perhaps this is because this development occurred concurrently to similar explorations within the polemic photographic movement New Objectivity. Here, one can see the influential precedent Giedion set in the 1920s pervade photography of perhaps more than 102Giedion,

Building in France, Building in Iron, Building in Ferroconcrete: p.72.

103 Sigfried

Giedion, "History and the Architect," Journal of Architectural Education

(1947-1974) 12, no. 2 (1957), p. 15. Sigfried Giedion, "History and the Architect," Journal of Architectural Education (1947-1974) 12, no. 2 (1957): p.15.


architecture. In order to develop this argument, however, a more comprehensive understanding of the development of New Objectivity is required to locate the cultural significance of the Bechers’ oeuvre, especially in regard to how their work may illuminate the relationship of ethnography and (industrial) architecture.



Part 2 (Emic): Fotographie


“Technology is above requiring an interpretation; it interprets itself. You merely need to select the right objects and place them precisely in the picture; then they tell their story of their own accord.” — Hilla Becher104


Becher, as quoted by Michael Köhler in “Interview mit Bernd und Hilla Becher,”

in Künstler. Kritisches Lexikon der Gegenwartskunst (Munich, 1989), p.14. As cited in Zweite, “Bernd & Hilla Becher’s Suggestion for a Way of Seeing," p.9.


New Objectivity and the Rise of Ethnography in Mass–Culture While positing the interpretative value of industry represented in the photographic artwork, Bernd and Hilla Becher determine that, in-fact, “it interprets itself.” 105 Here, evoking Walter Benjamin's concept of Urbilder, one can observe in the Bechers morphological industrial photography a way of viewing the collective unconscious that was imbued in the monuments of the industrial age. In this chapter, the emphasis is shifted from the philosophic and architectural theories that were influenced by the industrial epoch, and instead focuses on the way it was historically represented in photographic art-theory and practice. 106 The chapter sketches a history of New Objectivity and (lay) ethnography as an emerging apparatus in mass-culture, privileging the influence that this (Ur-)history asserts on the photographic methodology of Bernd and Hilla Becher. Here, Michel Foucault’s “successive and identical” 107 notion of historical continuity brings into play a number of associated ideas essential in tracing Ur-ethnography in the struggle to reconcile the historic praxis of the photographer-as-ethnographer. In locating this tradition, this dissertation expands upon Susanne Lange’s dissection of—in her preface to


Becher, as quoted by Michael Köhler in “Interview mit Bernd und Hilla Becher,”

p.9. 106Moreover,

one should be acknowledge that contemporary art-theory recognises, as

summarised by Julia Kreinik, that in many ways, New Objectivity was a “response to the rapid industrialisation and modernisation within German socio-cultural and economic arenas,” and that “to illustrate these innumerable social, cultural and economic changes, artists sought to create radical shifts in formal language using a medium of visual representation appropriate to the modern era.” See: Kreinik, "The Canvas and the Camera in Weimar Germany: A New Objectivity in Painting and Photography of the 1920s," p.159. 107Foucault,


The Archeology of Knowledge: p.23.

Bernd and Hilla Becher: Life and Work (2005)—the “multifaceted nature of [the Bechers’] oeuvre and the related tradition.” As Lange writes,

Bernd and Hilla Becher feel especially indebted to a few key pioneers in the photography of New Objectivity from the 1920s, such as August Sander and Albert Renger-Patzsch. [...] [T]his meant larger segments of their work could be enduringly placed in the context of their precursors in the history of photography, both spatially and in terms of the collision, and likewise compared to other thematically or methodologically related positions.

Taken as a point of inquiry, this serves to emically illuminate the cultural foundations on which the Bechers developed their inventorial industrial photography in order to determine, test and apply the significance of their ethnographic photography in current architectural academia.

In 1997 a retrospective exhibition held in Cologne entitled Vergleichende Konzeptionen (Comparative Conceptions) featured the combined photographic works of August Sander, Karl Blossfeldt, Albert Renger-Patzsch, and Bernd and Hilla Becher. This marked the most significant gathering of German photographers representative of the cultural development of the Weimar period. Collectively, their work demonstrated a visual idiom that offered a new cultural reading of the political movement of the Deutscher Werkbund during the German interwar period through the lens of their combined oeuvre. The Vergleichende Konzeptionen exhibition positioned the work of the Bechers in the context of the pioneering work of Sander, Blossfeldt and Renger-Patzsch, despite the work occurring several decades later. This successfully espoused the Bechers’ oeuvre vis-à-vis with the polemic


photographers of the Weimar Republic, bridging these artists’ work into contemporary art.108 This marked a resurgence in discourse, made possible by the acquisition of unpublished negatives and new technology and resources to allow the work to be revisited. 109 The conglomeration of these collections allowed a new strand of comparative gallery exhibitions and subsequent publications that for the first time brought the similarities of the different oeuvres to light. This has led to arguably the most significant contribution to discourse since the late 1920s.

The rise of New Objectivity of the late 1920s was characterised by prolific publication that brought together the multiple strands that would come to define the movement. The seminal publications that emerged from this rich era of discourse include Blossfeldt’s Urformen der Kunst (Art forms in Nature),110 published in 1928; Renger-Patzsch’s Die Welt ist schön (The World is Beautiful),111

108 Lange,

of the same year; and Sander’s Antlitz Der Zeit (Faces of Our

"August Sander, Karl Blossfeldt, Albert Renger-Patzsch, Bernd and Hilla

Becher: Comparative Concepts " p.140. 109The

SK Cultural foundation are responsible for bringing together the estates and

archives responsible for maintaining the work of Sander, Blossfeldt and Renger-Patzsch in various exhibitions in the 1990s, leading up to the 1995 exhibition Photographie und Realität. For a more details on the acquisition of these collections and the exhibitions leading up to Vergleichende Konzeptionen see Lange, "The August Sander Archive and Its Partners," pp.138-39. 110Karl

Blossfeldt, Urformen der Kunst: Photographische Pflanzenbilder [Art Forms in

Nature: Examples from the Plant World Photographed Direct from Nature] (Berlin: Verlag Ernst Wasmuth A.G., 1928). 111Albert

Renger-Patzsch, Die Welt ist schön [The World is Beautiful] (Munchen: Kurt

Wolff Verlag, 1928).


Time),112 published a year later in 1929. These works simultaneously exhibited what would become the most decisive tool in cultivating the new photographic style: the photo-essay. Michael Jennings explains how the inception of the photo-essay offered, for the first time, a discourse constructed entirely by the interplay of the image alone, “arranged in discursive and polemical order.” 113 He writes,

[i]n the last years of the Weimar Republic, and especially between 1928 and 1931, many of the most important photographers active in Germany published or contributed to photographic essay books. [...] These books, the first polemically constructed photographic arguments in the history of the medium, arose from the complex discursive field that was the Weimar Republic.114

These photo-essays received a following both in Germany and internationally. In time they would come to help frame Walter Benjamin’s photography


Sander, Antlitz Der Zeit: Sechzig Aufnahmen Deutscher Menschen Des 20.

Jahrhunderts [Faces of Our Time: Sixty Portraits of Twentieth-Century Germans], First ed. (Munich: Transmare Verlag/Kurt Wolff Verlag, 1929). 113Jennings,

“Agriculture, Industry, and the Birth of the Photo-Essay in the Late Weimar

Republic,” pp.24-25. 114Jennings,

“Agriculture, Industry, and the Birth of the Photo-Essay in the Late Weimar

Republic,” pp.24-25.


essays 115

and featured in parts in Georges Bataille’s surrealist serial,

DOCUMENTS.116 There is no doubt that their most decisive influence was in the further development of the medium of photography which opened up a new formal photographic methodology for subsequent generations.117 Significantly, of course, is the enduring effect on the work of Bernd and Hilla Becher. Their reinterpretation of this early work of New Objectivity not only resurfaced in their methodology, but allowed their work to flourish as the purist realisation of the aims of the early Weimar photographers.

It is worth noting that the New Objectivity movement arose partly in a dialectical response to the German movement Kunstphotographie 118 (Art 115New

Objectivity featured heavily in Benjamin’s Author as Producer. Criticising the

“counterrevolutionary manner” of the photographers of New Objectivity who “experiences his solidarity with the proletariat ideologically and not as a producer,” Benjamin writes, [h]ere I will limit myself to indicating the decisive difference between merely transmitting the apparatus of production and transforming it. At the beginning of my comments on the ‘[N]ew [O]bjectivity’, I would like to set forth the notion that transmitting an apparatus of production without—as much as possible— transforming it, is a highly debatable procedure even when the content of the apparatus which is transmitted seems to be revolutionary in nature. [...] With that I come to the ‘[N]ew [O]bjectivity’. It made documentaries fashionable. But we should ask: to whom is this technique useful? See: Benjamin, “the Author as Producer,” pp.88-90. 116For

example, Georges Bataille featured Blossfeldt’s photography from Urformen der

Kunst in “Le language des Fleurs” DOCUMENTS 1 (1929). 117 Lange,

"August Sander, Karl Blossfeldt, Albert Renger-Patzsch, Bernd and Hilla

Becher: Comparative Concepts " p.139. 118In

other parts of Europe and the United States, Kunstphotographie was also known

as Pictorialism. For more see: Kreinik, "The Canvas and the Camera in Weimar Germany: A New Objectivity in Painting and Photography of the 1920s," p.157.


Photography). This movement became prominent in the 1890s through to the 1910s and was significant in the way artists sought to emancipate photography into the realm of fine arts by minimising photography's well established association with technology and objectivity. Artists during this period explored the subjective possibilities of the medium through radical experiments with expressionism and surrealism. This movement dialectically become an important springboard for 1920s German avant–garde photographers of New Objectivity. 119 Conversely, they revisited the trend to use photography as a mode of visual representation, embracing its associations with science and technology, but now within the realm of visual arts.

