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E.O. Hoppé’s Australia E. O. Hoppé’s Australia presents rare, little-known photographs made by the German-born British photographer during his travels in Australia in 1930. This remarkable collection, seen sixty-five years after it was lost to a dusty archive, represents the unearthing of a cultural landmark and an unsung Modernist masterwork.
In the first part of the twentieth century, Emil Otto Hoppé was arguably the most famous photographer in the world. Born in Munich in 1878, he moved to England in 1900 and lived there until his death in 1972. Within a few years of his arrival, he had established a London studio and photographed countless celebrities, including royalty, literary figures, dancers, and film stars. Between 1919 and 1926 he made frequent visits to the United States, traveling and photographing the nation; his efforts anticipated similar work by such famed photographers as Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans. Throughout the 1920’s, Hoppé maintained his interest in portraiture, but he also developed a Modernist approach to his topographic work, particularly in his photographs of industrial subjects.
Hoppé then brought his discerning eye and evolving style to Australia. Arriving in Sydney early in 1930, Hoppé witnessed the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, which juts into many of his constructed views of the emerging city. Enthralled by the country and its people, he traveled for the best part of a year, tirelessly capturing images of life in Sydney, Melbourne, Hobart, Adelaide, Perth, Darwin, Cairns, Brisbane and Canberra, along with the people and places of Australia‘s remote interior.
Hoppé’s work represents the earliest comprehensive portrait of Australia made by one photographer. His distinctive views range from the newly-built Parliament House in Canberra to Central Australian and Queensland aboriginal ceremonies. His images of Coober Pedy opal miners, Kauri forest lumberjacks, and Aborigines from Palm Island to Hermannsburg demonstrate how Australia was defined by its multicultural people and their work in both cities and the Outback.
After having been hidden in archives for many years, Hoppé’s work has recently been reassembled. This exhibition and its accompanying book with an essay by Erika Esau and Graham Howe, published by W. W. Norton, presents Australia as only Hoppé, an outsider and a leading photographic artist of the period, could. His striking images capture the stark beauty of the country’s landscape and the complexities of its many peoples and show what it is to be Australian.