The passage of time, marked by the fall of these buildings, became Bernd’s focus with Hilla when they met in Düsseldorf in 1957. He was a student in the city’s Kunstakademie, while she was an assistant for a commercial photography studio (Hilla later enrolled in the school as well).
“At the time he was not a photographer, but an artist with a brush or pencil,” Hilla told
the British Journal of Photography
) in 2015. “He only used photography once in a while, because his subjects were disappearing and he wasn’t fast enough to record them. He started making photo-montages, but they were quite messy, I must say.…Finally he gave up drawing these things. He was too much of a perfectionist.”
Together, they combined their strengths and began exploring serial photography. Though their images were decidedly impassive, their feelings toward their subjects were anything but. They began in Bernd’s hometown, with mines and steel factories, but eventually their travels took them to the Netherlands, France, the U.K., and across the pond, to the U.S.