Among the comparisons made in the Bechers typologies are those based on the structures' function (water tower, blast furnace, cooling towers, etc.), shape, size, location, materials, date, and multiple views of a single structure. As their archive expanded so did the types of possible comparisons. The water towers, in Typologies, unlike those described by Jappe, are a type specific to New York City. The two pieces depicting winding towers illustrate very different organizing principles—one large scale and durable, the other ad-hoc. The comparisons are not didactic, but in bringing together disparate views and distant objects they provide an entirety new experience. In 1974 the Bechers noted that they sought "to collect the information in the simplest form, to disregard unimportant differences and to give a clearer understanding of the structures. We wanted to provide a viewpoint or other a grammar for people to understand and compare different structures. This is often impossible in their natural setting."
The Bechers often go to great lengths to make their comparisons as clear and consistent as possible. They most frequently utilisze a high viewpoint (often erecting scaffolding), photograph the most planar view of a structure (its silhouette), and use the perspective correction controls of a view camera. They photography in even light and come close to filling the frame with the main structure; this not only minimizes temporal and geographic clues but provides an identical photographic scale to objects of disparate sizes.
A photographic typology not only provides a new setting for the study of a subject, it visually preserves that subject. From the start the Bechers understood that the structures that interested them, those whose external form visually mirrored their function, represented a specific moment in the history of industrialization. Both the structures and the way of life they represented were in the process of disappearing as a result of technological obsolescence as well as depletion of natural resources. Thus the Bechers often find themselves in a race against the clock. Of mineheads reproduced in the 1985 book on the subject, forty-five were then in use, thirty-nine were abandoned, and eighty-eight were already destroyed, despite the fact that almost all were twentieth-century creations.
The Bechers have expanded and refined their project during the past decade. When exhibiting these prints they have used either a wall or a room as a typological unit. They have worked extensively with the more complex, often anthropomorphic, forms of blast furnaces. Certain works, such as the series of typologies depicting details of coke plants and hot blast stoves exhibited at Sonnabend Gallery in 1988, are overt in their biomorphic, even sexual, implications. The Bechers' stated admiration for the nineteenth-century photography and Flaubert seems more appropriate than ever. As Hilla Becher has noted, admiringly, "In the 19th century, you have both the object and the metaphor and if you use them in the right way it becomes so fascinating that in the end you can really say: this is a certain object, it has a name and so on, but it also stands for a certain historical condition.
In 1975 the Bechers were among ten artists included in the exhibition New Topograhics. Much attention was paid to this exhibition's concentration on suburban development and vernacular architecture. The Bechers' relation to the other photographers in New Topograhics was tangential, considering their historically specific choice of subjects, their participation as the only Europeans, and their use of multiple images to compromise a single artwork.
(In "Typologies: Nine Contemporary Photographers" by M. Freidus, 1991)
By placing photographs of similar subjects alongside each other, the individual differences emerge, making the fine details in each picture more noticeable, more distinct. Drawing on this, they began exhibiting the pictures as typologies; by the early 1960s they showed their work only in typological groups. Typically, a piece of work would comprise four small prints of, for example, water towers, adjacent to a larger print of one of the four. They would not supply prints of individual pictures; the typology was the work. Later, their typologies contained prints of equal size, measuring 30 cm by 40 cm. It could be three rows of five prints, a grid of nine or, in one case, 28 blast furnaces in three rows; a symphony of industrial structures.
The Bechers' pictures do not have to be viewed in typologies in order to make sense, as they have validity as individual images. The typology has been developed for two reasons. First, by amassing such a detailed survey of industrial structures they are revealing sets and subsets, much like 19th-century zoologists did. With water towers, for example, there are round steel ones with conical tops, like hats, and semi-circular ones. Others are circular with sloping roofs, or without roofs, or on steel derricks, or brick towers, and so on. The more fine the differences, the better they are illustrated by the typology.
Second, the typology used by the Bechers emphasises the rewards of close scrutiny, and it is this that makes each and every one of their pictures fascinating. By presenting 15 water towers in a grid, the first effect is an imposing mass of industrial structures. You must stand back in order to take them all in as a group, but to look closer at an individual picture it is necessary to draw nearer.
