E.O. Hoppé, ''The Master'' of Photography (1878-1972)

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Mini-Biography

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''to picture the rhythm and design of very ordinary, everyday things, which ninety-nine persons out of every hundred are probably passing every hour of every day without noticing them, because they are so familiar with them that they would consider it a sheer waste of time to give them a second glance. It is one of the chief delights of photography that it creates a spirit of adventure and sharpens the powers of observation. So many people miss the significance of little things and are therefore robbed of a fundamental key to beauty''. -E.O. Hoppé

                                                 E.O. Hoppé  (1878-1972) 
Emil Otto Hoppé was born on April 14th 1878 in Munich, where he received his initial schooling and drawing lessons from the watercolorist, Hans von Bartels (1856-1913).
In 1897, after two years compulsory service in the Army, Hoppé followed his father into banking but he also travelled to Paris and Vienna to study painting and portrait photography. In 1900 Hoppé moved to London to work at the Deutsche Bank and Lombards and in 1903 met British photographer John Cimon Warburg (1867-1931) who demonstrated the artistic possibilities of photography to him.
Inspired by Warburg he acquired his first camera, a Goertz-Anschutz model, and the same year was admitted as a member of the Royal Photographic Society where, over the next four years, he regularly exhibited his amateur photographic works. In this same year Hoppé was also associated with The Linked Ring Brotherhood with fellow members, Alvin Langdon Coburn (1882-1966), Henry Peach Robinson (1830-1901) and George Davidson (1854-1930), who played an important role in international art photography, maintaining close ties with continental and American groups including the Vienna Camera Club and the Photo-Secession, New York. 
 
Success in amateur exhibitions convinced Hoppé that he could turn his photography into a viable business. Leaving banking in 1907 he opened a studio collaborating with E.F. Griffin in Baron’s Court London.
During this time he continued to exhibit his photographic art and in 1909 co-founded the London Salon of Photography and during that same year joined Sir Benjamin Stone (1838-1918) to represent Great Britain at the International Exhibition of Photography at Dresden. 

With his business growing rapidly, in 1911 Hoppé opened his own photographic studio on Baker Street and by 1913 had moved to larger and more fashionable premises at Millais House, the former studio and residence of artist John Everett Millais (1829-1896) in South Kensington and where he soon occupied all of the thirty three rooms. At this time Hoppé had many exhibitions of his portrait work that concentrated on figures in literature, the arts and politics. Among his sitters were H.G. Wells, T.S. Eliot, Edward Elgar, Richard Strauss, Ralph Vaughan Williams, George Bernard Shaw, King George, Rudyard Kipling, Aldous Huxley, Albert Einstein, Lloyd George, Virginia Woolf, Henry James and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. 

Hoppé also contributed reviews, illustrations and photographs to various established magazines of the time including ‘The Bookman’ and around 1917 he became one of the founding members of ‘The Plough’ theatre club in London, a group who specialised in producing plays that had previously not been performed in Britain where Hoppé designed some of the stage sets. By this time Hoppé was one of the most sought after portrait photographers of the time and is reported to have made over 600 portraits during one year. In 1922, a highlight of Hoppé’s career was a large one-man exhibition consisting of 221 prints at the Goupil Gallery, London, for which he was widely celebrated. Prior to this, in 1918 Hoppé made his first visit to New York where he photographed modernist cityscapes and made portraits of “street types.”

In 1921 Hoppé returned to New York to open a studio on West 57th Street and was celebrated that year by a major exhibition of his work at the famous Wannamaker Gallery and with the publication of his “The Book of Beautiful Woman.” The publicity garnered by Hoppé at this time made him more famous in the United States and elsewhere than the one we now point to as the champion of photographic art, Alfred Stieglitz. From this time on, and using London as his base, Hoppé travelled to many different countries throughout the world for the purpose of making a comprehensive photographic portrait of each as the subject of his many photographically illustrated books that he published over the next decades. Many of Hoppé’s titles were made for the Orbis Terrarum series of books that were beautifully printed in the gravure process. Countries photographed by Hoppé include Romania, North America, Cuba, Jamaica, the West Indies, United Kingdom, Germany, India, Ceylon, Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaya, Africa, Bavaria, Poland, and Czechoslovakia. 

