Friday, December 2, 2011

Evelyn Hofer

Evelyn Hofer by Andreas Pauly

"Anna and Emma, Dublin," 1966

"Gravediggers, Dublin," 1966

"Paris," 1967

"Phoenic Park on a Sunday, Dublin," 1966

"Eighth Street, Washington, D.C.," 1965

"Washington, D.C.," 1965

"Miranda, London," 1980

Many thanks to Andreas Pauly and the Evelyn Hofer Estate for their kind cooperation, and for allowing to feature Ms. Hofer's work here on my blog.

Evelyn Hofer Obituary by William Grimes for the New York Times, published November 11, 2009:

Evelyn Hofer, a photographer whose searching, exactingly composed portraits imparted a grave serenity to her human and architectural subjects and who collaborated on a renowned series of travel books with eminent writers in the 1950s and 1960s, died on Nov. 2 in Mexico City. She was 87 and lived in Mexico City.

The cause was a stroke, said Andreas Pauly, her longtime assistant and the heir to her photographic estate.

Working with a cumbersome four- by five-inch viewfinder camera, Ms. Hofer (pronounced HOE-fer) photographed her subjects on location but favored carefully composed scenes with a still, timeless aura.

A flawless technician, much sought after as a teacher by younger photographers, she searched, as she put it, for an ''inside value, some interior respect'' in the people she photographed, nearly always in black and white. Her architectural photographs, too, seemed to eliminate the distractions of the here and now.

The art critic Hilton Kramer, one of Ms. Hofer's champions, praised her powers of  ''pure observation'' and her dedication to form. ''Somehow she manages to make of the visual rhythms of Manhattan architecture, both new and old, something as distant from the vulgarities of the workaday world as a design by Palladio -- and something quite as elegant,'' he wrote in a review of her photographs in ''Manhattan Now,'' a 1974 exhibition at the New-York Historical Society.

Ms. Hofer's studied approach -- the gravity and stasis of her portraits owed much to the German photographer August Sander -- put her at odds with the candid, on-the-fly photography of contemporaries like Robert Frank. She remained unrecognized by most critics and curators, and never received a museum show in the United States. In 1994 the Musée de l'Élysée in Lausanne, Switzerland, presented a retrospective of her work, ''The Universal Eye.''

Her stock was higher with writers, many of whom were keen to collaborate with her, as Mary McCarthy, V. S. Pritchett and James (later Jan) Morris did in several highly regarded literary portraits of Florence, London, New York, Dublin and Spain.

''She has an extraordinary eye for subtle differences in the quality of light and in the details of texture and shape, whether her subject is the Duomo in Florence or two young waiters in a Dublin restaurant, and she has extraordinary patience, too, in capturing from every subject the exact image she intends to wrest from it,'' Mr. Kramer wrote in 1977, reviewing an exhibition at the Witkin Gallery in Manhattan. ''She is, in my opinion, one of the living masters of her medium.''

Evelyn Elvira Hofer was born on Jan. 21, 1922, in comfortable circumstances in Marburg, Germany, where her father was in the pharmaceuticals business. In 1933, when Hitler came to power, her fervently anti-Nazi father took the family to Geneva and later Madrid.

Evelyn intended to become a concert pianist and applied to the Paris Conservatory but failed to gain entrance. After abandoning the idea of a musical career, she apprenticed to photographers in Zurich and Basel. She later took private lessons in Zurich with Hans Finsler, who was known for ''object photography.''

After Franco's victory in Spain the Hofers emigrated to Mexico, where Evelyn began working as a professional photographer and finding the images that became part of her first book, ''The Pleasures of Mexico'' (1957), which she later disowned.

Her career began in earnest after she arrived in New York in 1946 and began working with Alexey Brodovitch, the great art director of Harper's Bazaar. In New York she became friends with the artist Richard Lindner, a fellow German émigré, who took her artistic education in hand and, she later said, ''showed me how to look.'' Another close friend was the artist and cartoonist Saul Steinberg.

In 1959, she and other artists contributed photographs to Mary McCarthy's literary and historical travel book ''The Stones of Florence.'' Her photographs were singled out for special mention by many critics, and the book's success led to a collaboration with V. S. Pritchett on ''London Perceived'' (1962).

''I have never seen a volume of London photographs that evoked the complexities of the city with such subtle discrimination,'' Philip Toynbee wrote in The New York Times Book Review. ''The headwaiter stands, with a certain pensive arrogance, behind a laid table in the Garrick Club; a milkman calls on an old lady who is just managing to keep up appearances in the near-squalor of her Battersea rooms; in the Red Lion public house, Duke of York Street, a bowler-hatted businessman eyes his tankard of bitter with the affection of a very, very long acquaintance.''

These, he wrote, were superior genre studies of Londoners ''caught in their natural habitat.''

The travel format served Ms. Hofer well in two more ventures with Pritchett, ''New York Proclaimed'' (1965) and ''Dublin: A Portrait'' (1967), as well as in ''The Presence of Spain'' (1964), by James Morris, and ''The Evidence of Washington'' (1966), by William Walton. She returned to Italy to chronicle Ralph Waldo Emerson's 1833 visit for ''Emerson in Italy'' (1989), with text by Evelyn Barish.

In her later years she photographed the Basque country of Spain and its people, as well as the village of Soglio in Switzerland, where she spent her summers. She also produced a number of lush, painterly still-life photographs, in color, using the dye-transfer process. Many of these images were included in the monograph ''Evelyn Hofer,'' published by Steidl in 2005.

Ms. Hofer is survived by a sister, Aline Schunemann-Hofer of Mexico City.