Up close, only one tower is visible at a time. Isolated in pristine, black-and-white definition, this everyday object is revealed as an 'anonymous sculpture', an unostentatious but fabulous creation by mankind. To compare it with the others is to stand back again, and from here the impulse is to step up and examine another. Just as the beauty of the individual structure (for that is what they are) is there to see, so together as a typology they are a thrilling spectacle.
Apart from presenting them as typologies, the Bechers produced a series of monographs covering a range of industrial structures. In these finely printed books, the pictures are published one to a page. They are like portraits and the devotional aspect of their work becomes apparent. Photography, like film, has two specific properties. The first is that the photograph will record far more than the eye could see at the time of exposure. It traps details so finely on the negative that it would take the naked eye a long time to uncover the same amount of information. As with a view from a window, one can look and look and look, always seeing more.
(via Tate Magazine Issue 1)
It's like after years of walking around barefoot, I have finally found a shoe that fits - and it all falls into place. Hilla and Bernd Becher are in my eyes the masters of Typology. While obviously, Candida Höfer's images are easier to look at, if it wasn't for the Bechers, most German photographic talents would have never been born.
With photography and the Bechers as inspiration, for the first time have I found something that I can call my own and pride myself with. Even though I am German!
The Typology of Jacob Love
Line of Flight, a body of work by Jacob Love, seemingly at first fits into a grand tradition of photographic typology: the meticulous documenting of 'the thing', an assembling of members of a common class or type. On closer inspection, however, Love takes the (intentional) banality of typology and turns it into a magical playground of both realized and failed potential.
For typology to work, it must force the viewer to discover new meaning in the seemingly mundane, scientific documenting of the everyday; things that are ignored or taken for granted. A new aesthetic must be forged and, in its forging, relationships must be built between the actuality of 'the thing' and the creation of a larger truth about how these categorized objects affect the way we view the world and navigate it. After all, the typologist is primarily concerned with the manmade and how our intervening in the world affects how we live in it. Typology plays an integral role in how we assess our impact on the world in which we live. We alter the world; we document the alteration, and then we measure how that change makes us feel. Does it improve the way we live our lives? Do we feel more content about the new world we have created?
The swimming pools ('the thing' in Love's work) of Line of Flight are a perfect primer for us to judge how we have changed and developed the world around us. Municipal spaces reflect the notion of beauty as a reflection of the beauty that its users should aspire to. Municipal spaces are a reflection of the dominant aesthetic of their era; a reflection of the beauty that their users should aspire to. This is especially true of leisure spaces, dedicated to the 'body beautiful'. By achieving physical perfection we may convince ourselves that we have attained emotional or intellectual perfection also. As Love describes elsewhere in the book, 'the pools, a "leisure centre", can be seen as a kind of sanctioned container for this constructive use of leisure. Exercise and a physical engagement in the world can help provide meaning and purpose in people's lives.' By classifying these leisure spaces, we are forced to deal with what perfection means to us and then judge how we fall short of our own exacting expectations. The buildings themselves can be seen as a historical reflection on the beauty of the time they were built. From the elaborate Victorian detail of Porchester Deep/What You Don't Know You Don't Know™ (p. 17 above) to the modern slickness of Kensington Deep/For Successful Living™ (p. 21), these spaces work as an aesthetic incentive for us to achieve the beauty that we link to our sense of perfectionism. After all 'we engage not only with the moment the photograph was taken but... with the memories of past cultures' (Cotton, 2004: 95). We strive to replicate the Utopian surroundings of the spaces we inhabit. The details and styling of the buildings may change (with what, as a society, we perceive to be aesthetically pleasing) but the intention remains the same.
