Evelyn Hofer: Encounters with the Camera

The exhibition “Evelyn Hofer. Encounters with the Camera” shows 67 works created by the photographer in the 1960s and 1970s. Born in Marburg, Germany in 1922, Hofer immigrated to Spain with her family in 1933 and later trained as a photographer in Switzerland. From the mid-1940s, she lived mainly in New York, where her work appeared in various major magazines such as Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar.

In addition to these commissions, Hofer subsequently composed numerous photographic essays and extensive city portraits – of Washington, New York, London, and Dublin, among others. Her subjects for these works were women, men, and children from different social milieus and occupational groups, with a focus on the unspectacular and every day. Meeting them with an unembellished gaze, her portraits elicit captivating magic. Their apparent casualness and fleetingness are a fallacy.

A true perfectionist, Hofer prepared and thought through almost every shot in advance. The cumbersome medium-format camera she worked with, which could only be used with a tripod, did not allow for snapshots. This makes Hofer’s skillful combination of photographic staging and her subject’s casual pausing, whom she photographed in their daily routines, all the more astonishing: the soot-smeared miner in Wales, the girl riding her bike in Dublin, the waitress in London or the motorbike policeman in Washington. All of them appear aware of the shot and at peace with themselves, and most gaze directly into the camera. Hofer’s respectful portraits are authentic representations of her subjects in their individual gestures and characteristics.

The fact that she adopted the use of color film from the early 1960s onwards was not only unusual but also courageous. Few photographers were working in color at that time, although it was technically possible. The use of color film, particularly the dye-transfer printing process regularly practiced by Hofer, demanded a different way of composing images than when working with black-and-white film as well as the ability of handling a limited color spectrum. With her keen sense of color, form, and space, Hofer created timeless photographic “encounters” that continue to touch us in their intensity. She spent the last years of her life in Mexico, where she died in 2009.

About the Author

Evelyn Hofer (January 21, 1922 – November 2, 2009) was a German-American portrait and documentary photographer. Hofer was born in Marburg, Germany. The family moved to Geneva in 1933 in order to escape Nazism, and later to Madrid. Evelyn attempted unsuccessfully to enter the Paris Conservatory and then switched to photography, first apprenticing in Zürich and Basel and then taking private tuition in Zürich.

After Franco came to power they moved again, to Mexico in the early 1940s. It was in Mexico that she had her first work as a professional photographer. She moved to New York in 1946, where she worked with Alexey Brodovitch of Harper’s Bazaar and befriended Richard Lindner and Saul Steinberg.
Hofer used a four-by-five inch view camera to make orderly and well-constructed portraits and scenic photographs. Her style centered on straightforward compositions that were clear, but not simple. Her portraits show subjects looking lost, sad, or at least ambiguous.
She died in Mexico City, Mexico, aged 87.

Evelyn Hofer: Encounters with the Camera
8 October 2021 to 21 January 2022
Deutsche Börse AG, The Cube, Eschborn

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