The significant regression to the historic praxis of the photographic medium, in this context, should not be undervalued. Prior to the experiments of photography in the visual arts, the development of photography had always been heavily rooted in experimentation towards obtaining closer factual portrayals.120 In recent scholarship of the photography of the Weimar period, Juliana Kreinik examines the relationship of the early development of photography and the way it shaped New Objectivity. The inference of Kreinik’s

119 Moreover,

New Objectivity would become a symbol of the new social fabric of

Germany. As Kreinik discusses, [f]ollowing years of socio-economic and political turbulence wrought by World War I, and in contrast with the aims of Kunstphotographie, the postwar generation of avant–garde artists regarded the photographic medium as a symbolic means to sever connection with pre-war forms of aesthetic authority. See: Kreinik, “The Canvas and the Camera in Weimar Germany,” p.179. 120For

example, in natural sciences, English botanist William Henry Fox Talbot, with the

aid of Sir John Herschel, developed the calotype negative and positive print which led to further advances in photographic reproduction. See Kreinik, “The Canvas and the Camera in Weimar Germany,” p.161.


work is that the development of photography as a scientific tool in the Nineteenth-Century resulted in a subconscious association with the medium— evoking Benjamin's Ur-history, or Jung’s Urbilder121 —as a device for the cultivation of truth.122 As a result Kreinik suggests photography was perfectly positioned for the aims of the Weimar photographers. She writes,

[d]uring the Nineteenth-Century, the mediums supposed objectivity was reified through its early use in swiftly expanding fields of scientific study, including botany, zoology and human anatomy and physiology. [...] The visualisation of material evidence became increasingly important to anthropological studies, and photography, employed as a means of objective illustration, supported the development of materialism as the dominant scientific methodology. [...] In its early years, photography was primarily used for documentation of geographical, geological and astronomical subjects and man-made architectural monuments. 123

It is not surprising that photography was used in this ethnographic vein. In-fact, the qualities that prompted the development of photography for anthropological and scientific uses—i.e., precise, factual representation—are the


example, in The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction Benjamin

reflects on what he calls the “cult of remembrance”, that is, the cult value or aura that resides in portrait photography of loved ones, the absent and the dead. See: Benjamin, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,"p.228. 122 One

such example is observed by Susan Buck-Morss, who comments on the

historical precedent provided by Charles Darwin. She writes, [i]n 1872, Charles Darwin published The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, expressing his own indebtedness to the work of Charles Bell. Darwin's book was the first of its kind to make use of photographs rather than drawings, which allowed a greater precision of analysis. See: Buck-Morss, "Aesthetics and Anaesthetics,” p.39. 123Kreinik,


“The Canvas and the Camera in Weimar Germany,” pp.162-63.

same qualities as the photographers of New Objectivity sought in art. It is at this point that Ur-ethnography found its transformative power in the realm of visual arts. These roots left an unmistakable trace in the work of New Objectivity: from Sander’s deeply cultural portrait photography, to Blossfeldt’s magnified flowers, and finally in Bernd and Hilla Becher’s industrial typologies.

Lászlo Moholy-Nagy (1895—1946) was an essential proponent of the creation of the new photographic identity as began emerged in art-theory. In his polemical book Malerei Fotografie Film 124 (Painting Photography Film) he critically articulates the experimental and political possibilities of photography. First published in 1925, Malerei Fotografie Film contains an assemblage of texts and illustrations, and stands as one of the foremost models of modern photographic theory and practice.125 While it remains undisputed that New Objectivity represents the antithesis of Moholy-Nagy’s ideas of production in the essay “Production Reproduction” (1922), his role in setting up the discourse for New Objectivity is irrefutable. The experimental re-imagination of ethnographic imagery, among other methods, was one way Moholy-Nagy proposed imbuing photography with meaning. Here, he writes,

124 Lászlo

Moholy-Nagy, Malerei Fotographie Film [Painting, Photography, Film]

(Munich: Albert Langen Verlag, 1925). Reprinted in English as Lászlo Moholy-Nagy, Painting, Photography, Film, trans. Janet Seligman (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1969). 125For

more on Moholy–Nagy see Krisztina Passuth, Moholy-Nagy, trans. Éva grusz, et

al. (London: Thames and Hudson, 1985). & Richard Kostelanetz, ed. Moholy-Nagy, Documentary Monographs in Modern Art (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1970).


Plate 6 Moholy-Nagy — X-ray of a frog [source: Moholy-Nagy, Malerei Fotographie Film: p.69]


[i]f we desire a revaluation in the field of photography so that it can be used productively, we must exploit the light-sensitivity of the photograph (silverbromide) plate: fixing upon light phenomena (movements from light display) which we have ourselves composed (with contrivances of mirrors or lenses, transparent crystals, liquids, etc.). We may regard astronomical, X-ray and lighting photographs all as forerunners of this type of composition.126

This is revealed in Moholy-Nagy’s image of an X-rayed frog (plate 6), accompanied with the caption “penetration of the body with light is one of the greatest visual experiences.” 127 The quasi-scientific imagery allowed a new and enlightening views of the world that was only possible with photographic means. 128 Moholy-Nagy’s championing of photography resided in its creative reinterpretation of historic uses. As Michael Jennings astutely observes, “Moholy’s theories on photography as a technological prosthesis remain

126 Moholy-Nagy,

Painting, Photography, Film: p.31. Emphasis original. originally

published in Lászlo Moholy-Nagy, "Produktion - Reproduktion," [Production Reproduction.] De Stijil, no. 7 (1922). For more on this essay an exhaustive breakdown can be found in Hight, Picturing Modernism: Moholy-Nagy and Photography in Weimar Germany: pp.42-54. 127Moholy-Nagy, 128 This

Painting, Photography, Film: p.69.

is advanced by Anthony Vidler in a discussion of the biological and the

psychophysical as it relates to architecture. For Vidler, Moholy-Nagy’s work radically supersedes traditional ways of seeing. Here he quotes Moholy-Nagy who wrote, "architecture will be brought to its fullest realisation only when the deepest knowledge of human life as a total phenomenon in the biological whole is available." See: Lászlo Moholy-Nagy, The New Vision (New York: Wittenborn, 1949). pp.159-60. As cited in Anthony Vidler, "Toward a Theory of the Architectural Program," October, no. 106 (2003): pp.59-74.


inseparable from an anthropology; they remain rooted in a call for a reformation of the human cognitive apparatus.“ 129

Taking, as a point of departure, Kunstphotographie’s radical recoding of the natural sciences, Albert Renger-Patzsch (1897—1966) firmly distinguishes objective praxis from the painterly, while maintaining the emancipated value of photography. Aiming a critique at Moholy-Nagy and ‘pictorial’ photographers, Renger-Patzsch contends that “[t]he rigid adherence of “artist-photographers” to the model provided by painting has always been damaging to photographic achievement.” 130

In his essay, “Ziele” (“Aims,” 1927), Renger-Patzsch,

maintained that objectivity was the quintessential tool for capturing the complexities of nature and industry alike: therein lied its value in “exert[ing] a tremendous influence on the masses.” 131 As Renger-Patzsch writes,

[t]o do justice to modern technology’s rigid linear structure, to the lofty gridwork of cranes and bridges, to the dynamism of machines operating at one thousand horsepower—only photography is capable if that. What those who are attached to the ‘painterly’ style regard as photography’s defect—the


"Agriculture, Industry, and the Birth of the Photo-Essay in the Late Weimar

Republic," p.37. 130 Kunstphotographie

translates in English to “artist-photographers”. See: Albert

Renger-Patzsch, "Joy Before the Object," in Photography in the Modern Era: European Documents and Critical Writings, 1913-1940, ed. Christopher Phillips (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1989), p.108. Originally published as “Die Freude am Gegenstand,” Das Kunstblatt (Berlin), no. 1 (1928). p.19. 131Renger-Patzsch,


“Joy Before the Object,” p.108.

mechanical reproduction of form—is just what makes it superior to all other means of expression. 132

For Renger-Patzsch, photography was capable of capturing the world with unmatched precision. His advocation of using photography to document was not optional (or merely stylistic), for Patzsch it was obligatory: only it was capable of capturing the resonate aura of minuscule details. As Renger-Patzsch writes, “[w]e still don’t sufficiently appreciate the opportunity to capture the magic of material things. The structure of wood, stone, and metal can be shown with a perfection beyond the means of painting.” 133 In retrospective scholarship Jennings provides commentary to this notion, observing that Renger-Patzsch “wanted to record, phenomenologically as it were, the exact appearance of objects—their form, material, and surface. [...] [H]e called for documentation rather than art.” 134 This notion echoes Claus Pfingsten, who was interest in the way Renger-Patzsch unwittingly documented the Zeitgeist with 132Renger-Patzsch

drives this position further, firmly denoting, “let us leave art to the

artists, and with the means of photography create photographs that endure by virtue of their photographic qualities—without our having to borrow from art.” See: Albert Renger-Patzsch, "Aims," in Photography in the Modern Era: European Documents and Critical Writings, 1913-1940, ed. Christopher Phillips (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1989), p.105. Originally published as “Ziele” in Das Deutsche Lichtbild (1927): p.xviii. Emphasis in original. 133Renger-Patzsch, 134Jennings

"Aims," p.105

continues, writing that “he rejected any kind of artistic claim for himself.

