Emil Otto Hoppé was a German-born photographer, renowned for his portrait, travel and topographic work in the early 20th century. As arguably one of the most significant artists of the Edwardian era, I was keen to witness his ‘Society, Studio and Street’ exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery for myself and take a journey into the past.
My first reaction was, however, that in spite of the majority of Hoppé’s photographs being in monochrome and a style characteristic of their time, most of his subjects could in fact have just as easily been citizens in today’s society. In Hoppé’s photos, the fashion of the day seems almost to be irrelevant, in that somehow, the focus lies upon not the exterior of his subjects, but on the interior, lending intrigue to his work. Emotions are captured on film in an unimprovised, one-off moment, and our imagination is sparked, as we in turn search each subject’s face, for signs of what they might have been thinking or feeling at the precise second the shutter dropped.
Famous faces of the era, and in some cases even of the century (Einstein, King George VI and Mussolini, to name a few) become immediately accessible through Hoppé’s photography. Rather than acting as a reminder of times past, the photos’ black and white quality almost transcends time, as we appreciate the inner character of each subject. There are elements that we can relate to in every photo. With Hoppé’s collection entitled ‘Fair Women’, we can appreciate the beauty in every photo, because he chooses not to focus the viewer’s gaze on the more obvious aspects of beauty that might reveal the era, but on the idea of both classic and inner beauty that transcends time and never goes out of fashion.
Not only do we get the impression that Hoppé worked outside the constraints of time, but that he was also very much ahead of his time. Living in an era where there were considerably fewer people of ethnic minority, Hoppé strives to capture multiculturalism in his work in a way that was not only revolutionary, but also enlightening. From travelling across the world to meet the leaders of Native American tribes and Indian poets, to wandering through the markets of the East End, he shows us a diverse and vibrant world not unlike that of today. By hiding his camera on his travels around places like England and the USA, Hoppé was also able to take impulsive shots of people living their everyday lives, capturing moments that are sometimes familiar, sometimes surprising, whilst always evoking a sense of the timeless.
Hoppé Portraits: Society, Studio and Street
17 February – 30 May 2010
Daily 10.00 – 18.00
Thursdays and Fridays until 21.00
Last admission to the exhibition is one hour before the Gallery closes.
National Portrait Gallery: http://www.npg.org.uk:8080/hoppe/exhibition.html
The E.O. Hoppé Estate Collection: http://www.eohoppe.com/
Post by Fran Lambert (Team Assistant @ TNR Communications)