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Gael Newton

E O Hoppé (Germarn/Brltlsh, 1878-1972),
Sydney Harbour Bridge under construction,
1930, 20.94 x 15.44 cm
E O Hoppé (German/British, 1878-1972),
Dorothea MacKeller, poet,
1930, 23.15 x 17.33 cm


In 1930 the renowned German-born, British photographer Emil Otto Hoppé (1878-1972) travelled across Australia gathering pictures for what would be a landmark photobook called The Fifth Continent, published in both English and German the following year.

In his introduction to The Fifth Continent, Hoppé noted how he had been warned there was little to photograph in Australia, that he would deplete the subject in six weeds. Instead, he spent nearly a year in Australia and was overwhelmingly enthusiastic about the country and its people. He included images not only of the cities, towns and their locals but also European settlers and indigenous people in central and far west Australia.

Publication of The Fifth Continent made E O Hoppé the first foreign photographer to produce a photo-book on the entire nation of Australia.  While many hundreds of photographers had made hundreds of thousands of images of different places and had photographed notable journeys, including the rugged transcontinental trips by pioneer motorist Francis Bibles before World War 1, in 1931 no local photographer had published an equivalent, all encompassing work.

Hoppé may well have appreciated his pole position since the cover for The Fifth Continent shows the photographer with camera possessing the map of Australia from atop a giant globe. The work remained unrivalled as a standard pictorial reference on Australia nationally and internationally, until the 1950s when overtaken by the post-war Australians books of Frank Hurley.

The Fifth Continent project was an extraordinary transcontinental undertaking by car, camel and train, both rigorous and costly. Hoppé brought his young son Frank as his assistant and was apparently able to afford such trips in part through his own resources and with some publishers' underwriting. World famous as a portraitist since the turn of the century he could also generate income by taking portrait photographs along the way.

Hoppé had been born in 1878 in Germany, the son of a banker, and grew up in Vienna. While he studied art and portrait photography in his youth, he obediently entering banking as a profession. After Hoppé moved to London in 1900 to work in Deutsche Bank, his engagement with the dynamic amateur art photography movement and success as an exhibitor in the salons led him to start his own photography studio in 1907. He held his first one-man show in 1910, and in 1913 moved his studio into the grand mansion formerly occupied by painter Sir John Mullahs (1829-1896).

One of the photographers featured in the first years of British Vogue magazine from 1916. By the l920s, Hoppé was the most fashionable portrait photographer in the world - everyone of any Consequence in even field had posed for him. He was a skilled graphic artist and designer who also worked as an art editor He wrote or illustrated over a dozen books; including his most ambitious project, Romantic America published in 1927, for which he travelled across the country to make the first nationwide photographic coverage of the United States.

Hoppé was well-organised, an astute businessman and self-promoter.  During his Australian trip, he had shipped over a hundred exhibition prints of his European and American work and exhibited these in a one-person show in April 1930 at David Jones' gallery This department store was the oldest and most elegant in Sydney and a taste maker; photography exhibitions were a regular feature and a particularly large fourth Annual Kodak Salon, with a rare group of prints by foreign Pictorialists, had been held there in February drawing 22,000 visitors.

Hoppe's exhibition lacked portraits as these had failed to turn up in time, but he exhibited a wide range of the geographic studies that had redefined his career in the 1920s as a modern travel photographer. Works on view included topographical views of old Europe as well as studies from his recent books Deutsche Arbeit (1930) on the wonder of modern German engineering and manufacturing plants, and Romantic America (1927) his most ambitious project to date. In 1930, Hoppe was at the height of his fume, while photography was enjoying a considerable profile as a serious art form in Australia and internationally.

Visitors to David Jones were able to see the range of Hoppé's stylistic approach, which combined romantic fln-de-siècle tonal impressionism, proto-photojournalistic reportage of 'Types' and cultures, and examples of 1920s sharp-focus realism using a small format camera. As well, a number of images were presented in the new style of big prints. Industrial images and scenes of American cities must have been very exciting, at a time when Sydney was embracing everything modern in technology, culture and lifestyle despite the downturn in the wake of the onset of the Depression in 1929.

E O Hoppé
(Germarn/Brltlsh, 1878-1972),
In the Mount Lofty Ranges, Adelaide, South Australia
1930, 20.94 x 15.44 cm
E O Hoppé (German/British, 1878-1972),
Early Morning, Pemberton, Western Australia
1930, 23.15 x 17.33 cm

The Australasian Photo-Review of 15 May 1930 reported that the exhibition had been opened by Sir Hugh Poynter, fin the presence of a distinguished audience, including Lady de Chair, and during about a fortnight was constantly crowded with interested onlookers and students.'  A considerable number of the public and local photographers saw the show, as it was widely advertised in Sydney newspapers and promoted by invitations to the members of the photographic and artistic community.

