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Tanks for the memories: Three photo exhibitions

Photographers find beauty in industrial architecture and landscapes across three Berlin exhibitions.

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Courtesy Konrad Fischer Galerie / Estate Bernd & Hilla Becher

Photographers find beauty in industrial architecture and landscapes across three Berlin exhibitions.

In the age of the omnipresent selfie, it’s no wonder there’s an appetite for something quieter. This month offers three chances to contemplate the sedate beauty of unpopulated industrial landscapes through the lenses of talented photographers from the 1960s to the present.

At the Museum für Fotografie, Photographs: Architecture and Nature is a retrospective on the 91-year-old Sigrid Neubert, who spent 30 years as a photographer for German architectural firms. Among immaculate black and white photographs of sleek modernist homes, office complexes and stadiums are Neubert’s shots of Hans Maurer’s Earth Radio Station, designed in 1964. She captures the majesty of Maurer’s creation from behind, its solid base firmly planted into the rural Bavarian landscape as its dish inclines up towards a moody sky. A white country church in the distance contrasts the modernity of her subject. In another photo she sets nature against technology, the foreground focussed on a lone tree with the enormous antenna dish relegated to the background. Neubert gave up all other work in favour of nature photography in 1990, so it’s perhaps not surprising to see her employ it as a narrative device in her images of the Märker Cement Plant in Harburg. Taken between 1964 and 1980, her compositions often place the plant’s raw materials in front of the actual buildings. In one photo she seems to equate industry with religion: the vast smoking stacks and silos are backdrop to a modest pile of stones and dirt, laid out as if in votive off ering to the enormous plant.

Over two floors at Konrad Fischer Galerie, German couple Bernd and Hilla Becher’s ubiquitous black and white photographs are out in force in the form of Gas Tanks (photo). The Bechers are well known for their relentless documentation of industrial structures, among them innumerable water towers, cooling towers, blast furnaces and winding towers. Here, the titular tanks dominate every frame, perfectly centred, cylindrical brick and metal versions alongside futuristic spheres with supports resembling mid-century rocket launchers. Staying faithful to the late Bechers’ obsessive interest in typology, the gallery doesn’t miss the chance to arrange the subjects in grids such as the 15-photo Typologie Gasbehälter, 1965–1992. These photographs successfully elevate the gas tanks to something beautiful and ask the viewer to look again at what they might otherwise dismiss.

Handily located in the same building is Primož Bizjak’s new series of large-format photographs of the Apuan Alps’ marble quarries. The Munich-based Slovenian artist spent three years exploring the vast sites, resulting in seven colour prints depicting the still-active sites and the marks left behind by thousands of years of mining. First dug up by the Romans, the quarries’ white marble has inspired artists from Michaelangelo to Louise Bourgeois, and probably a few bathroom designers along the way. Presented frameless and seemingly floating on the gallery walls, Bizjak’s photos of pools of water surrounded by what look like abandoned buildings play on Romantic compositions of classical ruins, but are in fact ghost structures, simply the negatives left behind by the mining of marble blocks. Bizjak’s images challenge traditional ideals of the picturesque: he doesn’t present scenes of pristine untouched nature, but rather draws out the beauty of a landscape visibly ravaged by man, its geometrically sliced marble terrain occasioned with the glimpse of an industrial digger.

Photographs: Architecture and Nature Through Jun 3 Museum für Fotographie, Charlottenburg | Primož Bizjak: Alpi Apuane Through Apr 21 Galerija Gregor Podnar, Kreuzberg | Bernd and Hilla Becher: Gas Tanks Through Apr 21 Konrad Fischer, Kreuzberg