Monday, January 28, 2008

Water Tanks and Signs?

Over the weekend someone asked why I bother posting photos of water tanks or signs from derelict hotels. And upon reflection it really might seem an odd subject for a photograph. I might as well collect photographs of fire hydrants or traffic signs. But as I was reminded a couple of weeks ago in a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, there's certainly precedent for that kind of documentary style in which ordinary objects - rather than human subjects - become the photographer's focus. In one of the museum's photography galleries they had images by Bernd and Hilla Becher, the German couple who made a career out of straightforward documentary images of industrial landscapes.

Beginning in the early 1960s the Becher's carried their large format view camera around Europe and the United States to capture images of water towers (see the first image below), cooling towers, grain elevators, blast furnaces, and more. Publishing numerous books and winning myriad awards, they showed that even industrial subjects - like these water towers - can be beautiful as architectural monuments. They also chronicled an age in which industrial design actually reflected a measure of aesthetic concern for an object's placement in the environment. Realize too that the Becher's were also conscious of the impermanence of that landscape. In the post-industrial world of Europe and the U.S. over the last 30 years, many of their subjects were razed in the name of progress and beautification.

Now I don't make any claims to possess the vision of Bernd and Hilla Becher. (Although I certainly would jump at the chance to experiment with a large format camera!) Still, I do enjoy that kind of documentary effort, capturing bits of the New York City landscape that seem threatened by either "renewal" or neglect. Indeed, the area along the Hudson River from about 18th Street down to Houston includes many older buildings - some historic - that face demolition in the wake of new condo and co-op construction. Unfortunately, most of that new development is in the form architectural nightmares of glass and metal. I will not be taking picture of those. (Obviously the last three images are mine.)




Note: While at the MOMA I learned that Bernd Becher died in 2007 at the age of 75. One wonders if his wife will continue to take pictures.
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1 comment:

jblack designs said...

I love the first photo of yours with the three buildings and the space between. Is that a reflection in the window? A blur? It's very inviting to speculate upon.

Thanks for the info on the others, too.