This exploration of potentiality draws inevitable comparisons to the psychology of Abraham Maslow. In his 1943 paper 'A Theory of Human Motivation', Maslow explores the notion of self-actualization through his 'Hierarchy of Needs'. In order for us to achieve perfection, we must become self-actualized. We can only achieve this, however, once our 'lower' needs have been sated. But this proves problematic, as James Carrette argues in his article 'Psychology, Spirituality and Capitalism: The Case of Abraham Maslow'. This notion of personal betterment was inevitably adapted from psychology and used as the key motivational tool within business and eventually in the business of self-help. Maslow 'disguised visions of global capitalism behind a rhetoric of "health" and "human potential"' (2003: 90). Maslow's self-actualization is now only achievable through the attainment of wealth, power and possessions. This has stretched beyond the world of business and has gripped consumerist culture as well, where materialism is encouraged as a path to 'self-actualization'. This can be evidenced in the ethos of self-help publications like The Secret, with it's mantra of visualizing the possessions you want in order to attain them; if you visualize yourself behind the wheel of your new sports car, then you will have it. As Bob Doyle, a convert to The Secret, states: 'you put yourself in the feeling place of really being in that car. Not "I wish I could get that car" or "Some day I'll have that car"...' (Byrne, 2004: 84). This is a fact not lost on Love. Why else would he choose to subtitle each pool by pillaging the language of advertising copywriters, motivational speakers and pharmacists? 'Experts' helping us work tirelessly to be the very best we can be.
Each swimming pool, devoid of human presence, clearly depicts two distinct worlds: the actual, physical world of the pool, and the metaphorical, perfect world of the water's reflection. 'The mirror is after all a Utopia, since it is a placeless place. In the mirror, I see myself there where I am not, in an unreal virtual space that opens up behind the surface; I am over there where I am not, a sort of shadow that gives my own visibility to myself, that enables me to see myself there where I am absent: such is the Utopia of the mirror' (Foucault, 1986: 24). This is explored within the titles themselves, which neatly separate into the two worlds the visual space inhabits: reality (the pool's name) and the Utopia (the trademarked motivational message).
Like typologists before him, Love gives 'equal weight to... subject and... process' (Slemmons, 1991: 44) and allows meaning to fall somewhere in between. It is not enough for him to merely photograph swimming pools; the methodology of the approach is just as important in the creation of meaning. By literally turning the world upside-down, he emphasizes the two worlds that are vying for space in his pictures: the Utopia we strive for and the actuality of the lives we live. It is made impossible for us to dive into the perfect world of the reflection, but instead we are tempted by it as it hovers just out of reach above our heads. Of course, by doing this we are also held back from failure. If we could dive into the perfect reflection, our bodies would destroy it immediately. Instead all we can do is try to reach out to it and fail. The horizon line where these two worlds meet acts as a precipice between the reality of the viewer's existence and the perfection they strive for. By inverting the image the viewer is in danger of losing grip of their Utopia and falling into the mess of their own realities.
All of this is displayed in Iron Deep/The Feeling State of Already Having Acquired These Wants (p. 9). More is revealed in the reflection than in the 'real' world of the bottom of the frame. Within the frame, the mirrored Utopia is more perfect and rendered with more detail than the reality. Yet this detail has a softer sheen, provided by the calmness of the undisturbed water. The hard lines and harsh brightness of the reality are made more comforting in the reflection. But what of its inversion? The upsidedown reality, the space we can inhabit and walk through, is harsh and confusing; our reality is too difficult to navigate, too beset with traps and pitfalls and information we cannot comprehend for us to ever feel truly comfortable within it. It is much easier to look up at the calming beauty of our Utopia and dream. It is no coincidence that its subtitle is another mantra of The Secret: visualize ourselves walking through our Utopia and we will have it.
Accompanying the epic proportions of Love's swimming pools is a series of portraits of the pools' workers. But like Jeff Wall's Utopian portraits, Young Workers 1978-83, the sitters are merely constructs. They mirror the cultural diversity of Wall's work and by proxy the cultural diversity of the Utopia we are aiming towards, yet they do not function as individuals but rather as cogs in a larger machine. Their bodies have been sacrificed for the greater good of the communal body. This is enhanced by the hyperrealistic appearance of each sitter. Every tiny detail or flaw is highlighted, creating an intense hyperreality that makes their individuality too hard to look at (a device also employed in the pools themselves), forcing you to retreat into the whole. While all the flaws and stamps of individuality are made painfully clear in each portrait, the intensity of look up at our realized potential, as the workers do, and bask in its wonder, trying to forget the failure of the reality that lies at our feet.