Believing that the photographer should strive to capture the ‘essence of the object’.” This was supported by Susanne Lange who, prior to Jennings, observed that “[RengerPatzsch] believed it was photography’s task to reproduce forms exactly, to create an inventory of them and thus documents.” See: Jennings, "Agriculture, Industry, and the Birth of the Photo-Essay in the Late Weimar Republic," p.50; & Lange, "August Sander, Karl Blossfeldt, Albert Renger-Patzsch, Bernd and Hilla Becher: Comparative Concepts," p.140.


Plate 7 Renger–Patzsch — Zeche Rosenblumendelle, ca.1929 [source: Suzanne Langer, Vergleichende Konzeptionen: August Sander, Karl Blossfeldt, Albert Renger-Patzsch, Bernd, Hilla Becher (Munich: Schirmer / Mosel, 1997): p.106]


his documentary photography. As Pfingsten writes, “Renger-Patzsch documented the face of the Ruhr region, and the way it was influenced by industrial life: with views of mining plants, coal piles and slag heaps surrounded by barbed wire, city silhouettes shaped by the chimneys of factories” 135 This is directly observable in Renger-Patzsch’s portrayal of Zeche Rosenblumendelle (plate 7), the aura of which is created by ghostly presence of factory, chimneys and winding tower in the background contrasted to the dark mountains of coal dominating the foreground.

While Renger-Patzsch took one of the earliest positions of objectivity, in comparison to the Bechers objective methodology Patzsch’s advancement of objective praxis remained incomplete and still carried residuals of subjectivity. In 1928 in Die Weld ist schön (The World is Beautiful), this is revealed as Renger-Patzsch elaborates on “the charms of the photo stem from half-tones, the structuring of space and the flow of the lines” 136 This text is interrogated by Walter Benjamin in The Author as Producer (1934): here, Renger-Patzsch’s objective stance misaligned with Benjamin’s concept of Umfunktionierung in the transformative value of subjectivity. As Benjamin writes,

135 Claus

Pfingsten, Aspekte zum fotografischen Werk Albert Renger-Patzsch, vol. 9

(Witterschlick / Bonn: M. Wehle, 1992). As cited in Lange, "August Sander, Karl Blossfeldt, Albert Renger-Patzsch, Bernd and Hilla Becher: Comparative Concepts," p. 140. 136 Albert

Renger-Patzsch, Wilhelm Schöppe, Meister der Kamera erzählen (Halle /

Saale: Verlag von Wilhelm Knapp, 1937). As cited in Lange, "August Sander, Karl Blossfeldt, Albert Renger-Patzsch, Bernd and Hilla Becher: Comparative Concepts," p. 140


it would be impossible to say anything about a dam or a cable factory except this: the world is beautiful. The World is Beautiful—that is the title of a famous book of photographs by Renger–Patzsch, in which we see the photography of the ‘[N]ew [O]bjectivity’ at its height. It has even succeeded in making misery itself an object of pleasure, by treating it stylishly and with technical perfection. For the ‘[N]ew [O]bjectivity’, it is the economic function of photography to bring to the masses elements which they could not previously enjoy [...] by reworking them according to the current fashion; it is the political function of photography to renew the world as it actually is from within, in other words, according to the current fashion. 137

The critique stems from the position that the work of Renger-Patzsch neither posses nor generate transformative, revolutionary content or meaning. To Benjamin, his work is “a flagrant example of what it means to supply a productive apparatus without changing it.” 138 Armin Zweite points out that Benjamin’s critique on Renger–Patzsch, was delivered from a position that “the attitude of the photographers in question does not contribute at all to our knowledge of the objects, but on the contrary tends to [simply] underline their commodity character.” 139 Intriguingly, Zweite finds Benjamin’s critique on the photographers of New Objectivity in the 1930s analogous to the critiques directed towards the Bechers’ contribution to the movement in the 1970s and 1980s, citing Ulrich Greiner, Helmut Hartwig and Heinrich Helfenstein. Expanding on the later, Helfenstein, according to Zweite, contended that,


"The Author as Producer," p.230.


"The Author as Producer," p.230.



"Bernd & Hilla Becher’s Suggestion for a Way of Seeing," p.24.

typical of the relationship between an advanced bourgeois society and it earlier material foundation: transforming the machines for generating elementary surplus value now withdrawn from use into timeless fetish-like items with a beautiful appearance. 140

The similarities in the critiques may be attributed to the similar themes represented in the separate oeuvres. In-fact, on multiple occasions both Renger–Patzsch and the Bechers photographed the same industrial plants,141 and an observation on one such example—the Herrenwyk Steel Mill in Lübeck (plate 8–9)—reveals the comparable (and differing) nature of their work. This is not surprising, given Renger–Patzsch’s influence on the Bechers.142 In an observation by Jennings, when examining the similarities of the two methodologies, reveals that “[t]hese images are often set against a neutral grey or black background. [...] This abstraction and isolation serve an important purpose: they deemphasise the naturalistic, straightforwardly descriptive


Helfenstein, "Industriebauten: Geräte und Fetische. Zu Bernhard and Hilla

Bechers Fotografien von Industriebauten," Archithese. Zeitschrift und Schriftenreihe für Architektur und Kunst 10, no. 5 (1980): p.55. As cited in Zweite, "Bernd & Hilla “Suggestion for a Way of Seeing," p.24. 141 For

instance, Germania (Marten, Dortmund), Hansa (Huckarde, Dortmund),

Rosenblumendelle Mine (Heissen, Mülheim), Victoria Mathias Mine (Essen), Carolinenglück (Bochum), and the Herrenwyk Steel Mill (Lübeck) See: Lange, "August Sander, Karl Blossfeldt, Albert Renger-Patzsch, Bernd and Hilla Becher: Comparative Concepts," p.141; & Lange, Bernd and Hilla Becher: Life and Work: pp.79-80. 142Hilla

Becher reveals this in an interview, noting that, “[i]f I was influenced by anyone,

then it would be Renger-Patzsch because of his picture composition and relative objectivity—even though I had not seen much of his work in the beginning.” See: Hilla Becher, as quoted in "The Birth of the Photographic View from the spirit of History: Bernd and Hilla Becher in conversation with Heinz–Norbert Jocks," p.204. Excerpted in Lange, Bernd and Hilla Becher: Life and Work: pp.203-219.


Plate 8 Albert Renger-Patzsch —

Plate 9 Bernd and Hilla Becher —

Herrenwyk–Lübeck Blast Furnace, ca.1928 Herrenwyk–Lübeck Blast Furnace, ca.1983 [source: Lange, Bernd and Hilla Becher:

[source: Lange, Bernd and Hilla Becher:

Life and Work: p.81]

Life and Work: p.81]


aspect of the image in favour of its cognitive and occasionally symbolic values. 143

The overlapping subject matter of Renger–Patzsch and the Bechers at Herrenwyk provide crucial evidence that allows a comparable tracing of Urethnography, particularly in determining the arrival in popularised ethnographic art-photography. In Renger-Patzsch’s 1927 work Photographie und Kunst (Photography and Art), for instance, Juliana Kreinik examines the significance of the way in which Renger–Patzsch challenged the historic aesthetic authenticity and value of photography, “[a]uthoritatively dismissing the question of whether photography can be regarded as art or not, he instead affirmed the mediums powerful presence within contemporary culture.” 144 According to Renger–Patzsch,

[photography] has acquired an immense significance for modern man, many thousands of people live from in and through it. It exerts an immense influence on wide sections of the population by means of film, it has given rise to the illustrated press, it provides true-to-life illustrations in most works of a scientific nature. In short, modern life is no longer thinkable without photography. 145


"Agriculture, Industry, and the Birth of the Photo-Essay in the Late Weimar

Republic," p.50. 144Kreinik,

"The Canvas and the Camera in Weimar Germany: A New Objectivity in

Painting and Photography of the 1920s," p.160. 145Albert

Renger-Patzsch, "Photography and Art," in Photography in the Modern Era:

European Documents and Critical Writings, 1913-1940, ed. Christopher Phillips (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1989): pp.142-43. Originally published as “Photographie Und Kunst." Photographische Korrespndenz, no. 3 (1927): pp.80-82. Emphasis by author.


In an advancement of the discipline of science in the photographic artwork, Renger–Patzsch continues, writing that photography, “hand in hand with science, has performed a labour in the last thirty years which must fill us with admiration.” 146 There is no doubt that Renger–Patzsch saw the cult value that photography would eventually mount to, advancing Moholy-Nagy in opposition. In this way—drawing on the language of science—Renger–Patzsch’s strategy marked the intersection of ethnography and art. His position on photography illuminates the synthesis of Ur-ethnography with the creative intentions of New Objectivity during the fertile Weimar period, paving the way for the Bechers own ethnographic industrial photography.

The objective tradition (in tracing the complex arrival of Ur-ethnography), can be easily discerned in the portrait–photography of August Sander (1876— 1964). The quasi–anthropological stylisation of Sander’s portraiture eidetically maps a cross-section of the German population, covering all grounds of age, ethnicity, and class without prejudice. In doing so, Sander’s oeuvre provides the closest anthropological link to ethnography in New Objectivity. Here, an engagement of Sander’s oeuvre offers critical perspectives regarding Bernd and Hilla Becher—given his status and influence on contemporary german photography147—that locates the historical (or ethnographical) value of artphotography to theoretical discourse.

146Renger-Patzsch, 147In

"Photography and Art," p.143.

an interview in 2005, Hilla Becher reveals the influential role Sander exerted on

their work. See: “The Birth of the Photographic View from the Spirit of History: Bernd and Hilla Becher in Conversation with Heinz–Norbert Jocks,” p.191.


