Modern German Photography: A New Objectivity


Course description

If Ansel Adams and Alfred Stieglitz popularized photography as an art form in the first half of the 20th Century, the German influence—beginning in the 1970s—has arguably been the principal driver of photographic art thereafter. Andreas Gursky’s Rhein II remains the highest priced photograph, selling for over $4.3 million in 2011.

In many ways, the German expression “Alles in Ordnung” (everything is in order) reflects a collective psyche of German art dating back to painters such as Hans Holbein the Elder and Younger in the 1400s and 1500s. Fast forward to the 1900s−to−present and the same could be said for German photography.

Bernd & Hilla Becher, through their images and teachings at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf (Düsseldorf Art Academy), promoted a ‘New Objectivity’ mentoring future photographers that included Gursky, Thomas Struth and Thomas Ruff among others. Stylistic trademarks of the Düsseldorf style—highly detailed large-scale imagery devoid of sentiment identified by rudimentary diarized titles—have become mainstream, influences discernable even in the desecrated landscapes of acclaimed Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky.

The Bechers’ typologies of water towers and industrial façades will be at the core of a chronological survey of German photography. Students will also examine the works and artistic philosophies of August Sander and Karl Blossfeldt who laid the foundation for the Bechers and the Düsseldorf School of Photography “rock stars.”

This course substantially expands on topics included in The History of Photography as Art.

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