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E. O. Hoppé: Forgotten Modernist Photographer

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Edward Hoppé’s Deutsche Arbeit, first edition.

E. O. Hoppé, nearly forgotten,  was one of the most famous photographers of the early 20th century and a leading figure in the modernist movement who was described by Cecil Beaton as “The Master”.  Hoppé was born in Munich in 1878 and moved to London in 1900 intending to train as a financier. Instead, he took up photography and quickly became a top celebrity portraitist, making images of the leading artistic, literary and political figures of the day. But Hoppé had a far-ranging eye and a deep intellectual concern with his subjects, and in addition to his celebrity work he made sensitive portraits of the poor and marginalised that challenged prevailing notions of beauty.  He also traveled extensively, and his photography encompassed all aspects of life, from the ballet to industrial and urban scenes, landscapes, and images of life in the developing world.

This beautifully produced book, Deutsche Arbeit (German Work) was the outcome of regular visits to German manufacturing cities during the 1920s, and it records the period’s unprecedented industrial build-up. These often eerie photos reveal the new scale of industry, with the human figures dwarfed by fantastical machines, and traditional forms revealed in strange new settings. Unusually, the book also features an eye-catching reversible dust jacket with a colourful design on one side (above) and a black & white photo on the reverse (below).

Reverse of the dust jacket for the first edition of Detusche Arbeit.

Despite his importance as a modernist photographer, Hoppé  is relatively unknown today. In 1954 he sold his entire archive to a picture library that categorised the images by subject rather than photographer, and his identity vanished from the photographic record. His oeuvre has recently been reclaimed from obscurity and reunited with his letters and biographical documents, leading to a revival of interest in his work. London’s National Portrait Gallery is currently running an exhibition of 150 images entitled Hoppé Portraits: Society, Studio & Street (till 30 May 2011), with an excellent accompanying website. The official Hoppé website also hosts a very impressive gallery of photographs alongside descriptions of his original books.

 

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