By 1927, August Sander, much like Renger–Patzsch, had already developed the position to use documentary photography to ”[s]ee things as they are and not as they should or could be.”124 By 1929, Sander’s first book Das Antlitz der Zeit (Face of our Time), illustrated sixty portraits in this manner: a relatively small selection from the archive that he had begun to develop in 1910. Unlike Renger–Patzsch, however, Sander received nothing but accolade from Walter 148

Benjamin. In A Small History of Photography (1931), Benjamin posits that Sander “did not approach this enormous undertaking as a scholar, or with the advice of ethnographers and sociologists, but, as the publisher says, from direct observation.” 149 Moreover, Benjamin, draws an emphasis to Alfred Döblin’s introduction of the work, Faces, Images, and Their Truth, who wrote, ”[j]ust as there is comparative anatomy, which helps us to understand the nature and history of organs, so this photographer is doing comparative photography, adopting a scientific standpoint superior to the photographer of detail” 150 Here, the observations of Benjamin and Döblin are significant in highlighting Sander’s position as, what can be called, an artist-as-ethnographer.


Sander, “My Confession of Faith in Photography. People of the 20th Century”,

(November 1927), in August Sander: “in photography there are no unexplained shadows!” An exhibition organised by the August Sander Archive / Kulturstiftung Stadtsparkasse, Cologne. As cited in Lange, "August Sander, Karl Blossfeldt, Albert Renger-Patzsch, Bernd and Hilla Becher: Comparative Concepts," p.204. 149Benjamin

continues, writing,“August Sander has compiled a series of faces that is in

no way inferior to the tremendous physiognomic gallery mounted by an Eisenstein or a Pudovkin, and he has done it from a scientific viewpoint.” See: Benjamin, “A Small History of Photography,” pp.62-63. 150Alfred

Döblin, "Faces, Images and Their Truth," in Face of Our Time: Sixty Portraits of

Twentieth-Century Germans (Munich: Schirmer/Mosel Verlag, 2003), p.13.


This is essential in locating the tradition of employing imagery of anthropology (or ethnography) as an apparatus to imbue significance, radically transforming (Umfunktionierung) the art–object.

In this sense, Sander’s influence in Weimar Germany transcends his creative interpretation of photography in the 1920s as the significance of his work reemerged in the 1960s (when the creative intentions of New Objectivity where revisited and expanded). According to the Bechers, “the objective tradition of classical modernism such as New Objectivity and pittura metafisica were rediscovered, August Sander was discovered and people began to take photography seriously again.” 151 This occurred in part, as Ulrike Meyer-Stump suggests, because of Sander’s recognition as the “forefather” of the “encyclopaedic, inventorial approach.” 152 According to Meyer-Stump, the way his portraiture frames typological comparisons presciently preempts the work of Bernd and Hilla Becher. Elaborating upon the significance of Sander’s inventorial approach, Monika Steinhauser observes the “the encyclopaedic attempt and pictorial conception which banishes any experimental, artistic aesthetics. [...] [T]he intention is typological classification that first develops cognitive value when the photos are arranged as series.” 153 In an elaboration of this, Sander himself writes,


Becher, as quoted in “The Birth of the Photographic View from the Spirit of

History: Bernd and Hilla Becher in Conversation with Heinz–Norbert Jocks,” p.191. 152Meyer-Stump,"Karl 153 Steinhauser

Blossfeldt Working Collages: A Photographic Sketchbook," p.18.

continues, making the point that ”[i]n both cases, the view is

objectifying.” See: Monika Steinhauser, Traditionslinien, Zu Bernd und Hilla Bechers Indusriephotographie

(Düsseldorf: Richter Verlag, 1994). p.19. As cited in Lange,

"August Sander, Karl Blossfeldt, Albert Renger-Patzsch, Bernd and Hilla Becher: Comparative Concepts," p.143. Emphasis by author.


[a] successful photo is only a preliminary step towards the intelligent use of photography. [...] Photography is like a mosaic that becomes a synthesis only when presented en masse.131

In a broader brushstroke, Jennings advances this, noting that “[m]osaic 154

highlights the filiation of all these volumes to the larger uses of montage in Weimar; like [...] the montage essays by Walter Benjamin. [...] Meaning arises in the photo-essay as individual images and individual detail are absorbed into larger constellations” 155

Evoking Benjamin's dialectical image, it is not

surprising that it is, in–fact, the ethnographic methodological approach that provides a consistency that allows photographic images to be (mimetically) readable within a comparative body of work. This tradition, within New Objectivity (as it relates to the Bechers procedures), is recognised by Wulf Herzogenrath, who speculates that “the objective approach the photographer takes, who, like the Bechers’, is quite precise in [their] arrangements. [...] The photographic technology consequently has to be used precisely and to the point, conditions must be similar, if what is reproduced is the be comparable” 156 In this context, Lange elaborates on the similarity of Sander’s

154 August

Sander, letter to the photographer Abelen, January, 16 1951, cited in

Jennings, "Agriculture, Industry, and the Birth of the Photo-Essay in the Late Weimar Republic," pp.23-29. 155Jennings,

"Agriculture, Industry, and the Birth of the Photo-Essay in the Late Weimar

Republic," p.29. 156 Wulf

Herzogenrath, "Distanz und Nähe," in Distanz und Nähe: Fotografische

Arbeiten von Bernd und Hilla Becher, Andreas Gursky, Candida Höfer, Axel Hütte, Simone Nieweg, Thomas Ruff, Jörg Sasse, Thomas Struth and Petra Wunderlich, ed. Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen (Berlin & Stuttgart: 1992), pp.10-12. As cited in Lange, "August Sander, Karl Blossfeldt, Albert Renger-Patzsch, Bernd and Hilla Becher: Comparative Concepts," p.142.


Plate. 10 Sander — Odd Job Man, Cologne, ca.1905 [source: August Sander, Face of Our Time: Sixty Portraits of Twentieth-Century Germans, ed. Alfred DÜblin (Munich: Schirmer/Mosel Verlag, 2003): p.101]


methodology, observing the tendency of the photograph to be taken from a position “strictly face on—as in the work of the Bechers’,” and with a “natural background”157 Take, for example, Sander’s portrait titled, Odd Job Man (plate 10), where the young labourer from Cologne is positioned centred within the frame, and alienated from any notion of context. Despite their different thematic content, Sander investment in the Weimar ethos is not unlike Bernd Becher’s.158 Lange, referring to the Bechers, writes “we see it in its purist form the encyclopaedic thrust of their work which ensures its place in art history today alongside names like Eugéne Atget, Karl Blossfeldt, August Sander, Albert Renger–Patzsch or Walker Evans.” 159 In this respect, it is the Bechers’ immutable objectivity that allow them to be regarded in equal value to the proponents of New Objectivity.

The photography of Karl Blossfeldt (1856—1932) reveals remarkably similar undercurrents to the Bechers’ when comparing their respective methodologies, particularly when observing his ‘working collages‘. An examination of Blossfeldt’s collages (plate 11) displays arrangements of close-


continues, writing that Sander’s “typological documentation of the structure

of the society of his day parallels the work of Bernd and Hilla Becher.” See: Lange, "August Sander, Karl Blossfeldt, Albert Renger-Patzsch, Bernd and Hilla Becher: Comparative Concepts," p.143. 158 Both

Bernd Becher and August Sander are from Siegerland, where their fathers

were employed in the mining industry. See: Mack, "Architecture, Industry and Photography: Excavating German Identity." p.10. 159 Lange,

"August Sander, Karl Blossfeldt, Albert Renger-Patzsch, Bernd and Hilla

Becher: Comparative Concepts," p.144.


Plate 11 Blossfeldt — Milk Plant Working Collage [source: Ann & Jurgen Wilde, eds. Karl Blossfeldt: Working Collages (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2001): plate 59]

Plate 12 Grain Elevators — Germany, France, & USA, ca.1982—2002 [source: Becher, Typologies: plate 84]


up photographs of the florets at the ends of stems, magnified and classified for his own studies of form. Each plant specimen shown here would have been carefully selected, trimmed and pined before being photographed.137 Each specimen is notated by hand with working numbers that evidence a system of categorisation, leaving behind visual traces that are reminiscent of an ethnographic methodology. The assortment of plant specimens themselves, with their diversity of form, arouses the sense that this could be a naturalists collection of exotic flora. Arguably, this stylisation is what creates the aura 160

intrigue that makes Blossfeldt's work compelling. Moreover, it is at this moment that trajectory of Ur-ethnography can be most easily sighted. Karl Nierendorf,161

in his preface for Urformen der Kunst, illuminates this,

contending that Blossfeldt “contribute[d] to the greatest endeavour of our day:


Stump elaborates on this process identifying the use of modelling paste and

nails to hold the specimens in place over the duration of the exposure time required. The variety of cyanotype and blueprint papers, gelatin silver bromide and gray gelatin silver chloride papers suggests they were taken at various times and assembled later. See: Ulrike Meyer Stump, "Karl Blossfeldt's Working Collages: A Photographic Sketchbook," in Karl Blossfeldt: Working Collages, ed. Ann Wilde and Jurgen Wilde (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2001), pp.7-8. 161Nierendorf,

who is considered one of the champions in support of New Objectivity,

was the first to exhibit Blossfeldt’s work in 1926, and had a hand in publishing ‘Art Forms in Nature’ in in 1928. See: Meyer-Stump, "Karl Blossfeldt's Working Collages: A Photographic Sketchbook," p.9.


understanding the deeper meaning of our times which in all areas of life, art, and technology strives towards recognition and realisation of new unity.” 162

