Candida Hofer

Johnen + Schöttle

Candida Höfer was a student of Bernd and Hilla Becher, whose reductionist approach to photography has exerted a tremendous influence on recent German art. Indeed, the Bechers have had such a strong impact that their disciples have often had to struggle with the couple’s rationally “correct” stance for the rest of their lives. Despite the authority of the Bechers, Höfer has managed to take a slow, quiet, and thoughtful detour.

Her subject is limited to interiors, which are never stripped of their distinctiveness by rigorously formal photographic methods. More specifically, Hölfer shoots informal public spaces. Most of them are deserted, but their wear and tear shows signs of human presence. None of these photographs is clinically clean, none looks posed. On the other hand, they never fall into the nostalgia trap of providing places with an “interesting” patina. These interiors are chosen and depicted according to the artist’s “feel,” whereby she greatly distances herself from any claim to objectivity.

Höfer goes to great lengths to avoid pretentiousness. The traces of her struggle—from light fatigue to exhaustion—remain in her photographs. In her restrained manner, she tries to establish emotions—defying, on the one hand, the urge to document, and on the other, any concept of artistic purity. Höfer cultivates a romantic idea of the interior, not as a place of intense yearning, but as a human-made, and therefore flawed, space. She shoots with a 35-mm. camera, never using additional light, and working with mistakes, such as blurriness or weak composition. One could apply the term “snapshots” to her photographs. However, the plain, simple realism inherent in these pictures derives from the specific location of these spaces. They tell us something universal about abiding under specific historical conditions, about the history of living and remaining—something that transcends obedience to precise photographic rules.

This exhibition features work done during the past ten years. Two of the pictures stand out because of their inclusion of people within the frame. One is a shot of the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, the other of the waiting room in Cologne’s train station. In the latter photo, one can see how overwhelming the reality is here when compared with the almost frail quality of most artistic photography. These photographs of casual lingering leave very faint traces of human presence.

Jutta Koether

Translated from the German by Joachim Neugroschel.

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