The ‘Pearlies’, Master William Dennis Simmons, London, 1922 © 2011 Curatorial Assistance, Inc. / E.O. Hoppé Estate CollectionShowcasing the work of yet another great photographer, the National Portrait Gallery have some excellent exhibitions taking place this year. Now in its final month, Hoppé Portraits: Society, Studio and Street sees the first major exhibition of E.O. Hoppé’s work in over 30 years. One of the most important photographers of the early twentieth century, Hoppé Portraits: Society, Studio and Street unites Hoppé’s trademark strikingly modernist portraits juxtaposed with his fascinating documentary studies capturing the realities of day-to-day life in Britain between the wars.
Margot Fonteyn, 1935 © 2011 Curatorial Assistance, Inc. / E.O. Hoppé Estate CollectionE.O. Hoppé was the prototypical celebrity photographer, and his success in the 1910s and 1920s can be compared to that of Richard Avedon or Irving Penn in the late twentieth century. Hoppé wrote of his career as a portraitist: "The personality of living people, dual and often multi-fold, is always more absorbing than that portrayed on canvas, and I have been lucky in that my calling as a portraitist has enabled me to peek behind the facades, as it were, of so many great and interesting men and women."
Ezra Pound, 1918 © 2011 Curatorial Assistance, Inc. / E.O. Hoppé Estate CollectionFascinated by questions of race and social mobility, Hoppé was no stranger to controversy having raised philosophical questions about human aesthetics in his 1922 work, Book of Fair Women. It was Hoppé’s latter works in the late 1920-30s that would leave a lasting impression, capturing British street life, studying individuals at the other end of the social spectrum to his celebrity sitters. Among these photograph’s subjects are the homeless, bell ringers, Sandhurst Military Academy, a dog hospital, night watchmen, a girl’s borstal institute, a skeleton shop, portraits of ‘pearlies’, street musicians and the tattoo artist George Burchett.
If you haven’t seen Hoppé Portraits: Society, Studio and Street yet, pop down to the NPG before it ends on 30th May.