Hoppé Mad

I have a great deal of interest in the photography of E O Hoppé – and indeed included him in my list of two hundred or so ‘Notable Photographers‘ that I put on line in 2000.  I have a particular interest in him as I share his fascination with London, and like him have spent many years photographing it.

But today I got an email quoting an article from Luminous Lint  which suggests he is a recently rediscovered early Photo Modernist and goes on to quote photography curator Phillip Prodger of the Peabody Essex Museum as comparing his pictures to those of Steichen, Stieglitz, and Weston. Frankly this is utter nonsense, not least because it’s hard to rediscover someone who was never lost – as my listing on a major photography site visited by millions demonstrated.

According to  The Recession or: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love Photographs! Bruce Silverstein, one of my favourite photo dealers,  whose New York gallery represents Hoppé, (and a show of his work including ‘Early London Photographs’ opens at the 24th Street Silverstein Gallery in February 2009) is quoted as saying “it is becoming increasingly clear that E.O. Hoppé played a major role in the evolution of Modernist photography both in Europe, having influenced the industrial images of Albert Renger-Patsch and Werner Mantz, and as well in the United States, where his images predate equivalent but better known works by Charles Sheeler, Walker Evans and Berenice Abbott.” I’m sorry Bruce, but I can’t take this seriously.

Quite a Hoppé industry is certainly developing, with a number of books forthcoming. Hoppé too was very industrious in his lifetime, and I have at various of his books scattered around the house, mainly for their topographic interest, including his ‘The Image of London‘ published by Chatto and Windus in their ‘Life and Art in Photograph‘ series in 1935,  which was probably the closest he came to producing an ‘art’ book.  Does it show a ground-breaking photographer?  In no way, though the negative image on the dust jacket is interesting, considerably more so than the same image printed conventionally as Plate 1 of the book.  Everything else about it’s 100 photographs is competent but rather ordinary, even pedestrian and at times hopelssly corny.

Hoppé, born in Munich in 1878, studied photography but became a banker and this brought him to London in 1900. Here he became a leading pictorial photographer, one of the founders of the London Salon – and the work which he was taking in the 1920s was still very much in that tradition – as can be seen in a number of the works from around 1926 on the Silverstein Gallery site, for example Middletown in the Snow. It could indeed be compared with pictures by Stieglitz  – but those he took in the 1890s, and can hardly be seen as innovative. And somehow Stieglitz clearly has the edge – you feel the weather and the cold and the atmosphere rather than just a pretty picture.

Like many others, Hoppé was influenced by changes that were taking place particularly on the continent of Europe after the First World War, and in particular at the Bauhaus in Weimar from 1919-25, as well as the work of many other photographers who were beginning to exploit the possibilities of smaller and more flexible cameras. I don’t know what evidence there is to say that his work influenced people such as Renger-Patsch, but so far as I am aware – and on the evidence of the work I’ve seen – he was a follower of wider trends rather than in any sense an initiator. But his widely published work – in books such as ‘The Image of London‘ certainly did help to set norms, though I think others did it rather better.

It is interesting that both Hoppé and Sheeler photographed the Ford plant in 1926/7, and you can compare the their images –  Hoppé and Sheeler. Then go back  and look at  a similar subject photographed four years earlier by Edward Weston, Armco Steel, 1922.
If you can’t see the difference, then you certainly shouldn’t be writing about photography.

Of course the article isn’t really about photography but about the market and market values. Hoppé’s work – or at least his more interesting images, such as those on show at Silverstein –  may well be a very good investment, and like most non-USAmerican photographers is undervalued, but don’t let’s get the real value of his work out of proportion.

One Response to “Hoppé Mad”

  1. […] Walker Evans and others.  It’s a page that confirms what I wrote in a post here, Hoppé Mad, about Hoppé and the Hoppé industry in 2009, and still worth reading in its entirety (I’ve […]

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