German husband and wife team Bernd and Hilla Becher pioneered the documentary photography of industrial structures. Their oeuvre comprises thousands of “anonymous sculptures” documenting a panoramic range of forms—water towers, gasometers, winding towers, coke works, grain elevators, blast furnaces and other constituent elements of the industrial landscapes. In a career spanning five decades, the couple’s careful observation of industry in Germany, France, Belgium, the United States and United Kingdom helped them build typologies of industrial forms which were presented in photobooks between 1970 and 2006.
Basic Forms collects most of these typologies to create a tight overview of their subjects and serves as an introduction to the Bechers’s unique style of shooting. Although stylistically close to the ‘serial methodology and formal analysis of new avant-garde’, their methodology is altogether unique, stripping away any glimmer of subjectivity and concentrating on ‘methodical presentation, no subjective interpretation, acceptance of the subject […] the encyclopaedic element’. The photographs are displayed as tableaux, a form of presentation inviting classification of its subjects, ‘showing the kinds of elements that defined the winding towers [for example] of a particular time and the regional varieties that developed.
Basic Forms works more as a primer on the broad types of industrial forms identified by the Bechers than an exhaustive examination of any individual typology. The book comes with an introduction by Susanne Lange, which helps put the Bechers’s work into historical and artistic context and the wider concerns with industrial archaeology that emerged from their activities.