His subjects in each country include the natural and man-made landscape and people. A favourite subject of Hoppé is large-scale industrial machinery found in factories, shipyards and steel mills where he is less interested in the subject’s function as he is in its artistic potential for abstraction. In this sense Hoppé’s photographs of the 1920s anticipate the work of Bernd (1931-2007) , Hilla (1934- ) and Albert Renger-Patzsch (1897-1966).

Equally important in Hoppé’s work are his “street photographs” that depict the peoples of many different countries in their environments. Made throughout his entire career, Hoppé’s work directly anticipates the documentary tradition of Walker Evans (1903-1975), Dorothea Lange (1895-1965), Arthur Rothstein (1915-1985), Ben Shahn (1898-1969), and Gordon Parks (1912-2006) among other photographers commissioned by the United States Farm Security Administration to document the plight of the poor American farmer from 1935-1944. Notable among this work is Hoppé’s comprehensive national portrait of Australia as a young nation that he documented in 1930 producing one of the greatest photographic documents of Australia to date*.  

Hoppé published more than twenty books (see Hoppé Books page), including such titles as ‘Studies from the Russian Ballet’ 1913, ‘The Book of Fair Women’ 1921, ‘Taken from Life’ 1922, ‘Picturesque Great Britain’ 1926, ‘Romantic Amerika’ 1927, ‘Romantik der Kleinstadt’ 1932 ‘Deutsche Arbeit’ 1930, *‘The Fifth Continent’ 1931, ‘A Camera on Unknown London’ 1936 ‘Rural London’ 1951 and an autobiography ‘One Hundred Thousand Exposures’, published in 1945 , this book being a real insight into the disciplines and workings of E.O. Hoppé with an introduction by Cecil Beaton who refers to Hoppé as "The Master". 

In the late 1920’s whilst travelling, Hoppé continued with some photographic work in Germany for the UFA studios (Universum Film AG ) which included photographs of Fritz Lang, Conrad Veidt, Victor McLaglen, Brigitte Helm, Mona Maris, Erich Pommer, Lilian Harvey and many more, as well as production stills of Marlene Dietrich and Anna May Wong. 

By 1939 and at the outbreak of war, Hoppé returned to England and moved to Devon. In 1954 at the age of 76 Hoppé sold the majority of his photographs and negatives to a London picture archive where each picture was subsequently filed and stored in the larger library that was organized by subject category rather than author, placing the Hoppé work into the archive rather like needles in a haystack. As a result Hoppé’s photographs became inaccessible to curators and photo-historians just as the first serious photo-histories were being researched and written. By the time of his death in 1972 Hoppé’s reputation had been more or less forgotten. 

Hoppé went from being the most famous photographer of his day into virtual obscurity until 1972 when photo-historian Bill Jay (1940-2009) tracked him down in a nursing home in the south of England and visited him several times to record his oral history. As a result of Jays efforts and with the intervention of Cecil Beaton (1904-1980), Hoppé was awarded an Honorary Fellowship of The Royal Society of Photography, a month before he died on 9th December 1972.

In 1994 curator and photographic historian Graham Howe (1950- ) retrieved and rescued Hoppé’s work from the London Picture library and spent over a decade painstakingly conserving and cataloguing the reassembled Hoppé archive that includes his photographic prints and negatives, letters and biographical documents in the E.O. Hoppé Estate Collection, at Curatorial Assistance, Pasadena, California. 

E.O. Hoppé’s body of work speaks for itself and is now being revisited through a series of new books and exhibitions that are being released over the next decade and this key figure in art photography is returned to our attention where he most deservedly should be. 

Nick Hall. Nov. 2009.


Recent books published on Hoppé include: 
E.O. Hoppé’s London by Mark Haworth-Booth (London: Guiding Light, 2006)
E.O. Hoppé’s Amerika: Modernist Photographs from the 1920’s by Philip Prodger (New York: W.W. Norton 2007)
E.O. Hoppé’s Australia by Graham Howe & Erika Esau (New York: W.W. Norton 2007) 
 

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