Bernd Becher was born on August 20, 1931, in Siegen, Germany. He studied painting and lithography at the Staatliche Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Stuttgart from 1953 to 1956, and typography at the Staatliche Kunstakademie Düsseldorf from 1957 to 1961. Hilla Becher was born Hilla Wobeser on September 2, 1934, in Potsdam, Germany. She studied graphic and printing techniques at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, where she met Bernd Becher. The two artists first collaborated in 1959 and married in 1961. They began working as freelance photographers, focusing on industrial photography. From their first series of photographs of water towers, the artists rarely veered from architectural portraiture subjects—both industrial and residential, such as gas tanks, silos, and framework houses.

They were given their first gallery show in 1963 at the Galerie Ruth Nohl in Siegen, and by 1968 they were exhibiting in the United States as well as in European cities outside Germany. In 1969 the artists termed the architectural subject matter of their photographs “anonymous sculpture.” In 1972 the Bechers began showing at the Sonnabend Gallery in New York. In 1974 the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London organized an exhibition of their work, which toured the United Kingdom. They were invited to participate in Documenta Kassel in 1972, 1977, 1982, and 2002, and at the São Paulo Bienal in 1977. The Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven organized a retrospective of their work in 1981. In 1985 a major museum exhibition of their work traveled to Essen, Paris, and Belgium.

In 1991 they won the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale. The same installation was reworked in a retrospective exhibition at the Kunstverein in Cologne, and shown again in 1994 at the Ydessa Hendeles Art Foundation in Toronto and at the Westfälisches Landesmuseum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte in Münster. In 2002 the Bechers were awarded the Erasmus Prize in recognition of their instrumental roles as professors at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf. Other retrospectives of the couple’s work were organized by the Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur in Cologne in 1999 and 2003, the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris in 2005, and the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 2008. Bernd Becher died on June 22, 2007, in Rostock, Germany. Hilla Becher died in Düsseldorf on October 10, 2015.