It is worth acknowledging that Blossfeldt’s ‘working collages’ were never intended for exhibition. It wasn’t until 1977 that this work was retrieved from the Karl Blossfeldt archive and displayed publicly for the fist time in the exhibition Documenta VI, held in Kassel. 163 The work of Bernd and Hilla Becher also featured in this exhibition, displayed alongside the loose gridded arrangements of Blossfeldt’s collages. In this context Blossfeldt’s work seemed to anticipate the way the Bechers laid out their photographs, despite the Bechers having never seen this work. Even the proportion and layout of the vertical stems are analogous to the Bechers’ photographs of towering grain silos (plate 12) or twin water towers when viewed in parallel. Photographed in elevation, alienated from a natural context and with a controlled, even lighting applied to each photograph, the ingredients that characterise the methodology of Bernd and Hilla Becher resurface in Blossfeldt’s oeuvre. Susanne Lange astutely discerns the photographic idioms of the two artists. When discussing Blossfeldt’s methodology, Lange observed,


full quote reads: “If this work demonstrates for the first time, and with clarity,

interrelationship which grow ever more evident in things great and small, then it will, in its own fashion, contribute to the greatest endeavour of our day: understanding the deeper meaning of our times which in all areas of life, art, and technology strives towards recognition and realisation of new unity.” See: Meyer-Stump, "Karl Blossfeldt's Working Collages: A Photographic Sketchbook," p.20. 163 Meyer-Stump,



"Karl Blossfeldt's Working Collages: A Photographic Sketchbook,"

in addition to individual images, which reproduce a front view of the motif in isolation before the neutral background, or arrangements of photos that suggest a uniformly structured surface, [Blossfeldt] also employed groups for comparison, arranging the motifs either as pairs or triptychs.164

For Lange there is no dispute against the broad artistic influence Blossfeldt’s factual portrayal of plants had, not least of all in the precise techniques of Bernd and Hilla Becher. In a similar vein, Meyer–Stump observes the similarities between the artists, commenting on the motif arrangements “strictly determined by the geometrical grid,” and the “specifically German tradition of photographic typology extending beyond the Bechers”.165 With the Bechers’ visual methodology not at all dissimilar to that of Blossfeldt’s, the question is raised: by changing the context of work from plant specimens to specimens of industrial architecture, is the work of Bernd and Hilla Becher any less ethnographic in its representation?

An essential crossroad that projected ethnography's synthesis into massculture—distinctly made available within the discourse surrounding Blossfeldt— is observable in the commentary that maps intersection of New Objectivity and surrealism. In an acknowledgment of this intersection, Mattenklott espouses the undercurrents of Lászlo Moholy-Nagy and Georges Bataille in Blossfeldt's oeuvre.166 Within this context, Walter Benjamin writes,


Bernd and Hilla Becher: Life and Work: p.80.

165 Meyer-Stump,

"Karl Blossfeldt's Working Collages: A Photographic Sketchbook,"

pp.16-18. 166 Gert

Mattenklott, "Karl Blossfeldt - Photographs " in Karl Blossfeldt: Art Forms in

Nature (Munich: Schirmer/Mosel Verlag, 1999), p.23.


[Blossfeldt] has done his part in that great examination of the perceptive inventory, which will have an unforeseeable effect on out conception of the world. He has proven how right Moholy-Nagy, the pioneer of the new photography, was when he said: “the limits of photography are unforeseeable. Everything is still so new here that even the search leads to creative results.”167

Here, the significance of creative praxis of ethnography within popular culture is essential in unravelling the domain in which the Bechers develop their industrial ethnography. While the methodologies of Blossfeldt and the Bechers posit comparable techniques, the subversive appearance of Blossfeldt's photography within the domain surrealism makes available a broader discourse that illuminates the critical foundations of Bechers’ ethnographic material within mass-culture.

Perhaps the most definitive illumination of the emergence of ethnography in popular culture is revealed in the work of French social critic, Georges Bataille (1897—1962), who created the avant–garde, surrealist serial titled DOCUMENTS —a collaboration with Michel Leiris, Joan Miró, Robert Desnos and André Mason—that ran for a year between 1929—1930.168 The significance of this work is discernible in the way ethnography was espoused with the arts in mass-

167 Walter

Benjamin, "Neus von Blumen," in Gesammele Schriften III. Kritiken un

Renzensionen, ed. Hella Tiedemann-Bartls (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1972). as quoted in Mattenklott, “Karl Blossfeldt: Art Forms in Nature”, pp.13-14. 168Dawin

Ades and Fiona Bradley, "Introduction," in Undercover Surrealism: Georges

Bataille and DOCUMENTS, ed. Dawin Ades and Simon Baker (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2006), p.11.


culture, distinctively positioning it as one of the four main titles of the magazine. ‘Doctrines, Archaeology, Fine Arts, Ethnography’ are represented equally on the cover of DOCUMENTS as the epistemological themes of the series (plate 13). Dawn Ades and Fiona Bradley, in their exposé of Bataille’s DOCUMENTS, discuss the aim of the work as social critique that developed a language of visual reflections, “juxtaposing different kinds of objects to cut across conventional hierarchies, grouping paintings, ethnographic objects, films, photographs, sculpture or crime magazines in relation to the key strategies and ideas in DOCUMENTS.” 169

DOCUMENTS provides a unique insight into how ethnography in the 1920‘s challenged the legitimacy of the discipline, not as an academic tool, but as an aesthetic technique to inform a cultural review. In recent scholarship, Denis Hollier importantly makes the distinction that Carl Einstein, and to a lesser extent Michel Leiris (the main authors of the ethnographic articles in DOCUMENTS), where amateur ethnographers, having no formal education or academically recognition as anthropologists. 170

Here Hollier paraphrases

Sigmund Freud, labelling this ‘lay’ ethnography. 171 This distinction is important in locating the popularisation of ethnography during the historical avant–garde. 169Ades

and Bradley, “Introduction,” p.15.

170 Georges

Didi-Huberman launches an excellent critique on Carl Einstein and his

ethnographic material in DOCUMENTS in Georges Didi-Huberman, "‘Picture = Rupture’: Visual Experience, Form and Symptom according to Carl Einstein," Papers of Surrealism no. 7 (2007). translated by C.F.B. Miller on the basis of ‘“Tableau=coupure”: Expérience visuelle, forme et symptôme selon Carl Einstein’, Cahiers du Musée national d’art moderne 58, Winter 1996, pp.5-27. 171Denis

Hollier, "The Question of Lay Ethnography: The Ethnographical Wildcard," in

Undercover Surrealism: Georges Bataille and DOCUMENTS, ed. Dawn Ades and Simon Baker (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2006), p.58.


Plate 13 Ethnography on the cover of DOCUMENTS 1, 1929. [source: Dawn Ades & Simon Baker, Undercover Surrealism: Georges Bataille and DOCUMENTS, (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2006): p.10]


Ethnography, empowered by photography, was being conducted as a tool for aesthetic mediation more than scientific discovery. Mechanical reproduction and the popularisation of photography in the arts provided the essential ingredients for this radical borrowing of ethnography from natural history within the pages of DOCUMENTS. This idea is furthered by Alfred Métraux—a contemporaneous ethnographer and close friend of Bataille—who suggested that during this period “what we looked for in ethnography was picturesque.” 172

In this context, the role of photography as a pseudo-

ethnographic medium relied on its ability to capture aura of the photographed object while maintaining a strict representation. This relationship is best described by Rosalind Krauss, who writes,

the photograph, which, like the readymade, is independent of any imaginative manipulation. Stencilled, as it were, off the world itself, it enters the space of exchange-whether that be the aesthetic space of the museum or the space of the linguistic code of a page of text-as a heterogenous object: [...] photographs [were] Bataille's major visual resource in the pages of DOCUMENTS.173


Métraux, "Entretiens avec Alfred Métraux," L’Homme 4, no. 2 (1964): p.21.

Cited in Hollier, The Question of Lay Ethnography,” p.62. 173Rosalind

Krauss, "Michel, Bataille et moi," October 68(1994): p.13.


This is what Bataille would called heterology, 174 a neologism he invented as he abstracted the language of ethnography to reinterpret meaning.175 In a letter to André Breton (c.1929-1930), Bataille reveals his definition of this neologism to date. He writes,

Heterology: Science of the altogether other. The term agiology would be, perhaps, more precise, but the double sense of agios must be understood (analogous to the double sense of sacer), both defiled and holy. But above all it is the term scatology (the science of filth) that in present-day circumstances (the specialisation of the sacred) retains incontrovertible expressive value, as the doublet of an abstract term such as heterology. 176


would later advance this visual methodology during his involvement with the

Collége de Sociologie, this time with a greater emphasis on ethnography. Denis Hollier examines the radicalism of this methodology, observing that, “[c]ontrary to the romantic tradition, the College did not intend to set opposites against each other. [...] The confrontation takes the shape of a mimetic subversion” by “[...] hiding a discontinuity from the eye. A heterogeneity hides behind the apparent evenness of an unbroken surface.” Expanding on the Parisian avant–garde group Collége de Sociologie, Hollier writes, “founded in 1937 by Georges Bataille, Roger Caillois, and Michel Leiris, the Collége de Sociologie wanted to apply to modern societies those concepts of the sacred that have been developed by Emile Durkheim and Marcel Mauss on the basis of primitive cultures.” See: Denis Hollier and William Rodarmor, "Mimesis and Castration 1937," October 31(1984): p.4-14. 175 Denis

Hollier, Against Architecture: Writings of Georges Bataille [La Prise de la

Concorde], trans. Betsy Wing (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1989 ). p.xxiii. 176Georges

Bataille, "La valeur d'usage de D. A. F. de Sade (1) (Lettre ouverte à mes

camarades actuels)," in Œuvres complètes, vol. II, ed. Denis Hollier (Paris: Gallimard, 1970), pp.54-69, as cited in Hollier, Against Architecture: Writings of Georges Bataille, p.98. Emphasis in original. For English translation see: "The Use Value of D. A. F. de Sade (An Open Letter to My Current Comrades)," trans. Allan Stoekl, Visions of Excess, ed. Allan Stoekl (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1985), pp.91-102.


