Catalogue entry

Bernhard and Hilla Becher born 1931 and 1934

T01922 Pitheads 1974

Not inscribed
Nine photographs mounted on card, 44 5/8 x 51 7/8 (113.4x 132); the photographs vary slightly in size but average about 12 1/4 x 16 (31 x 40.5)
Purchased from the artists through Nigel Greenwood Inc. Ltd., London (Grant-in-Aid) 1974
Repr: exh. catalogue of the Arts Council touring exhibition Bernd and Hilla Becher, 1974-5 (the replica); Bernhard and Hilla Becher, Anonyme Skulpturen (New York 1970), n.p. reproduces the same photographs of Lady Dorothea Colliery, Sunderland, Silverhill Colliery, Sheffield, Cwmcynon Colliery, Mountain Ash, Bwllfa Colliery, Aberdare, and Lady Windsor Colliery, Pontypridd (the last two have been reversed in the work itself)

Bernhard Becher gave up making paintings, drawings and etchings of old industrial buildings because he had decided that photography met his needs better. Painting necessitated composition which involved changing the object and was too subjective; photography was more precise and objective. Moreover many of the structures were being demolished and there was urgent need for a visual record.

Since they began working together in 1959, he and his wife Hilla have shared the role of taking photographs. The photography often involves a great deal of preparation and they sometimes have to go up a very high ladder or on to a roof to get the correct viewpoint. They usually take two views, one square-on and one in perspective, except in the case of certain structures such as circular water-towers, which are the same all the way round, or when photographing complex structures which require a number of views. They use a standard viewpoint chosen to show the structure with the greatest possible clarity and objectivity, and avoid including people as this would be a distraction. In each case they try to find out the date of the structure, but this information is not always known. Then having collected a number of images, they can begin to group them into various categories and sub-categories: not only water-towers, gas-holders, coal-silos, pithead winding-towers etc., but also pitheads with one leg, pitheads with two legs, pitheads with one wheel, pitheads with two wheels, pitheads with one wheel, one leg and lattice work and so on. The photographs are then mounted together to show the visual relationships and the way in which different solutions have been arrived at for the same problems. (For instance, French and Italian structures tend to be slightly more ornate, not so purely functional). In the case of complex structures which they have photographed from different sides, a number of views of the same object may be mounted together in sequence.

They first began to take photographs of pithead winding-gear in the Ruhr, but all those used in T01922 were taken in Great Britain. The Bechers made their first visit to England in 1965, then spent six months touring England, Wales and Scotland in 1966, on a grant from the British Council. They have since been back several times. The pitheads which appear in this work are identified as follows on a label mounted below the photographs:

PITHEADS

[first row:] BWLLFA COLLIERY | ABERDARE SOUTH WALES; LADY WINDSOR | COLLIERY PONTYPRIDD | SOUTH WALES; CWMCYNON COLLIERY | MOUNTAINASH | SOUTH WALES

[second row:] DEEP NAVIGATION | COLLIERY | TREHARRIS | SOUTH WALES; CAERAU COLLIERY | CAERAU | SOUTH WALES; ROBROYD COLLIERY | OLD STRAFFORD (GB)

[third row:] CAERAU COLLIERY | CAERAU | SOUTH WALES; SILVERHILL COLLIERY | SHEFFIELD (GB); LADY DOROTHEA | COLLIERY | SUNDERLAND (GB)

The photograph of Cwmcynon Colliery, Mountain Ash, was taken in 1965, those of Deep Navigation Colliery, Treharris, Caerau Colliery, Caerau, Lady Windsor Colliery, Pontypridd, and Silverhill Colliery, Sheffield, in 1966, those of Bwllfa Colliery, Aberdare, and Lady Dorothea Colliery, Sunderland, in 1968 and that of Robroyd Colliery, Old Strafford in 1973. The pitheads at both Bwllfa and Silverhill Collieries have since been pulled down. The photographs of Bwllfa Colliery and Lady Windsor Colliery have been reversed; in some cases it is only possible to take photographs from one side and, if the two sides are identical, the Bechers will sometimes reverse them in order to facilitate comparison. Although these photographs have been used again in different groupings, T01922 is the only work with this particular combination, except for a version made specially for the Arts Council's touring exhibition of their work in 1974-5 and afterwards dismantled.

Hilla Becher, who gave the above information on 17 January 1975, added that the photographs suggest many associations (for instance, the images are often referred to as 'anonymous sculptures' because of their resemblance to certain kinds of 20th-century sculpture), but she and her husband regard these associations as up to the spectator.

Published in:
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, pp.38-9, reproduced p.38