Candida Höfer

Galerie Hauser & Wirth & Presenhuber

For many years now, Candida Höfer has been photographing public or semipublic spaces in libraries, banks, museums, theaters, schools, and corporate offices, making pictures that offer glimpses of cities across the world and reflect the architecture of different time periods. In the process, she continually finds surprising images that could never have been made up. These are not pure architectural photographs, for more than the architects’ intent, however unprepossessing or spectacular, finds its way into the image; so too does the way the spaces are used every day. The absence of people does not disguise the fact that these intimate niches or expansive halls and foyers are places to walk through, play in, or simply eye distractedly while waiting for something. Although Höfer’s camera allows us a very exacting look, it never gets too close to the things shown. The camera maintains an observant, at times even lightly ironic distance. Soberly, but never indifferently, it pays the same nimble attention to the dominant lines and lighting of the building as it does to incidental arrangements of cost-effective furnishings and objects or to the lush ornament created by fathomless rows of bookshelves and seating. Occasionally a chair or planter is pushed aside, but otherwise nothing is staged. And yet neither does anything seem left to chance. Only when observed can the elements of the photographically frozen moment in the building finally begin to play. At the same time, memories of familiar rooms and the odor of the unlimited archive of libraries, museums, and theater foyers mix themselves into even the occasional image of a contemporary building.

Through her choice of angle in each photograph, Höfer arranges the architectronic space anew in two dimensions. Her photography is less about drafting movement through space than moving the observer through the image. She does not seek strongly subjective and physically determined perspectives, as does Jean Nouvel in photographs of his own built projects. Precisely by being reserved with her camera, she lets the forms begin to speak for themselves. And yet the obligatory mention of the connection between the conceptual and the documentary that accompanies every commentary on recent German photography is at best a half-truth in her case. This exhibition produced a particular tension in that it juxtaposed photographs of the severe, librarylike spaces designed by architects Diener & Diener for the Architekturmuseum Basel with a series of burlesquely mirrored deep-red interiors. The implicit comparison makes it dear that this work is taking more than a purely documentary position. Höfer brings spaces together across time and into conversation with each other in such a self-evident way that it often seems the camera had to do no more than eavesdrop.

Hans Rudolf Reust

Translated from German by Sara Ogger.