Hollier criticises this definitions, observing that historically it is “out of place (explosive) in philosophy’s academic discourse.” 177

Here, however, the

exception is Hegelian philosophy: Bataille’s heterological brand of ethnography was informed by Hegelian aesthetics in the way he projected imagery as an edifice to imbue symbolism. The undercurrent of Hegel influence, as Hollier observes, are revealed in Bataille’s article, La Critique de fondements de la dialectique hégélienne (1932),178 as he cites Hegel’s The Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences (1817).179 In light of this, Hollier reinterprets Bataille’s definition, observing that

[h]eterological materialism is a critical practice in Bataille’s two senses of the term: it is constantly in a critical position, to the extent that it does not accept the fabric in which, nonetheless it is forced to produce itself: it is critical of this fabric but its criticism is by definition nonviable, it opportunities remain the critical thing. Heterology is the inscription in the logos itself of its other (hetros), an inscription that can only be sustained by insistently refusing its own mono- and homological reduction.”180

177Hollier, 178See:

Against Architecture: Writings of Georges Bataille: p.98.

Georges Bataille and Raymond Queneau, “La Critique de fondements de la

dialectique hégélienne,” La Critique sociale, no. 5, March 1932, p.279. 179 Hollier

cites Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Encyclopédie des sciences

philosophiques, [The Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences] trans. M. de Gandillac (Paris: Gallimard, 1970) pp.241-42. The original text was published in German in 1817 as Enzyklopädie der philosophischen Wissenschaften im Grundrisse. Hollier, Against Architecture: p.139. 180Hollier,

Against Architecture: Writings of Georges Bataille: p.114.


During the resurgence of discourse on surrealism in the 1980‘s, Jean Jamin relabeled this as ‘ethnographic surrealism’, 181 a term advanced by James Clifford in his text, On Ethnographic Surrealism (1988). In this text, Clifford examines the influence DOCUMENTS played on critical discourse, 182

observing the

influence it had on Walter Benjamin, amongst others. He writes,

The fragmentation of modern culture perceived by Benjamin, the dissociation of cultural knowledge into juxtaposed "citations," is presupposed by DOCUMENTS. The journal's title, of course, is indicative. Culture becomes something to be collected, and DOCUMENTS itself is a kind of ethnographic display of images, texts, objects, labels, a playful museum that simultaneously collects and reclassifies its specimens. 183

181 See:

Jean Jamin, ‘L’Ethnographie mode d’inemploi. De quelques rapports de

l’ethnologie avec le malaise dans la civilaztion’, in Le mal et la douleur, ed. Jacques Hainaud and Roland Kaechr (Neuchâtel: Musée d'ethnographie de Neuchâtel, 1986): pp.45-79. 182It

is worth mention the criticisms that Clifford identifies regarding the photography

represented in DOCUMENTS. For clifford, it unconvincingly “creates the order of an unfinished collage rather than that of a unified organism,” that only provides “[e]vidence, one can only say, of surprising, declassified cultural orders and of an expanded range of human artistic invention.” Rosalind Krauss, furthers this criticism, when referring to the photography Jacques-André Boiffard which appeared in Bataille’s Chronique-Dictionnaire article, La Bouche, writing with distain, “Boiffard's photograph for this essay is a woman's open mouth, wet with saliva, its tongue an amorphous blur. See: James Clifford, "On Ethnographic Surrealism," in The Predicament of Culture: Twentieth-Century Ethnography, Literature, and Art (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988), p.133-34.; & Rosalind Krauss, "Corpus Delicti," in L'Amour Fou: Photography & Surrealism, ed. Rosalind Krauss and Jane Livingston (New York: Abbeville Press, 1985), p.65. See also: See: Georges Bataille, “La Bouche,” DOCUMENTS, 5 (1930): p.299. 183Clifford,


On Ethnographic Surrealism: pp.132.

Nonetheless, Bataille's emancipation of ethnography in his social criticisms, as disseminated in DOCUMENTS, is an essential keystone in its development in popular culture. The influence of this work is unmistakable in the photography of Bernd and Hilla Becher. This is particularly observable when comparing the ethnography of coins in Bataille’s The Academic Horse (plate 14) and the typological arrangements of the Bechers’ industrial structures (plate 15). Here the influence of ‘lay’ ethnography is revealing: the developmental abstraction of form as depicted in both works are clearly analogous. This however is not surprising. The influence of New Objectivity appears in DOCUMENTS, both directly and through the movements influence on photographic practice. Karl Blossfeldt’s photography features heavily in Bataille’s essay, “le Langage des Fleurs.”184 As to does the portrait photography of August Sander echo in Bataille’s portrayal of portrait photography his Encyclopaedia Acephalica essay, “Figure humaine.”185

This relationship between the Bataille’s surrealist expositions and New Objectivity is telling of extent the expanding practices emerging out of the cultural development of photography in the Twentieth-Century. The understanding of these early experiments of Ur-ethnography in photography are essential in locating the Bechers’ oeuvre. This work made available an o


184 See:

Georges Bataille, “le Langage des Fleurs” [the Language of Flowers],

DOCUMENTS 1, no.3 (June 1929): pp.160-64. After Blossfeldt’s work appeared in DOCUMENTS he started to subscribe to the magazine. This was uncovered via the letter addressed to Blossfeldt held in the Karl Blossfeldt Archiv. 185 See:

Georges Bataille, “Figure humaine” [Human Figure], DOCUMENTS 1, no.4

(September 1929): pp.194-208.


Plate 14 Ethnographic enlargements of Greek & Gallic coins in DOCUMENTS [source: George Bataille, “Le Cheval Académque,” DOCUMENTS 1 (April 1929): p.27]

Plate 15 The Bechers’ plate arrangement of water towers, ca. 1966—1985 [source: Becher, Typologies, plate 14]


audience for the Bechers to expand, and became the springboard for the Bechers’ advancement of ethnography through their highly methodological approach to photography.

Launching now into a critique of the Bechers’ photography—having firmly established the photographic tradition of employing the apparatus of the camera under the artistic guise of ethnography—one can observe the gathering momentum surrounding the significance of their work in contemporary art history (therein asserting their authority for the purposes of this study). Reinhold Misselbeck, in his essay “Kontinuität und Widerspruch,”186 championed the Bechers as one of the most significant photographers of their time, observing that while the documentary style of photography in 1920s and 1960s, remained objectively opposed to the ‘experimental,’ the recognition this work receives in contemporary art today, retrospectively affirms the

186 Reinhold

Misselbeck, "Kontinuität und Widerspruch," in Photographie in der

deutschen Gegenwartskunst. An exhibition of the Museum Ludwig in Cologne in collaboration with the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, ed. Reinhold Misselbeck and Gary Garrels (Stuttgart: Hatje Cantz Verlag, 1993), p.23.


historical value of New Objectivity.187

Here, experimental should not be

confused for artistic rigour, nor does it acknowledge the radical recoding of ethnography. Moreover, it is important to note that their objective stance should not be mistaken for a distancing from their subject matter: within the work resides intrinsic visceral motivations. Neither should the documentary style be mistaken for ethnography proper: within the confines of New Objectivity however, ethnography forms the basis of the creative procedures of the art–process. In an elaboration by Bernd Becher, he expands on the objectivity and subjectivity of their work regarding the way they “collect[ed] objects although we made the effort in our photographs to proceed as objectively as possible while remaining subjective with our selections. We selected objects that are either typical or very special of an epoch.” 188 For Bernd, the motivation behind this process was,


New Objectivity in the 1920 could be considered part of he avant–garde in

photography, some critiques in the 1960s find the Bechers’ work more analogous with the arrière–garde. In most cases this critique fails to appreciate objective distancing of the art object in favour of the cult value of authorship in institutionalised art during the the subjective rich pop-art era. Reflecting on the artistic praxis of the time, the Bechers comment on the two schools dialectically opposed: “Pop Art with its everyday iconography,” and the “objective tradition of classical Modernism such as New Objectivity.” See: Zweite, "Bernd & Hilla “Suggestion for a Way of Seeing," p.30; & "Bernd and Hilla Becher in conversation with Michael Köhler," in Künstler: Kritisches Lexikon der Gegenwartskunst, ed. Lothar Romain and Detlef Bluemler (Munich: WB Verlag, 1989). Excerpted in Lange, Bernd and Hilla Becher: Life and Work: p.191. 188Bernd

Becher, as quoted in “The Birth of the Photographic View from the Spirit of

History: Bernd and Hilla Becher in Conversation with Heinz–Norbert Jocks,” p.209.


seeing the plants in Siergerland where I grew up, which characterised the mentality of the region and formed the basis of the economy there, were gradually disappearing. The iron ore mines and blast furnaces were the heart of the region. [...] My interest in this architecture had already been kindled in my childhood. 189

This revelation reveals the legacy of the Deutscher Werkbund and the Weimar Republic in inscribing the cult cultural value of industry in Germany. For the Bechers, it was their derivative to document the monuments that where so vital to the Zeitgeist of the Weimar epoch. Therein lies their position on photography, so far removed from the artistic objectives of the early photographers of New Objectivity: that “[t]he photo is merely a substitute for the object, it is useless as a picture in the usual sense of the word.” 190

Armin Zweite, notes that, within the context of contemporary art, the Bechers’ portrayal of industrial structures coincided with ”the first in-depth portrayals” of the development of industrialisation, at a time where preservation societies began recording the industrial facilities that exhibited this development.191 This, according to Reyner Banham had observable results in, not only the context that their work was viewed, but equally in how it was curated. Banham writes, “their effect is distancing, historicising, because they recall the


Becher, as quoted in “The Birth of the Photographic View from the Spirit of

History: Bernd and Hilla Becher in Conversation with Heinz–Norbert Jocks,” p.206. 190 Bernd

Becher and Hilla Becher, "Dokumentation industrieller Konstruktionen," in

Künstler—Theorie—Werk, exhibition catelogue accompanying the second Nurember Biennial 1971 (Cologne: 1971), p.342. As cited in Zweite, "Bernd & Hilla Becher’s Suggestion for a Way of Seeing," p.7. 191Zweite,

"Bernd & Hilla Becher’s Suggestion for a Way of Seeing," p.28.


