Visual Arts in Germany: Exhibitions and Artist Portraits

Candida Höfer – Rooms with a view



Ever since the beginning of her creative career Candida Höfer’s photography has always focused on places that have a story to tell. Her subjects are mostly interiors, places of encounter, of communication, of knowledge – spaces for living that were created by people, spaces for living that have a function in life.

More often than not they are magnificent interiors with spectacular atmospheres. Her images however also depict rooms that at first glance appear to be quite unprepossessing, but on closer inspection they start to tell a story. It was towards the end of the 1960s that Candida Höfer first started to tackle motifs that would later be more comprehensively addressed in her oeuvre: waiting rooms, railway stations and architectural structure in the broadest sense of the word. In 1968, during a short stay in the city of Liverpool, Candida Höfer, who was born in 1944, produced a series of photographs that traced the footsteps of a poetry band known as The Liverpool Scene and in doing so she was able to establish a direct link to lyric poetry. Even then, back in Liverpool, the artist turned her gaze on living space that had been created by people.

The years before the Academy

The photos in Liverpool were taken a long time before Candida Höfer went to the Academy of Art in Düsseldorf. She had in fact already started to work as a free-lance photographer in Cologne. From 1963 to 1964 she did a one-year voluntary traineeship at the Schmölz-Huth studio in Cologne. This was followed by four years at the Kölner Werkschule (Cologne Crafts School) and then by two years of free-lance work. From 1970 to 1972 Candida Höfer worked at reconstructing the daguerreotype technique for the photographer and collector, Werner Bokelberg. It was a job that gave her access to interesting libraries and photography archives.

“Turks in Germany”

Back in Cologne Candida Höfer became positively aware of the changes that had taken place in her city. Inner-urban life in the city had taken on a new face due to the increasing numbers of immigrant workers living there, among them were many Turkish families. It was then that the artist started a project that was to go on for about six years – Türken in Deutschland (Turks in Germany). The many photos for the project ranged from images of shops and tea houses, of people in parks, but also in their homes. The undertaking kept Candida Höfer busy until 1979, when she compiled a final slide show of 80 images with the same title. In 1973 she started a parallel course of study at the Academy of Art in Düsseldorf. As there was no photography course at that time she first did a course in cinema under Ole John and then later went on to do photography under Bernd Becher until 1982.

The aura determines the motif

It was at this time that Claudia Höfer started her work on interiors that she describes as follows, “I take photographs in public and semi-public spaces from all kinds of epochs. They are rooms that are accessible to everybody. They are places of encounter, of communication, of knowledge, of relaxation, of recuperation. They might be spa facilities, hotels, waiting rooms, museums, libraries, universities, banks, churches and, for quite a few years now, zoos. All the rooms have a function in life and the things in the rooms mostly have a function, too.” The way Candida Höfer decides on a motif is never determined by a subject group that she would then like to extend, like libraries, for example, but always by the aura she feels the rooms radiate. She observes the rooms with respect to their history, order, sequence, structure and functionality. Only when the subject has been categorised in the bundle of motifs that has developed at the same time, for example museums or libraries, does she pose the question of what it is or was used for.


A sculpture zoo

Candida Höfer, who is one of Germany’s most renowned contemporary artists, only ever works with the light available at the time she is working. She does without any additional artificial lighting, preferring an atmosphere bathed in daylight. She does however make use of artificial light if it is there and a definite part of the room. In contrast to her images of interiors that only rarely ever show any people, her views of zoo enclosures from 1990 do in fact show the “resident” animals. From this point of view a zoological garden functions like a museum in which the animals serve the purpose of the sculptures. Candida Höfer’s interest in interiors that have been designed for a certain purpose is perfectly in line with her motivation to take photos in a zoological garden. All the different spaces are permeated by the aspects that Candida Höfer focuses on in her work: order, sequence, structure, history, function, living space and its sensual and qualitative experience, too.
Anne Ganteführer-Trier
is an art historian, photography expert at the Van Ham auction house in Cologne and also the author of numerous publications about Candida Höfer.

Translation: Paul McCarthy
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet-Redaktion
December 2012

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