But is this really the end we seek? Beset as they are with the doubt and fears of our own reality? If we view our utopia we can achieve it - this is after all what Maslow and his followers teach us. Yet Love, through his pictures, shows us the foolishness in this belief. Just because we can visualize something through photography, doesn't make it ours. As we visualize the mirrored Utopia of the pool's reflection, perhaps we should remember we are no nearer achieving it than if we had not visualized it at all.
This is the role of typology. We have built these shrines to leisure, altering perceptibly the world we live in. They play a fundamental role in the utopia we seek and the documents of them are a way of visualizing our future. When looked at in this way, typology itself can be viewed as a form of cultural 'self-actualization'. Through slavish documentation, we can visualize what we have achieved. Love's swimming pools, when viewed en masse, unsullied by human presence, perform this role. We see the grand architectural structures we have constructed and can glimpse the utopia in them. In photography we have the end we seek. Love has photographed them, presenting these types back to us so that we can fully assess the success of our endeavours.
(photographs via jacoblove.net. Essay by Damian Owen-Board in "Line of Flight" by Jacob Love, 2009)
So, whatever I say now, people will think I'm a brown-noser. Here goes nothing:
What I like about Jacob's work is the fact that while adhering to strick rules as far as picture taking is concerned, when turning his work around, it gets a completely new meaning. While Jacob's work clearly is a typological assessment of swimming pools, he found a new language to express himself through typology.
Edward Burtynsky, born in St. Catherines, Ontario in 1955, is a leading photojournalist and environ- mental photographer who has made an international reputation with his large-scale, color photographs of mines, quarries, recycling yards from Canada and the United States, ship-dismantling facilities in Bangladesh, and a documentation of the Three Gorges project in China titled Before the Flood.
During the 1990s, Andreas Gursky became one of the most prominent photographers in Germany. His large-format color photographs are distinguished by their precise composition, detailed depth of field, and overall structure that avoids any central vantage point. He is interested in how social and political culture structures people’s lives at leisure or at work, in the world of fashion, sport, business, or finance.
Gursky was born in Leipzig, East Germany, in 1955 to a third-generation family of photographers. He grew up in West Germany, where his parents had moved the year he was born. As soon as he could walk, he came into contact with photographers, as well as photographic techniques and their applica- tion to the advertising industry. This may have encouraged his decision to pursue his studies at the famed Folkwangschule in Essen, which at the time was the most renowned school of photography in Germany. The school was directed and greatly influenced by the founder of subjective photography, Otto Steinert, who trained photographers in an applied aesthetic that corresponded to his own; and the students worked primarily in small-format photography, in prints rich in contrasting black and white. Although Gursky began his studies the year of Steinert’s death in 1978, the aesthetic taught at the school was slow to move from the principles established by Steinert. During this time, Gursky dedicated himself to black-and-white photography reportage with a Leica 35 mm camera. Among the young instructors who had taken over teaching from Steinert, Gursky profited most from the sustained influence of Michael Schmidt, who familiarized him with his own opinions and with the latest developments in photography coming from America.
