Day 342 of Colourisation Project – April 14
Challenge: to publish daily a colourised photo that has some significance around the day of publication.
Emil Otto Hoppé is perhaps not a name that rings bells. But once upon a time it was a household name. How is that someone who at one time was the most famous photographer in the world, could fall into relative obscurity?
Born this day, 14 April 1878, German-born, British photographer, Emil Otto Hoppé was highly celebrated in his time as a brilliant landscape and travel photographer and widely considered the undisputed leader of pictorial portraiture in Europe in the first half of the 20th century.
Rarely has a photographer been so famous in his own lifetime. Active between 1907 and 1945, Hoppé was as famous as his sitters, who ranged from all levels of British society to the natives of the Americas and Asia. Anyone who was anyone in Great Britain and the US in the fields of politics, art, literature, and the theatre posed for his camera, including Henry James, Rudyard Kipling, George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells, A.A. Milne, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Richard Strauss, G.K. Chesterton, Vaslav Nijinsky, Anna Pavlova, Tamara Karsavina, Margot Fonteyn, Queen Mary, King George, and other members of the Royal Family, Albert Einstein, Benito Mussolini, Robert Frost, and Aldous Huxley.
In 1954 at the age of 76, Hoppé sold five decades worth of his photographic work to a London picture archive, the Mansell Collection, where each picture was subsequently filed and stored into a larger library by subject category rather than author, mixing Hoppé’s work with millions of other stock pictures. Consequently Hoppé’s photographs were inadvertently buried in the vast archives and ostensibly inaccessible to curators and photo-historians for over thirty years.
Thus Hoppé faded from the limelight. It was not until photo-historian, Bill Jay (1940-2009) tracked him down in a nursing home in the south of England, just months before his death, that several recordings were made of his oral history. Thanks to Jay’s efforts and to the intervention of esteemed photographer, 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.
However Hoppé’s work lay dormant in the Mansell Collection in London for over thirty years since his death, and was not fully accessible to the public until the collection was acquired by The TIME Inc. Picture Collection and transferred from London to New York.
In 1994 Australian photographic curator, Graham Howe meticulously retrieved Hoppé’s work from the archives and after a decade of organising, cataloguing, conservation, digitising and research, Hoppé’s extraordinary output is once again available for viewing by the public.
Notable among this work is Hoppé’s comprehensive national portrait of depression-era Australia as a young nation, The Fifth Continent one of the greatest photographic publications of Australia to date, the archive of which over 500 of Hoppé’s prints and as many negatives is held privately by Curatorial Assistance in Pasadena, Los Angeles.
Hoppé was also a prolific author and published over thirty photographically illustrated books, including such titles as Studies from the Russian Ballet 1913, The Book of Fair Women 1921, Taken from Life 1922, In Gipsy Camp and Royal Palace 1924—with an introduction by Queen Marie of Romania, Picturesque Great Britain 1926, Romantic Amerika 1927, Romantik der Kleinstadt 1932, A Camera on Unknown London 1936, Rural London 1951 and an autobiography One Hundred Thousand Exposures, published in 1945, with an introduction by Cecil Beaton who refers to Hoppé as ‘The Master’.
The National Gallery of Australia holds one of the largest public collections of Hoppé’s works, including 28 extremely rare exhibition prints of Deutsche Arbeit (1930) works and a portfolio of photogravures of the Russian Ballet dancers.
Currently an exhibition titled Unveiling a Secret showcasing 200 photographs of industrial sites taken by Hoppé on his travels around the world is housed at MAST (Manifattura di Arti, Sperimentazione e Tecnologia) in Bologna, Italy until May 3, 2015, whilst in Portland, Oregon, the Cooley Memorial Art Gallery is exhibiting E. O. Hoppé: Society, Studio, and Street Photographs, 1909–1945, and runs until May 10, 2015.
Rivaling the artistic accomplishments of his peers, Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946), Edward Steichen (1879-1973), and Walker Evans (1903-1975), Emil Otto Hoppé clearly was one of the most important photographic artists of his generation. Now that his work is accessible, his reputation is on the way to finally being restored to its former glory.