Bernd and Hilla Becher’s almost fifty-year collaboration constitutes the most important project in objective and conceptual photography today.
Water towers are industrial structures which were constructed for the purpose of storing water and maintaining water pressure. Emphasized in this exhibition are New York water towers: the wooden barrel tanks ubiquitous on rooftops throughout New York City. These tanks are all made by one of two competing companies: Rosenwach Tank Company and Isseks Brothers, both of which have been in business for over 100 years. Their water towers are distinguishable by the pole at the tip of the tank: Isseks tanks have a straight pole, while Rosenwach tanks have an interlocking rosette ornament.
The Bechers have also photographed many other varieties of water towers, which are on view here arranged into “typologies” – or arrangements of a system of types. The other water tower types include: very tall, community water towers usually made of concrete or metal, shorter water towers on stilts near railroad tracks built as part of the rail infrastructure, and water towers constructed as part of a larger industrial installation.
Some include various architectural embellishments such as gabled roofs and decorative windows, while others have a purely functional form. In each image, the tower is photographed in isolation from its surroundings and in overcast weather conditions which eliminate all shadow. The photographs in this exhibition were made in locations in Great Britain, Italy, Belgium, Germany, France, the Netherlands, and the United States.
Bernd and Hilla Becher have collaborated since 1959. Founders of the internationally acclaimed Becher class at the Dusseldorf Art Academy, they have received numerous awards, including the Golden Lion at the 1990 Venice Biennale, the 2002 Erasmus Award, and the 2004 Hasselblad Award.