Plate 16 Water Towers in Masonry—Germany, ca.1963-1998 [source: Becher, Typologies: plate 8]

Plate 17 Water Towers in Steel — USA, ca.1977-1983 [source: Becher, Typologies: plate 16]


illustrations in older trade journals, manufacturers’ catalogues, and promotional brochures.” 192 Moreover, according to Lange, this successfully

positioned their work against the background of historical industrial photography and focused on an area which had in traditional approaches to the theme of industry hitherto been paid little or no attention [...] accordingly characteristic for the state of technology in their time, place and form of construction. 193

Within the backdrop of this period of documentation, the Bechers’ oeuvre was firmly situated within the broader historicisation of industry. Moreover, it allowed a reading of their industrial structures, not merely from a prejudiced standpoint of quasi–archeological documentation, but uniquely ingrained in a larger art context. It is here that the enduring and influential qualities of their work reside.

That said however, the context of their work also coincided with the postmodernist rejection of modernity and industry as the imagery of its accent (Giedion, for example). Reyner Banham, commenting on the postindustrial age of the late Twentieth–Century (in light of postmodernism), sheds some light on the polemic shift away from the industrial fetishisation of the previous era. Sarcastically, he writes,

192Banham, 193 Lange,

“The Becher Vision,” p.7.

"August Sander, Karl Blossfeldt, Albert Renger-Patzsch, Bernd and Hilla

Becher: Comparative Concepts," p.144.


Plate 18 Water Towers in Steel—Germany, ca.1963-1980 [source: Becher, Typologies: plate 6]

Plate 19 Water Towers in Ferroconcrete—France, ca.1972-1983 [source: Becher, Typologies: plate 17]


the common and ubiquitous monuments of industry must be deprived of their power to inspire art. [...] This shift away from modernism has been well served by the Bechers’ portraits of our older industries. The studiedly unglamorous renderings avoid the standard rhetorics of flattery and approval that have been the preferred language of architectural photography as long as architectural photography has been practiced. 194

The emphasis here, surely denotes the significance of such an undertaking. In this context, the Bechers’ compendium of (architectural) photography from the industrial age goes against historical notions of stylistic rigour, rather their work presupposes the modernist (and postmodernist) tradition.195 This is evidenced in the Bechers’ water tower typology (plates 16–19), where the entire morphological category of this work dispenses preconceived notions of stylistic authority. The authorship inherent in the industrial water towers (as opposed to the purely functional blast furnace typology for example) exhibits— under the confines of identical functional requirements, that is to hold large volumes of water at a height that produces pressure—in the broadest sense, the iconoclastic contrast of competing styles. Here, Banham


persists in this vein, writing,

[i]n that Postmodern mode of vision it is essential not only that the key monuments of the modern movement be safely historicised and allotted appropriate location in the registers of the dead, but also that the unburied industrial sources of modernist imagery be sanitised and distanced from us, lest their still unexorcised mana invade the minds of another generation and start the modernist process all over again. See: Banham, “The Becher Vision,” p.7. 195On

this topic, Hilla Becher reveals, “I did not consider it particularly unsettling that

we were opposing the ‘Zeitgeist’ with our aesthetics [...] I always had the feeling that we were doing the only right thing.” See: Hilla Becher as quoted in "Bernd and Hilla Becher in conversation with Michael Köhler." Excerpted in Lange, Bernd and Hilla Becher: Life and Work: p.189.


Plate 20 Mannheim — Germany, ca.1970 [source: Bernd and Hilla Becher, Water Towers (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1993): plate 110]


writes that the water towers’ “sheer variety bears salutary witness to the rarely appreciated fact that, far from being dominated by a reductive discipline of purely instrumental rationality, the high period of heavy industry was one of almost unlimited variability and richness.” 196 Banham continues, noting the “bombast of cultural pretentiousness—Gothic windows and Neoclassical portals seem to be everywhere and there is even (save the mark!) one modernist composition.” 197 When comparing the differing style of each tableau this is unmistakable, especially when viewing, say, the neo-classical water tower in the town square of Mannheim, Germany (plate 20), and—what is surely an influence of Le Corbusier’s modernist enterprise—in the oblique ferroconcrete tower in Lens, France (plate 21). In an elaboration of this phenomenon by Hilla Becher, she observes,

[i]n the art-historical sense, we can hardly pinpoint clear stylistic buildings by region, but similar geographical and economic conditions lead to similar structures. [...] While houses or halls in a region tend to be influenced by the building tradition and the materials locally available, in the case of equipment-like industrial buildings, certain types of structures are typical of certain regions. The economic structure of a region, [...] as well as the working conditions that result from this all culminate in the ‘style’ of the structure.198

It is interesting that, within the water typology specifically, the demarcation between tradition, style and local construction methods is less obvious. Say, for example, if every water tower was constructed on purely functional provisions: surely this would lead to a ubiquitous morphology. This is obviously not the 196Banham,

"The Becher Vision," p.8.


“The Becher Vision,” p.7.


Hilla’s unpublished notes in 1971, as cited in Lange, Bernd and Hilla Becher:

Life and Work: p.50.


Plate 21 Lens, Pas-de-Calais — France, ca.1979 [source: Bernd and Hilla Becher, Water Towers: plate 169]


case: the Bechers’ typologies quickly dispel this notion, and begin to invoke inquiries into the forces enacting this disparity. In order to start to unravel the enigmatic condition inherent in these typological arrangements, one could, for example, regress to a Sigfried Giedion’s Building in France, Building in Iron, Building in Ferroconcrete. Giedion, on the tectonics of steel, writes,

[t]he significance of iron is: to condense high potential stress into the most minimal dimensions. if a comparison is permitted, iron suggests both muscular tissue and skeleton in a building. Iron open the spaces. [...] To design a load-bearing wall becomes a intolerable force. [/] This leads to new laws of design.178

Here, the development of steel has emancipated form, freeing the water 199

tower (and architecture proper) from the burden of traditional construction and the stylistic residuals it carries in favour of more economic methods of construction. Moreover, on the variations that exist in different regions, Bernd Becher observes,

[t]here are typical American forms. Although the function of a water tower does not differ fundamentally from that in Europe, there is still a typically American solution. In the United States they prefer steel structures which can be erected more quickly. It does not bother them if something deviates from the architectonic tradition. In France with its preference for concrete, the buildings are oriented toward conventional stone architecture. If you juxtapose an American and a French grouping you tell a story of sort with pictures. 200

199 Giedion,

Building in France, Building in Iron, Building in Ferroconcrete: p.101.

Emphasis in original. 200Bernd

Becher, as quoted in “The Birth of the Photographic View from the Spirit of

History: Bernd and Hilla Becher in Conversation with Heinz–Norbert Jocks,” p.207.


Here, the juxtaposition is only available by representing each structure with precisely the same objective methodology. In an elaboration of the structure of their technique, Hilla Becher explains that

[t]he object should be photographed from several angles and wherever possible without complications of perspective. The light should be neutral. The ideal is sunshine and light cloud. Strong shadows should be avoided. They confuse the outlines and details disappear. The background should be quiet and contrast with the object being photographed. A very pale sky is the condition we aim for. If absolutely necessary, the background can be modified on foggy days.180

Essentially the technique the Bechers are adopting here serve the purpose of the entfremdungseffekt, that is, the alienation effect.202 201

Here, the

decontextualisation allows each carefully cropped structure to be comparable within their gridded typology, evoking an entomologist’s collection or Blossfeldt’s working collages. This is what Lange would call “comparative juxtapositions,”203 likewise, Walter Benjamin’s dialectical image re-emerges in this context.

201 Hilla

Becher, "Documenting Industrial History by Photography," Industrial

Archaeology: The Journal of the History of Industry and Technology, no. 4 (1968). As cited in Lange, Bernd and Hilla Becher: Life and Work: p.185. 202As

Hilla Becher elaborates, I was interested in representing the object precisely, whereby anything, even a face, could be considered an object. But the Nineteenth Century stance overflowing with ideas relating to photojournalism and then gradually melding with the abstract was not my thing.

Hilla Becher, as quoted in “The Birth of the Photographic View from the Spirit of History: Bernd and Hilla Becher in Conversation with Heinz–Norbert Jocks,” p.203. 203See:


Lange, Bernd and Hilla Becher: Life and Work: pp.51-44.

It is here, within the confines of the Bechers’ comparative typologies, that Lange (for the purposes of this dissertation) makes her most crucial observation. As Lange remarks, “[a] further step is to distinguish the objects by local identity, which could be termed ethnographic subdivision.”204

Moreover, Wend Ficsher, discussing the Bechers’ interest in this ethnographic formal analysis, writes, “the focus on the reasons why the forms had arisen led to the need to find out and demonstrate the technological context and differences, order then by functional group, and aspire to a certain degree of completeness.” 205 This is asserted by Bernd Becher, who reveals,

[o]n the whole we devise our categories based on sort of scientific criteria. We form groups of works based on the function of the objects. [...] Then within these categories there are also “families” of objects determined from the building material they use: wood, stone, iron, and concrete. And only within these object families do intuitive selection criteria come into play.206

On these grounds the tradition of Giedion and the photographers of New Objectivity alike converge. Through a faux-scientific methodology, the categorisation of the Bechers’ industrial typologies, exhibit characteristics inseparable from the practice of ethnography. This is advanced by Hilla Becher, commenting on their methodological criteria for the layout of their ethnographic gridded typologies:


Bernd and Hilla Becher: Life and Work: p.50.

