This summer and for the first time in Europe, the Hague Museum of Photography in the Netherlands offers a retrospective exhibition of the work of “the most famous ‘unknown’ photographer in America” as described in a 1987 professional photo-journal. Though Evelyn Hofer (Germany, 1922) has become a household name in the world of professional photography due to her countless pupils. And thus, it could be said, that her oeuvre has anonymously left its imprint on the Western imagination -you can judge this for yourself by visiting this exhibition.
Since she moved to the United States after fleeing from Nazi Germany with her parents, Evelyn Hofer, who had been initiated by Hans Finsler, kept on photographing. From the streets of New York to the Italian countryside, from fashion and celebrity reportage to social documentary and landscape photography, Evelyn Hofer’s oeuvre spans multiple genres and locations, and encompasses half of a century. With seamless technical mastery, she has portrayed the famous as an ordinary citizen, the countryman as a mythical hero and has suffused objects with life. To be seen in The Hague are samples from each of her most singular series, from commercial assignments to autonomous creations. As the monumentality of poet Marianne Moore’s pair of gloves seems to uncover, Evelyn Hofer excels at the art of evocating contradictory sensual experiences by blurring conventions of representation in a poetic vision of daily life and modernity. Through Evelyn Hofer’s lens, cities become ephemeral architectures and gloves, monuments to artistry.
In 1947, Vogue magazine became her first employer to be counted, among others, together with Vanity Fair, The London Times and LIFE by 1960s. For this latter she shot, in 1974, a series of Just Married couples in New York that would, according to Hofer’s so-called intuitive style, account for one of the most compassionate portraits of an institution increasingly going obsolete, and the beginnings of what would become a multicultural epiphany in western countries. Her works invite the viewer to complete an impossible reconstruction of the past, while also functioning as sweet reminder of the traps of believing in truths. Beyond her use of Baroque chiaroscuros, this might be the reason why her portraits remind us so much of the art of the greatest painters from the 17th century –while capturing her models’ appearance, she evokes the ungraspable nature of their being.