After four semesters at the Folkwangschule, Gursky followed the advice of his photographer friend Thomas Struth and applied to the Academy of Art in Düsseldorf. There he entered the photography class directed by Bernd Becher and his wife, Hilla. With this step, Gursky turned away from applied photography and to the study of photography as a free art form. In the class he met Candida Höfer, Tata Ronkholz, Thomas Ruff, and Petra Wunderlich; Thomas Struth and Axel Hütte had just finished their studies. The Becheresque principles of style served as a model for this generation and even the following generation. The Bechers taught students to focus on only one theme, one point of view, and one perspective, as well as to decontextualize the subject by excluding as much as possible, any elements that defined time—all essential components of the Bechers’ work. The Bechers also influenced Gursky’s aesthetic, which in the 1980s focused on common cliches such as people strolling on a Sunday afternoon, playing soccer, or going on a packaged vacation. These themes allowed him, as observer, to maintain a constant distance, and thus his photographs preserved little of the reality of the scenes he shot, making them stand for the general state of things in the industrial world. The precise observation, the fixation on a singular idea of the image, and the patient execution belong not to a medium applied to the world for a functional purpose but to one that is an independent expression and an attitude toward life. Taking in the Bechers’ understanding of photography, Gursky put aside the 35 mm camera, which made possible quick-reaction shots and the capture of fleeting moments; from then on he worked with large- and medium-format cameras, no longer in black and white, but exclusively in color. In technique and composition, his photographs from the 1980s demonstrate the influence of American color photographers such as Stephen Shore, William Eggleston, and, above all, Jeff Wall. A characteristic of his photography that crystallized over time is the distant, elevated position of the observer that faded out the defining condition of the frame and led to a floating perspective. Human beings formed by the structures of their world become unrecognizable and appear as part of a single mass that submits, whether in leisure or work, to the same occupation. Mountain climbers, swimmers, skiers, theater audiences, and party or rock-concert goers are as equally subservient as stockbrokers and industrial workers. ‘‘I observe human species under the open sky from the perspective of an extraterrestrial being. To make clear that my interest rests in the species and not the individual, I have abstracted people into tiny figurines’’ (Gespräch mit B. Bürgi Zurich, 1992, p. 10).
Though human actors still appear in earlier landscapes, which suggest a kind of narration—Sonntagsspaziergänger, Ratingen, 1984 (Walking on Sunday, Ratingen); Neujahrsschwimmer, 1988 (New Year’s Swimmer); Angler, Mühlheim, 1989 (Fisherman, Mühlheim)—in the evolution of his work, human beings appear at ever greater distances or seem mediated by traces of modern civilization. Even the titles emphasize the factual— Restaurant, St. Moritz, 1991; Börse, New York, 1991—to the point of denying additional information. Furthermore, everyday objects remain the focus of his camera but are presented as optical phenomena. Surfaces and colors seem to be thoroughly structured elements of the photographs’ composition that confuse or even completely destroy the spatial perspective, something that the floating viewpoint and the distance from that object serve to promote. It also seems to pull the floor from under the feet of the observer. Parallel to the development of his increasingly abstract style was the size of his prints, which from 1988 to 2000 went from .36 x .185 meters to the maximum size of a roll of photographic paper, 1.8 meters high and 5 meters long (Tote Hosen, 2000 [Nothing Doing]). In their presentation and reception, these unusual large formats are very similar to painting; as part of the everyday environment, they become the object of another image. This is not to say that Gursky’s work conforms to painting in its pictorial manner; the photographs exploit painterly characteristics by transforming given factual objects into objects of monumental size, by cutting photography from any recognizable reference of the object photographed, and also by suggesting in its content a kind of color-field painting, as well as a color scheme that is negated on the flat shiny surface of the photographic paper.
In 1992, Gursky began to use digital technology to in part create his imagery. His first efforts consisted of minor retouching, but soon he was using the computer to construct the image, allowing a further confusion of perspective and vantage point. Yet Gursky holds to creating the final print photographically, using a photo-editing program to transform, assemble, and touch up scanned negatives. He then creates a new negative, which creates the final enlarged print.
Unlike many photographers, Gursky does not work in series. Although certain staging arrangements that create themes of images appeal to him, each photograph is based on a single, precise idea that elicits an individual image. The scenes in the photos depict the self-evident character of everyday life as well as oddities closely observed, both of which Gursky turns into an abstract pattern. None of his images is temporary or spontaneous. Rather, his trained observing eye seeks out a theme that must form itself into a visual concept, something that often requires a long time to transform—in photographic terms—into a single manageable work and leads to the production of only a few images per year.
(from: Encyclopaedia of Twentieth Century Photography)