205 Fischer,

"Anonyme Industriebauten. Fotografische Dokumentation von Hilla und

Bernd Becher," p.868. As cited in Lange, Bernd and Hilla Becher: Life and Work: p.55. 206 Bernd

Becher, quoted in "Bernd and Hilla Becher in conversation with Michael

Köhler." Excerpted in Lange, Bernd and Hilla Becher: Life and Work: p.190.


[i]n morphology—the science of forms—there are wonderful analogies. The approach begins with a description of the outer appearance of an animal or a plant, everything that can be recognised on the outside such as size, colour and the relationship of the parts to the whole. Then the inner organs are investigated, the structure of anatomy. Finally the developmental history and questions of function are looked into, including the niche each species fills in its environment and in its own specific biotype. If you transfer this method to other areas, it is possible to investigate any kind of subject.207

In an advancement by Lange, she writes, “[i]n biology, for example, comparative morphology provides the the basis for researching the diversity of species, which is then studied in terms of analogies and convergences to identify the types of a species.” 208

One can see with ease—concerning the historical position of the Bechers‘ oeuvre within the discussion of Ur-ethnography—the ethnographic trajectory of their work: the combined methodological approach of a dialectical diagrid of typological tableaux allows each image to be comparable, due in equal measure the objective praxis of Entfremdungseffekt that locates each industrial motif identically in every frame. Empowered by visceral position on the cultural significance of industrialisation they harboured, here the artistic approach of 207 Hilla

Becher, as quoted in Susanne Lange, Bernd and Hilla Becher: Industrial

Landscapes (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2002). p.11. 208Lange


[l]ikewise, psychology uses this method of typology to “systematically structure and describe psychological or psycho-physical phenomena and the related characteristics features and behavioural patterns.” The procedure of typological classification rests upon exact observation and collecting, labelling, and grouping species, objects or information in order to arrive at conclusions about an overlapping pattern or a construction plan characterising a group. See: Lange, Bernd and Hilla Becher: Life and Work: p.51.


Bernd and Hilla Becher not only positions their work in exemplary sphere of New Objectivity, but, by James Clifford‘s definition, within the broader ethos of modernity. This is not a strenuous link for Clifford, “ethnography in alliance with avant–garde art and cultural criticism, [are] activities with which it shares modernist procedures of collage, juxtaposition and estrangement.”209 At the vary least then, this firmly asserts the Bechers into the discourse of architectural history and theory: a position that—although may have occasionally come under scrutiny—has not until now been institutionally measured.


"On Ethnographic Surrealism," p.10.




“Only a few years ago, there was born to us a machine that has since become the glory of our age, and that day amazes the mind and startles they eye. This machine, a century hence, will be the brush, the palette, the colours, the craft, the patience, the practice, the glance, the touch, the paste, the glaze, the trick, the relief, the finish, the rendering. [...] When the [camera], this titan child, will have attained the age of maturity, when all its power and potential will have been unfolded, then the genius of art will suddenly seize it by the collar and exclaim: ‘Mine! You are mine now! We are going to work together.’ ” — A. J. Wiertz 210

210 Antoine

Joseph Wiertz, Oeuvres littéraires

(Paris: Librairie Internationale, 1870).

Originally published in “La Photographie,” La Nation (1855). As quoted in Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project: p.671. Emphasis by Author.


(Re)reading History Despite the multitude of ethnographic undercurrents discernible in the various disciplines of theoretical discourses—i.e. Walter Benjamin’s philosophical criticisms; Sigfried Giedion’s industrialised doctrine of modernity; Georges Bataille’s Heterology; and the various discourses of the New Objectivity in art theory—the unique material value of the Bechers’ oeuvre has failed to be appreciated in contemporary architectural scholarship. This condition presupposes the model of Ur-ethnography as an epistemological rebranding of the historical position of the art object in bourgeoisie mass–culture. Urethnography reveals reoccurring tropes of the development of the art object from the position of critical theory, illuminating views of the Zeitgeist and massculture. In this vein a philosophical, rather than historical, Ur–ethnography is both formative and radically transformative in positioning art-photography as an architectural platform to transcribe a morphological and ideological history. This model of ethnographic tracings is analogous to (and illuminating of) the historical avant–garde of modernism, and the neo–avant–garde of contemporary architecture, and leads a projected field of future research.

While this paper aimed its critique at the discourse of industrialisation during the 1920s and 1930s, critical to the development of the modern movement, there remains grounds for expansion regarding the concurrent discourse of mechanisation during the period that Bechers practiced their photography. One expanded field may exist in broadening a study of critical theory surrounding the ethos of mechanisation as it relates to the Bechers’ ethnographic procedures in the architectural writings of, say, Giedion’s Space, Time and Architecture (1941), or Reyner Banham’s, A Concrete Atlantis: U.S. Industrial Building and European Modern Architecture, 1900-1925 (1986).


There may also exist a possibility to employ the expanded definition of ethnography (provided by the Bechers) to apply to a (re)interpretation of the polemic architectural works of the neo-avant–garde by Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, Learning from Las Vegas (1972), or Rem Koolhaas, Delirious New York: A Retrospective Manifesto for Manhattan (1978).

What then, can one conclude about the significance of the Bechers photographic legacy? Perhaps the power in their work does not reside in the material value of their photographic archive, rather the emphasis should be placed on the visceral position they shared regarding the the cultural significance of industrialisation, deeply rooted in cultural influence it asserted on Germany during the inter-war period. It may be better to say that one can see that the creative intentions of the Weimar Republic permeate New Objectivity and the architecture of the Deutscher Werkbund in equal measure. This echoes in the words of Mies van der Rohe who conceded,

[t]he decisive achievements in all areas are objective in nature, and their originators are usually unknown. They are part of the trend of our time towards anonymity. Our engineering structures are typical examples. [...] Our utilitarian buildings will mature into architecture only if they interpret their time through their perfect functional expression.211

It remains to be seen if the historical 1920s iconoclasm of the New Objectivity— dialectically at odds to the rich-subjectivity of the concurrent surrealist enterprise—affected the trajectory of modern movement in architecture. Perhaps the most fascinating enigma resides in the subject matter of these


Mies van der Rohe, "Architecture and the Will of the Age," Der Querschnitt

4(1924): pp.31-32.


respective schools: it is no mistake that New Objectivity is ontologically aligned with industrialisation. If a historicised Ur-ethnography has revealed anything, it has asserted the fertility Weimar mindset, projecting culture towards an ideal gesamtkunstwerk. Within this synthesis philosophy, industry, photography, and architecture intersect: dispelling a number of historical presumptions about the developmental antitheses of art and architecture proper. The legacy of Bernd and Hilla Becher, then, lies in the way their oeuvre dispels the interstitial partialities surrounding the radical influence of industrialisation on modernity. As Reyner Banham concludes in his essay, “The Becher Vision�:

[t]he vision of the Bechers leaves us no cause to wonder that our modernist forebears saw the teeming fecundity and radial authority of technological invention as a standing reproach to the frozen categories of art.212



"The Becher Vision," p.8.

Plate 22 Bernd Becher in practice — England, ca.1968 [source: Lange, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Life and Work: p.2]





Appendix I: Wassert端rme

____________________ "Wassert端rme," The Architectural Review 141, no. 841 (March 1967): p.227.


____________________ "Wassert端rme," The Architectural Review 141, no. 841 (March 1967): p.228.


____________________ "Wassert端rme," The Architectural Review 141, no. 841 (March 1967): p.229.


____________________ "Wassert端rme," The Architectural Review 141, no. 841 (March 1967): p.230.


Appendix II: Pithead Archeology

____________________ "Pithead Archaeology," The Architectural Review 143, no. 852 (February 1968): p.155.


____________________ "Pithead Archaeology," The Architectural Review 143, no. 852 (February 1968): p.156.


____________________ "Pithead Archaeology," The Architectural Review 143, no. 852 (February 1968): p.157.


____________________ "Pithead Archaeology," The Architectural Review 143, no. 852 (February 1968): p.100.


Appendix III: Wooden Cooling Towers

____________________ "Wooden Cooling Towers," The Architectural Review 143, no. 856 (June 1968): p.472.


____________________ "Wooden Cooling Towers," The Architectural Review 143, no. 856 (June 1968): p.474.


____________________ "Wooden Cooling Towers," The Architectural Review 143, no. 856 (June 1968): p.476.


Appendix IV: Letter from Walter Benjamin

____________________ Letter from Walter Benjamin, 15 February 1929, Archiv S. Giedion, Institus FĂźr Geschichte und Theorie der Architektur,


Zurich, excerpted from

Sigfried Giedion, Building in France, Building in Iron, Building in Ferroconcrete: p.53.


Appendix V: Bauen in Frankreich, Bauen in Eisen, Bauen in Eisenbeton

____________________ Cover of Sigfried Giedion’s, Bauen in Frankreich, Bauen in Eisen, Bauen in Eisenbeton (Leipzig: Klinkhardt & Biermann, 1928).






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Deconstructing Fairyland: Ethnographic Tracing of the Industrial Photography of Bernd & Hilla Becher  
Deconstructing Fairyland: Ethnographic Tracing of the Industrial Photography of Bernd & Hilla Becher  

Research Dissertation submitted for the Masters of Architecture, November 2013