31 March 2010

Eveyln Hofer's Transcendent Moments

Evelyn Hofer was a great collaborative photographer. Whether she worked with writers like Mary McCarthy on The Stones of Venice or V. S. Pritchett on Dublin: A Portrait, or intuited the presences of people long gone, Hofer was something very different from the photographer-as-voyeur.

From her birth in Marburg, Germany (1922) to the end in Mexico City (2 November 2009), Hofer seemed at home everywhere. For four decades she covered the art beat for the Conde Nast publications Vanity Fair, Vogue, House & Garden, and The New Yorker.

Often pictured, architectural gems like the much-imitated Villa Medici in Rome, Victor Horta's Art Nouveau Hotel Solvay, and Jean Lurcat's Maison de Verre in central Paris become, for Hofer's lens, an entrance into a further dimension. Of course, photography notoriously flattens three dimensions into two but, in Hofer's works, we seem to gain a dimension.

Think of some musicians and repairers of instruments who find something in the wood that holds past vibrations, comparable to insects frozen in amber. Fanciful, or possibly not yet understood, the phenomenon is easier to see in a poet's gloves laid in blue tissue.

In 1989, Hofer retraced the steps of Ralph Waldo Emerson's 1832 tour of Italy, a time when the young minister doubted his vocation and mulled the ideas that he would propose to his fellow New Englanders as Transcentalism.

Of course the images here, in color, are only part of Hofer's work. She chose to photograph people usually in black and white.
NOTE: On view at the New York Public Library until May 23: In Passing - Evelyn Hofer, Helen Levitt & Lilo Raymond.


1. Mountjoy Square - Dublin, 1967.
2. Villa Medici - Rome, 1982.
3. Jean Lurcat Interior At Maison de Verre - Paris, 1982.
4. Marianne Moore's Gloves, 1983.
5. Foyer At Hotel Solvay - Brussels, 1985.
6. The Hills of Italy from Emerson In Italy, 1989.


Unknown said...

I had never heard of this photographer, but her work looks very interesting: it is very classical; all pictures are very masterly done.


Kim said...


columnist said...

Thanks. These are indeed interesting. I am particularly drawn to the Dublin picture.

Jane said...

Kim, I don't know how Hofer did it, but her color photss make me think of the wood block prints where colors were rubbed into the wood by hand. Saturated with color.

Jane said...

Columnist, my local library has the book "Dublin: A Portrait", so if that's any indicator, it should be easy to find. The photography (both color and black & white) is uniformly fine and it's an interesting book.

bessfones said...

Jane, I was enjoying this post this morning on Evelyn Hofer and realized that the show is closing at the NYPL tomorrow so I ran over there to see it. Her color dye prints were just beautiful. I think the 3rd photograph from the top here looks like a Hammershoi.

Jane said...

Kate, after Hammershoi we look at interiors with doors with a heightened sense of expectation. Lucky you to see the exhibition in person. The recent reissue of British writer Caroline Blackwood's collected stories "Never Breathe A Word" features a photograph of Blackwood taken by Evelyn Hofer. Small world. Excellent and pitiless stories.

bessfones said...

I'll look for the Blackwood reissue. It will be interesting to see Evelyn's photograph and compare it to Lucian Freud's portrait of Carolyn, his one time wife. Down the hall from this exhibit was Laurie Simmons excellent work--but she's a very different kind of photographer.

Jane said...

Kate, the Freud painting "Girl On A Bed" is the cover illustration for "Never Breathe A Word." Blackwood had beautidul eyes. I don't envy her being married to Robert Lowell - or most of those 1950s men. My mother used to tell me that anyone who thought the 1950s were so good should be sentenced to live through them in real time. I'm glad I missed them!

bessfones said...

Jane, apropos the 1950s here's a quote by photographer Laurie Simmons whose dollhouse tableaux critique the era and more:"What was on my mind when I made these pictures? I would say I was thinking about disappearance and obscurity--the possibility of being subsumed by a place or a role and certainly fading into and finally vanishing in the background--blending in as an ultimately desirable state."