Candida Höfer explores built spaces in her photography. Her worldfamous interiors focus on libraries, museums, restaurants, theaters, and other public spaces, allowing us to experience architecture in a new way. In comparison with photographic interiors from the Kunstbibliothek’s Photography Collection, which is over 150 years old, a dialogue develops between applied photography and artistic work. The total of around 200 works – which also include photographs from zoological gardens and hitherto little-known series from Höfer’s early work, as well as their rarely or never before shown counterparts from the Photography Collection – invite visitors to take a new look at Höfer’s work and the Photography Collection, but also at the medium of photography itself.
Image above: Photographer unknown (Ernst Wasmuth Verlag), Rue de Turin 12, Brussels 1899, © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kunstbibliothek
Candida Höfer (*1944) has devoted herself ever more and more intensively to architectural photography since her studies with Bernd and Hilla Becher at the Düsseldorf Art Academy towards the end of the 1970s. She has concentrated on this important genre without, however, acting on behalf of architects and art historians as photographers of earlier generations did. She sees her work as artistic photography, and photographing interiors was self-determinedly chosen by her as her main field of activity. She herself set the framework for it: “I photograph in public and semipublic spaces from different eras. This are spaces that are accessible to everyone, places of encounter, communication, knowledge, relaxation, recreation. They are spas, hotels, waiting rooms, museums, libraries, universities, banks, churches and, since a few years, zoological gardens.”
This list does not claim to be exhaustive; it refers above all to the communicative functions of the spaces, which, however, are paradoxically shown without the people frequenting them: Candida Höfer demonstrates the qualities or deficiencies of the spaces that enable human exchange in terms of the architecture itself, in terms of the atmosphere she specifically captures in each case, in terms of the perspective and the framing she chooses. She does not focus on the thematic groups serially; the respective locations determine the image format as well as the size of the prints. Yet the compilation of the groups offers a variety of possibilities for com parison that impressively confirm the photographer’s longstanding and sustained interest in the specific locations.
With approximately 90 works, the exhibition at Berlin’s Museum für Fotografie opens up a broad cross-section of Candida Höfer’s photographs from 1980 to the immediate present. The long tradition of her architectural photographs, however, also extends deep into the classical canon of this field of work. In dialogue with pendants and counter-images from the Kunstbibliothek’s Photography Collection, Höfer’s particular approach to her pictorial motifs is revealed in a particularly impressive way.
For the Photography Collection, architectural photographs formed the basis of its collecting activities. Designed as an exemplary collection, it was intended to convey to a broad public the special structural qualities of current and historical architecture as precisely and vividly as possible in photographic images in large quantities. The names of the photographers are not known in most cases of the many tens of thousands of prints in the collection. However, inventories and image comparisons have made it possible to identify groups of works by important representatives of the field, such as Eugène Atget, Frank Cousins, Samuel Bourne, Fratelli Alinari, Max Krajewsky, Emil Leitner, Felix Alexander Oppenheim, Albert Renger-Patzsch and Karl Hugo Schmölz. In recent years, archives of the Schinkel and Stüler photographer Hillert Ibbeken, the Munich architectural photographer Sigrid Neubert and the Stuttgart industrial photographer Ludwig Windstosser have been added. The Museum für Fotografie dedicated comprehensive retrospectives to the latter two.
Some thematic groups exemplify the visually stimulating dialogue of the images: Facades, windows and doors open and close the view into or out of rooms. Candida Höfer presents the theme in an exemplary manner with two photographs of the Dutch embassy in Berlin. These are joined by a window picture of the classical avant-garde by Florence Henri or the large-format view from a high-rise onto the landscape of buildings of southern Manhattan by Reiner Leist from 1996. The dialogue between the pictures unfolds in a particularly attractive way in the photographs of Berlin’s Museumsinsel. While the razor-sharp, large-format contact prints by the Königlich Preußische Messbildanstalt still show the monumental staircase with Wilhelm von Kaulbach’s frescoes, Ryuji Miyamoto in 2000 captures the transitory state of the still ruinous building before the start of interior construction, and Candida Höfer in 2009 shows its completion.
Previously unpublished are Höfer’s color photographs from her Liverpool series of 1968, from which a thread of development can be drawn to her images of the guest rooms in cafés, hotels, spas, and waiting rooms after 1980. They are brought into conversation with the more journalistically conceived street scenes of Willy Römer and Bernard Larsson, Dirk Alvermann’s images of Spanish bar scenes from around 1960, and Helga Paris’s photographs of Berlin pubs from the mid-1970s from the Photography Collection.
The exhibition is curated by Ludger Derenthal, Head of the Photography Collection of the Kunstbibliothek, and Ralph Goertz, IKS – Institut für Kunstdokumentation.
The exhibition is accompanied by a catalog published by Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther und Franz König, Cologne, ISBN: 978-3-7533- 0169-3.
Exhibition dates: Friday, 25 March – Sunday, 28 August 2022
Opening hours: Tue + Wed 11am – 7pm, Thu 11am – 8pm, Fri – Sun 11am – 7pm
Museum für Fotografie