After weeks of stress, vacations, stress and then hot and humid summer, I have decided to recharge my batteries again by looking at something beautiful. Being presented by a friend with several options, I went for the exhibitions of industrial photography or, to be more precise, mines and coal work. (Industry came also later.) Being slightly claustrophobic, Münchner Stadtmuseum is not my favourite one, but I gave it a try – and it did pay off!
Bernd and Hilla Becher, Bergwerke und Hütten (Mines and Steelworks)
This couple has been documenting the industry architecture around the world for already five decades: factory halls, gas containers, electricity networks, mine towers, steel ovens. These monuments have been immediately recognized in the history of art as “anonymous sculptures” (Karl Ruhrberg) and, as such, their architectural beauty has been accentuated – although their architects are more less unknown.
What amazed me in these portraits is pure yet precise style in taking those photographs: their objectiveness, simplicity, strive for non-artistic perspective. The buildings are almost always placed in the center, depicted frontally and without dramatic light component. The aim was not on showing them as what they not and trying to make them to ‘look pretty’: they have been perceived to be pretty as they are.
The reactions from my side were different. Spending my childhood in a Bosnian mine town, I have my own nostalgic relationship with mines. I remember playing in the park with a monument to mine workers, who died in the tragedy of 1963, and also being woken up on its anniversary day by sad brass music. Anyway, this exhibition shown us the mines from the United States, Germany, France, Great Britain, Belgium and Luxembourg. Here one can also see a difference: while in the States the vast nature is surrounding the area and a contrast may be noticed between wildness in the nature and quietness (but power) in the industry building, in Europe, there are always houses in a close proximity and sometimes literally embraced by mine pillars and bridges.
All photos are made in black-and-white. However, one can always notice year season as well as if it was sunny or cloudy day, what gives the photography another perspective. The contrast between black and white, or its grey shades, is also what gives certain pictures soft or dramatic air. The architecture of the industrial buildings is always different: sometimes it reminded me of a castle, renaissance in Florence or matches. It struck me by the middle of exhibition that there are hardly persons in any of these photos. However, it is obvious that mine is there for people and that it is part of their lives, just like a family member. Whether it is a house array overlooking the smelter, historic building and tower next to the iron tower, vegetable garden or wet clothes being dried in the background, the human presence and their mutual dependence is omnipresent.
The photographs have been taken in different decades and in different landscapes. Although it does affect its surroundings, the idea of industrialization, sense of these buildings, its human perspective and value is equally present. However, most of these industrial architectures have been already destroyed and run down. Sometime blooming industry is leaving us a deserted areas, which do not have a defined purpose and do not get enough of attention. That is a reason more why this exhibition has a value by bringing us back to the past and visually argumenting its presence.
All Photos (c) Bernd und Hilla Becher, from:
P.S. We have also seen the exhibition “Industriezeit” there, also to recommend, but this could be a good topic for a next post!