The artist Candida Höfer (born 1944), who lives in Cologne, is one of the most important representatives of new German photography. She has been photographing representative public spaces such as staircases and halls, foyers, reading rooms in libraries or the exhibition rooms of a wide variety of museums – to mention just a few of her subjects – for over two decades.
While Höfer’s portraits of Turkish immigrant workers in Germany (1975–1979) are the central theme of her work in the Eighties, the portraits as a narrative device gradually disappear from her photographs and feature, if at all, only as coincidental, anonymous extras in the background. If the presence of human beings in Höfer’s early pictures was to a large extent due to her subject matter – her photographs could be described as ethnographic documents – their absence in her later work is not only due to her choice of subject. Interiors of cultural interest are almost always populated by human beings; only during the night are they devoid of people.
Candida Höfer describes her work with interiors as follows: “I take photographs in public and semi-public spaces dating from different periods. They are rooms that are accessible to all. They are places where people meet, places of communication, knowledge, relaxation, recreation. All these rooms perform a function, and most of the things in them also perform a function.” (in: Höfer – Photographie) The artist uses either a Nikon or a Hasselblad camera for her pictures of interiors. Depending on the room, some photographs are taken using a tripod.
Candida Höfer sees her images of interiors above all as documents, which she does not attempt to analyse from a socio-critical perspective. As she has said in an interview: “What interests me about rooms is the mixture of different periods, the way different times are discernible.”
This documentary interest in various periods is also apparent in the selection of photographs exhibited at the gallery. Two examples, such as the interior view of architects Diener & Diener’s Basel Museum of Architecture (2001) or of the Théâtre municipal, Calais I (2001), clearly reveal Candida Höfer’s working methods. The simply elegant, extremely cool, modern building is deliberately contrasted with the opulent interior of the Théâtre municipal in Calais.
The artist always selects a special view of an interior and shows the space simply, without interpretation. Her photographs are usually based on a structured composition; to a certain extent Diener & Diener’s columns serve to frame the photograph, while the overhanging balconies in the semi-circular theatre in Calais show the view from the stage into the auditorium. Candida Höfer makes no changes to the interiors she photographs, nor does she arrange certain subjects, but photographs the interior just as she finds it. She does not alter the lighting, and captures what she sees in a simple, unpretentious way.