1992_hofer_Zoologischer Garten London III

Candida Höfer (born 1944 in Eberswalde, Germany; lives and works in Cologne, Germany).

A color photograph of the modernist penguin pool at the London Zoo, designed by the Georgian emigré architect Berthold Lubetkin/Tecton in 1934.

“Known in the United States for her perfectly lit photographs of building interiors and archives, an expansive set of work that has been rightly called an ‘architecture of absence,’ Höfer has been working on the ‘Zoologischer Gärten’ series, set in the zoos of Europe, since the 1990s… Höfer matches a quickness of mind with a consistently calm and questioning archival gaze. The penguins in Zoologischer Gärten London III (1992) seem to be alone in a CAD mockup of curved stairs and a pool.

“Höfer studied under Bernd and Hilla Becher, who for 50 years (Bernd died in 2007) photographed the disappearing European industrial landscape ‘because it existed.’ Bringing the Bechers’ signature ‘photography of precision’ to zoological gardens, Höfer illuminates settings where function is outdated and form sticks around despite itself—an industrial landscape that will not die.

“‘I have done museums, among them museums of natural history, and zoos,’ Höfer says via email. ‘This is all about what people build for other people and what this does for people and sometimes to people: in this case to look at “spaced” live animals.’

“Seeing the animals as ‘spaced’ rather than ‘caged’ is essential to her vision, placing this work closer to projects at natural history museums by photographers such as Richard Barnes and Hiroshi Sugimoto than to the animal work by Zoo photographer Britta Jaschinski.

“The ‘Zoologischer Gärten’ pictures are most surprising for their immediacy. Concepts start to creep in—modernization, modernism, passivity, institutionalism—but are quickly shed for more immediate concerns. Whatever animation of natural life is left, it is clearly in the eye of the beholder. Look at just the animals or just the built environment, and the magic of life returns; look at both at once and the magic seems reduced to a geometry of light and form.”
—Ari Messer, “‘Zoologischer Gärten’: Candida Höfer’s Photos,” SF Gate, March 11, 2010.

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