COLLECTORS' LIST 148 - E.O. Hoppé Photography: A Year in the Life of Australia < Main | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 >

A Year in the Life of Australia
From 1926 to 1929 renowned German-born British photographer Emil Otto Hoppé (1878-1972) authored several large format photographically illustrated books in the Orbis Terrarium series for German publisher Ernst Wasmuth.

These beautifully gravure-printed armchair travel art books allowed the reader to travel to foreign countries through photographs of cities, landscapes, and people. With three 300-plate titles describing the United States, Great Britain and Germany already under his belt, Hoppé was about to embark on his next epic book - 'The Fifth Continent' - in Australia.

In 1929 as he prepared to come to our country he was advised by some in London apparently knowledgeable on the subject that he would deplete the subject in six weeks.

But Hoppé would soon discover just how wrong was this typical British perception of Australia.

December 1929 was a defining moment for an outsider to visit Australia. With the fall of the global stockmarkets and the resulting world wide economic turmoil (not so dissimilar to recent world events) Australia's droughts were followed by floods making Australian economic hardship and Hoppé's travels all the more challenging. But as he crisscrossed the continent Hoppé discovered that these hardships proved only to bring out the best in the Australians he met.

In an unprecedented record of Australia and Australians throughout 1930, Hoppé worked for the best part of a year creating an epic documentation that defined what it was to be Australian. The singular importance and modern quality of this body of work clearly rivals the now famous photographs of depression-era America made by Walker Evans for the United States Farm Security Administration (FSA) just a few years later. As Evans' FSA work stands as one of the most important bodies of artistic documentary photographs for the United States and in the history of photography, so too does Hoppé's epic documentation of depression-era Australia.

Even though Hoppé became a British citizen in 1912, like Bill Brandt who followed him, he was still something of an outsider in his adopted home. Perhaps this enabled Hoppé to see Australia more for what it really was. Clearly he didn't adopt the view of Australia held by his more skeptical British advisors. Hoppé energetically travelled throughout the entire continent from Cape York to Tasmania, Sydney to Perth, Coober Pedy to the flooded Finke River creating the first transcontinental photobook portrait of Australia.

The importance of this epic document is described by Gael Newton, Senior Curator of Photography at the National Gallery of Australia, who cites Hoppé's achievement as one that "shows great sensitivity and insight into Australia's people at a defining moment in the country's history. Perhaps more than any other earlier travelling photographer of the period, Hoppé was genuinely taken by Australia and its people.

He showed a young Australia, distinct in its national character and strong in its identification with the land, be they European or Asian settlers, or its native peoples.

As a German-born citizen of the UK, Hoppé had great enthusiasm for the open and democratic life in Australia, where to many Europeans the average person still seemed to have a chance to "make good." Hoppé captured the country's inclusiveness, intimately express ed in his photographs of people-Coober Pedy opal miners, wool packers, Aboriginal tribes, rural farmers, and city workers-in their native environs. The collection of images is one of the most comprehensive collective portraits of Australia during these years."1

Gael Newton goes on to explain, "Hoppé's views of Australia combined the topographic and social documentary paradigm with a profoundly modernist vision, which became the major photographic ideology in the 1930s. Where now-renowned figures such as the American photographer Walker Evans contended with the gap between rich and poor in the U.S., Hoppé embraced a nation that seemed free of such a disparity."

By Graham Howe

1 Correspondence to Graham Howe, dated 13th April, 2006

COLLECTORS' LIST 148 - E.O. Hoppé Photography: A Year in the Life of Australia < Main | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 >