Repeating a photographic style or approach consistently to create a series or archive can have great impact when considered as a collection. Referred to as ‘typology’, the photographic study of a ‘type’ is often attributed to August Sander in its root.
“One of the most ambitious undertakings in the history of photography, the project occupied Sander for some 40 years, from the early 1920s until his death, during which he took portraits of hundreds of German citizens and then categorized them by social type and occupation — from farm laborers to circus performers to prosperous businessmen and aristocrats. Remarkable for their unflinching realism and deft analysis of character and lifestyle, Sander’s individual images stand out as high points of photographic portraiture and collectively propose the idea of the archive as art.” (www.metmuseum.org)
“These powerful images, with their combination of unflattering objectivity and sympathy for the human condition, exerted a profound influence on later generations of photographers …” (www.metmuseum.org)
There have been many photographers since who have worked in this consistent and methodical way, building archives of the subject that interests them. It is almost impossible to discuss typology without considering the Bechers also.
With a focused interest in industrial structures and their place in terms of economy and environment, Bernd and Hilla Becher systematically documented “overlooked beauty and the relationship between form and function” (tate.org.uk)
Viewed individually there would be a very different message, a different experience for the viewer. Considered as a repetitive, consistent body of work there is something spectacular about these images. We might drive past an old pit head, or a gas tower, with barely a second glance, but this work encourages one to look at them, to think about them, to acknowledge their subtle differences, a practice of more detailed observation that, if adopted, can be very enriching .
“It is the fantasy life of this work, its capacity to take delight in an opening in the past that leads forward into the future, then, that might be said to have sustained it and driven its rhythm and repetition onwards, maintaining its commitment to producing nearly the same picture over and over and over again for almost half a century. Bernd Becher was clear about his fascination in a 1969 interview: ‘These things are so full of fantasy there is absolutely no sense in trying to paint them; I realised that no artist could have made them better’, he said. ‘This is purely economic architecture. They throw it up, they use it, they misuse it, they throw it away…”
“The delight offered by their art – in its machinic rhythms and repetitions, in the play of form across the registers of its objectivity and systematicity – is therefore realised only against the revolutionary promise of the modern industry it depicts. It is a view of industrial history as if it were nature, as if it were an organic process unto itself, as if it were a slide show or a picture book flipping from one image to the next and the next and the next. The structures ‘come and go almost like nature’, they have said …”
(In Stimson, 2004)
Becher, B and Becher, H. (1974) Pitheads 1974 [Photographs] Available at:
(Accessed 8th July 2019)
Metropolitan Museum of Art (2004) https://www.metmuseum.org/press/exhibitions/2004/august-sander-people-of-the-twentieth-century–a-photographic-portrait-of-germany (Accessed 8th July 2019)
Stimson, B. (2004) The Photographic Comportment of Bernd and Hilla Becher, Tate Papers No. 1, Spring 2004,Available at:
https://www.tate.org.uk/research/publications/tate-papers/01/photographic-comportment-of-bernd-and-hilla-becher (Accessed 8th July 2019)
Tate (ND) Who are Hilla and Bernd Becher? https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/bernd-becher-and-hilla-becher-718/who-are-bechers (Accessed 8th July 2019)