Times & Places

Düsseldorf School of Photography

Although it evolved in the mid-1970s, the German photographic movement known as the Düsseldorf School was dubbed as such by art critics in the late 1980s. The Düsseldorf School was centered at the Düsseldorf Art Academy and associated with the work and teaching of photographic team Bernd and Hilla Becher. In 1976 the Bechers, already established artists, began their teaching careers with the appointment of Bernd Becher as the first professor of photography at a German academy. The Bechers imparted to their students that photography was on par with other art forms and was to be approached as such. The Düsseldorf School is credited with making significant strides in the acceptance of photography as a form of artistic expression rather than mere technology, establishing photography on equal terms with more traditional forms.

The Bechers employed a documentary-like objective approach to create a series of photographs that examined industrial and domestic structures. Such works further intimated times past and purposes forgotten (if not abandoned) and were linked to American minimalist and conceptual art in their serial character and single-minded pursuit of an idea. The Bechers' students, among whom were Thomas Ruff and Thomas Struth, engaged the seemingly objective mode of observation established by their teachers within a variety of conceptual approaches, photographing subjects ranging from cityscapes and landscapes to portraits and interiors. Further, the photographers associated with the Düsseldorf School expanded the photographic techniques associated with artmaking, working with digital technology and the enlargement of format. Large-scale photography, a format that typically had been associated with commercial photography, became famous through the school. The works of Düsseldorf School artists point to issues such as how we understand the world through photography and the conditions and limits of representation.

Drawn from

  • Steven Skopik, "Dusseldorf School," Oxford Art Online, published online January 2, 2014, https://doi.org/10.1093/gao/9781884446054.article.T2255304.

  • Charles Wylie, "A History of Now: The Art of Thomas Struth," in Thomas Struth (Dallas: Dallas Museum of Art, 2002), 147-155.

  • Gronert, Stefan. The Düsseldorf School of Photography. New York: Aperture, 2009.

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