By Stefan Gronert
320 pages, hardcover, $60
Published by Prestel Publishing
As technology advances its immediacy, the medium of photography has had to fight to be considered high art. It has happened recently with the incorporation of digital cameras on smartphones and the rise of Instagram, but it also happened in the 1950s with the development of instant film. This may be why the opening line of author Stefan Gronert’s preface for his book The Düsseldorf School of Photography—“Sometimes a book appears in print and people wonder why it has never been published before”—feels so pertinent.
As Gronert defines it, the Düsseldorf school encompasses artists who studied with photographer duo Bernd and Hilla Becher at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf (“Düsseldorf Art School”) from the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s. In contrast with Henri Cartier-Bresson and the “decisive moment,” the Bechers sought to elevate photography, pursuing formality, anonymity and pattern in their work by documenting scenes of industrial decay in Europe and North America, which they organized by resemblance. Their students at the Kunstakademie, who included Andreas Gursky, Candida Höfer and Thomas Struth, each brought radically different approaches to photography but were bound by Bernd’s ideas on how to advance photography to rival painting.
In The Düsseldorf School of Photography, Gronert combines 300 images taken by the Bechers and ten of their students alongside thoughtful dives into what their work represents. And, as Gronert points out at the end of his essay “Photographic Emancipation,” this book merely provides a snapshot of a living art movement that invites further critical explorations. —Michael Coyne