Looking for the Affect of History in the Photographic Work of Bernd and Hilla Becher

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


This chapter considers the photograph - and the interpretation it might invite - in relation to history. The concern is pursued via a direct visual encounter with a specific photograph made by Bernd and Hilla Becher in 1961 (depicting a monumental industrial structure) and invokes Roland Barthes notion of affect in this process. The chapter and the visual analysis it contains speculates how an extended reading of a photograph, if such a reading can be provoked, might reveal that photograph's deeper temporal, social and historical significance. The value of the Bechers' photographs, as inert documents of particular objects, is questioned in the light of Bertolt Brecht's criticism that a photograph cannot reveal that which is not outwardly visible. By extension, or implication, the chapter questions the dominant interpretation of the Bechers' oeuvre, one that appears based on certain assumptions derived seemingly with deference to the photographers' own stated agenda. The chapter questions this agenda and the apparently objective methodology on which it is founded in terms of what it denies, in a historical sense, rather than what it shows. The chapter also questions why the potential for subjective or narrative based interpretation is seemingly not valued or is ignored. The chapter also considers why content is often demoted within any criticism of photography and why the primary concern seems always centred on issues of form, representation and the ontology of the medium. Within the chapter the Bechers' photograph is also considered in relation to the work of August Sander and the notion of typology.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCamera Constructs
Publication statusPublished - 28 Jun 2012


  • photography
  • photography and architecture
  • architecture
  • photography and documentation
  • photography and history
  • photography, representation and interpretation
  • photography and objectivity


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