E O Hoppé (German/British, 1878-1972),
Mine Host, Eden, New South Wales,
1930, 23.15 x 17.33 cm

Prominent among the invitees was Harold Cazneaux, the top art and commercial photographer in Sydney, who was well known in European Pictorialist art photography circles through works hung in London salons and reproduced in the British Photograms of tile Fear annuals.

Hoppé and Cazneaux were exact contemporaries.  Both had been inspired by the work of art photographers at the turn of the century, and b0th brought the ideals and techniques of the movement to their work as professional art photographers.  What Cazneaux thought or learnt from Hoppé's visit is unclear, as he did not review the show nor make references in his later reminiscences of early Pictorialism in Australia. Indeed the whole visit of such a celebrity was relatively unreported by the photographic community.  One wonders did he and Hoppé chat at the opening or meet later to talk shop about new trends overseas?

E O Hoppé (Germarn/Brltlsh, 1878-1972),
Collins St, the Medical Quarter, Melbourne
1930, 20.94 x 15.44 cm
E O Hoppé (German/British, 1878-1972),
Aboriginal women looking at an European film poster, Central Australia  1930, 23.15 x 17.33 cm


More intriguing still is the likelihood that one visitor was the young Max Dupain, who early that year had begun his apprenticeship with prominent Sydney art and commercial photographer Cecil Bostock. One of Dupain’s first published images, a romantic Pictorialist tree study was in the same May 1930 issue of The Australasian Photo-Review as the review of Hoppé's show.

The impact of Hoppe's industrial and metropolis images would have surely been substantial, given that Bostock's studio specialized in work for an engineering firm. Dupain made his first industrial modernist image Silos - morning in 1933, and from that point emerged as the leader of a new modernist school. He too makes no mention of the impact of Hoppé’s visit and show in later memoir; (and the present writer didn't have the bright idea of asking him).

The conjunction of local photographers and visiting celebrity puts a spotlight on their comparative situations and prospects. Could Cazneaux or any other Australian have attempted a project the size of Hoppé's The Fifth Continent work?

Aesthetically yes, but like most of his contemporaries in Australia, Cazneaux lacked Hoppé’s diverse artistic and business skills, experience, ambition, resources, contacts and World market.

With a large family to support, Cazneaux as a sole operator could not easily have left his studio business to undertake transcontinental journeys.  In his last decade of creative work in the 1930s however he did travel round Australia for a book for the BHP Company's 50th anniversary, and for his own pleasure to the Flinders Ranges where he made some of his greatest landscapes. Cazneaux never did produce a personal book on Australia.

The master showman-adventurer Frank Hurley was at this time probably the most famous Australian photographer. He would have had the organizational ability to get an Australian book project off the ground.  In these years, Hurley was preoccupied with film work but the success of The Fifth Continent possibly encouraged his own later stream of Australians books in the 1950s.  In Australia in the 1930s, outlets for such specialized geographic photojournalism were thin; Walkabout, the magazine designed to promote tourism, would not be launched until 1934.

The next visiting foreign photographer to do a book on Australia was the American Robert B Goodman. He effectively repeated Hoppé's performance but in colour, with a lavish coffee table book titled The Australians (1968).  It sold 200,000 copies and dominated the market for a decade or more.

Curiously, prints from The Fifth Continent were never exhibited in Australia and none of Hoppé’s prints from the book can be traced in Australian collections. Hoppé lived until 1972 but despite honours was forgotten in the various histories of photography and the new museum collections which flourished from the 1960s onwards.

E O Hoppé (Germarn/Brltlsh, 1878-1972),
Parliament House, Canberra
1930, 20.94 x 15.44 cm
E O Hoppé (German/British, 1878-1972),
Pearling look-out man, Great Barrier Reef
1930, 23.15 x 17.33 cm


The National Gallery of Australia holds one of the largest public collections of Hoppé’s works, in the form of 28 extremely rare exhibition prints of Deutsche Arbeit works and a portfolio of photogravures of the Russian Ballet dancers. The Fifth Continent archive of over 500 of Hoppé’s prints and similar number of negatives is held privately by Curatorial Assistance in Los Angeles.

Currently a number of Hoppé’s projects are being launched across the world by Curatorial Assistance which plans to show a selection from The Fifth Continent in Australia in 2007 - the first exhibition since their making 76 years ago.

A group of E O Hoppé's works from the collection of the National Gallery of Australia were on view in VIPS: Very Important Photographs, an exhibition of over 150 international and Australian photographs from the permanent collection, celebrating the 25th anniversary of the National Gallery of Australia.

The exhibition opened 26 May 2007 with a Photofocus day of talks and viewings in association with the Reveries.. photography and mortality exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery

Gael Newton
Formerly Senior Curator, Photography
National Gallery of Australia

this text originally published in World of Antiques & Art #72, 2007

The vintage gelatin silver prints were originally reproduced courtesy E.O. Hoppé Trust, Curatorial Assistance, Pasadena, California. Click on banner below for more


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