Curated by Philip Prodger
Head of Photographs, National Portrait Gallery
- Mark Haworth-Booth
In the 1920s and 30s Emil Otto Hoppé (British, German born, 1878–1972) was one of the most sought-after photographers in the world. He spent the first decade of his career pioneering the art of celebrity portraiture. Breaking with the formal stiffness of the Victorian studio, Hoppé’s early twentieth century portraits depicted writers such as George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells, T.S. Eliot, and Ezra Pound, legendary dancers such as Vaslav Nijinsky and Margot Fonteyn, and royals of the Edwardian era in a shocking new way: they looked natural.
Hoppé’s studio in South Kensington was a magnet for the rich and famous, and for years he actively led the global art scene on both sides of the Atlantic while also photographing around the globe, making over thirty photographically-illustrated books, establishing himself as a pioneering figure in photographic art and photojournalism.
In the 1930s Hoppé left the studio to make photographs of British street life. These pictures, sometimes funny and often poignant, explored ideas about class and typology that paralleled the writings of his friend, the playwright George Bernard Shaw. Using a hidden camera, Hoppé photographed people at the other end of the social spectrum: sleeping rough, living in hostels, and barely getting by. He also immersed himself in London’s growing immigrant communities. As waves of immigration from Europe, Asia, and Africa turned Britain into a multicultural nation, Hoppé was making its collective portrait. His photographs show a nation with one foot planted firmly in the past, and another reaching toward the future.
The exhibition brings both sides of Hoppé’s work together for the first time, and marks the rediscovery of Hoppé as a pivotal figure in Edwardian art and photo-modernism.
Emil Otto Hoppé (1878-1972) was one of the most important art and documentary photographers of the modern era whose artistic success rivaled those of his peers, Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946), Edward Steichen (1879-1973) and Walker Evans (1903-1975).
Hoppé was one of the most renowned portrait photographers of his day, as well as a brilliant landscape and travel photographer. His strikingly modernist portraits describe a virtual Who’s Who of important personalities in the arts, literature, and politics in Great Britain and the US between the wars. Among the hundreds of well-known figures he photographed were George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells, A.A. Milne, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, G.K. Chesterton, Leon Bakst, Vaslav Nijinsky and the dancers of the Ballets Russes, and Queen Mary, King George, and other members of the Royal Family.
Beginning art photography in 1903 Hoppé was admitted as a member of the Royal Photographic Society where, over the next four years, he regularly exhibited his amateur photographic works. In this same year Hoppé was also associated with The Linked Ring Brotherhood and fellow members Alvin Langdon Coburn (1882-1966), Henry Peach Robinson (1830-1901), and George Davidson (1854-1930), who played an important role in international art photography, maintaining close ties with continental and American groups including the Vienna Camera Club and the Photo Secession, New York.
How is it that such a major figure in photography can today be less well known than those who acknowledge his giant stature in photographic art? The answer lies in a simple misstep of fate. In 1954, well before most of the photographic histories were written, Hoppé was nearing the end of his long and illustrious career. At age 76 he decided to sell five decades of his photographic work to a London picture library. Here, after being filed by subject in with millions of other “stock” pictures the Hoppé photographs were no longer accessible by author. Most all of Hoppé's photographic work—that which gained him the reputation as Britain's most influential international photographer between 1907 and 1939—was literally entombed. In the intervening decades a few photo-cognoscenti came in search of Hoppé but all they could find were but a few needles in the photographic haystack. Hoppé had accidentally obscured his work from photo-historians and therefore photo-history itself.
In the mid-1990s the Hoppé Collection was extracted from the London picture library by the Pasadena, California, based museum services company, Curatorial Assistance, Inc., where it underwent over a decade of organizing, cataloguing, conservation and digitizing so as to fully assess the measure of its contents. The discoveries that have come from this epic reconstruction of the photographer’s archive have been nothing less than extraordinary. Consensus among the international team of curators and photo-historians who have examined and worked on the archive materials have proven the historical claims correct: Hoppé is indeed the missing link in early photo-modernism that connects the better known American innovators to the lesser known photo-pioneers of Britain and Europe where Hoppé was the leading figure.
Exhibition catalogue (National Portrait Gallery, 2011)
Exhibition catalogue (Spanish translation, MAPFRE/TF EDITORES, 2012)
NUMBER OF WORKS:
142 photographs, 10 cased objects (vintage magazine articles, books, cartoons)
14 x 11 inches (35 x 28 cm) to 20 x 16 inches (50 x 40 cm)
400 linear feet (120 linear meters)
La Nueva España, Joaquín Rábago, March 20, 2012
El Mundo, Elena Vozmediano, March 16, 2012
Paper Blog, Carol, March 16, 2012
El Mundo, Alfredo Merino, March 9, 2012
Diario ABC, Antonio Astorga, March 7, 2012
Arte en la Red, March 7, 2012
RITMOS XXI, March 7, 2012
El Correo Gallego, March 6, 2012
El País, Ángeles García, March 6, 2012
Burlington Magazine, Lady Marina Vaizey, April 27, 2011
Bloomberg Online, Martin Gayford, April 17, 2011
Financial Times, Francis Hodgson, February 25, 2011
Arts Desk, Judith Flanders, February 23, 2011
History Today, Sheila Corr, February 18, 2011
Time Out London, Nina Kaplan, February 17, 2011
Artdaily, February 17, 2011
Culture 24, Laura Burgess, February 17, 2011
AnOther Mag, Lucia Davies, February 16, 2011
BBC Radio 4, John Wilson, February 16, 2011
BBC Radio 3, Anne McElvoy, February 15, 2011
The Telegraph, Lucy Davies, February 15, 2011
The Observer, Laura Cumming, February 13, 2011
The Guardian, Maev Kennedy, October 07, 2010
The Telegraph, October 07, 2010
The Independent, Robert Dex, October 07, 2010
Wales Online, Daniel Fisher, October 08, 2010