Fundacion MAPFRE, Madrid

Fundación MAPFRE, Bárbara de Braganza, 13
28004 Madrid

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artist / participant

press release

Resident in Great Britain from 1902, Emil Otto Hoppé began taking photographs in 1907 and enjoyed an immediate success. Today his work offers an excellent record of England's artistic and intellectual milieu from the first half of the 20th century.

Hoppé was the archetypal successful photographer, like Richard Avedon and Irving Penn after him. He belonged to the cultural and artistic elite of his era, and had access to the most successful politicians, writers and actors of his day.

Beyond these privileged circles, Hoppé was interested in documenting everyday life. By contrast to his posed portraits these works demonstrate his spontaneous and maybe daring approach to capture life on the streets.

From 1920 onwards Hoppé began to alternate his studio work with street photography. Influenced by his friend George Bernard Shaw, Hoppé attempted to capture Britain's types and social classes. He documented labourers at work, café scenes, hospitals, and animal cemeteries. He also captured people with more unusual professions such as tattoo artist George Burchett.

Hoppé often questioned the reasons behind the success of certain individuals over others. His portraits reveal the psyche behind each sitter, offering a powerful glimpse at their personality, whether they are well-known celebrities or anonymous individuals.

The exhibition is divided into four sections:

Studio Portraiture was the most common genre in Hoppé's studio work. He found his own distinctive style in between stylised pictorialism and modernism. Above all he aimed to reveal the inner world of his sitters; aesthetic beauty always came second. Hoppé was extremely conscientious in preparing his work and nothing was left to chance. He carried out extensive research and always endeavoured to create an atmosphere of intimacy and dialogue with his sitters.

Beauties In 1922 Hoppé published The Book of Fair Women, a compilation of photographs of the women he considered to be the most beautiful on earth. Containing 32 portraits in total, the book attempts to question accepted canons of western beauty prevalent at the time. In the book Hoppé places women of different origins and social backgrounds, from poor Tahitians to wealthy Caucasians. When published the book caused controversy, especially given Hoppé's standing as a society photographer. With time, Hoppé's progressive approach became recognised as an important turning point in the history of photography.

Types This section unites the photographs published in Taken from Life (1922) and London Types (1926), works, which reveal Hoppé's desire to capture the essence of a certain social 'type', rather than focusing on portraits of 'individuals'. These photographs have a very different format than others by the artist: They are often limited to a headshot or bust, rendering the image of the character as intense as possible.

Street This section includes Hoppé's images for the Weekly Illustrated between 1928 and 1937. These pictures, sometimes taken with a hidden camera, explore ideas about class and typology. Hoppé encountered a multicultural, cosmopolitan city, which he captured perceptively and with a sense of humour. None of London's icons escaped him, from bobbies to the British museum to afternoon tea. At first Hoppé's camera of choice was the Kodak Brownie, which he hid in a paper bag—a process similar to that used by Walker Evans and Helen Levitt in the New York subway. He later used a lighter, more portable and much faster Leica. In his street photography Hoppé enjoyed experimenting, constantly seeking to capture eccentricity, absurdity and often the grotesque.

only in german

Emil Otto Hoppe
Kurator: Phillip Prodger