Höfer has for the entirety of her thirty-plus working years concentrated on a single motif, well-grounded in the now vastly familiar oeuvre of Bernd and Hilla Becher, her teachers at the famous Kunstakademie Düsseldorf (where classmates Gursky, Hutte, Ruff, and Struth also trained). Though the format of her pictures has evolved ever so slightly over the years, she has for most part concentrated on depicting empty architectural and interior spaces, usually devoid of any immediate human presence. The only traces of inhabitants are in the marks, constructions, and furniture they leave behind as phantom surrogates for lives made ever more distinctly palpable for their physical absence. Bare as the images may seem compositionally, they are likewise totally devoid of maudlin effect or nostalgia, which in no way should be confused with a deficit of feeling. On the contrary: hers is an approach so self-effacing, so reticent to allow for the slightest falsity of tone that inevitably creeps into images more expressive than her own, that it’s easy to underestimate her delicate tone of elegy. She is a silent mourner who knows there is no relief to be had in noisy tears. She is also a photographer of supreme dignity and sober elegance.
There is a parallel quietude at work in the imagery: the silence of Höfer’s visual approach matches the latency of her subjects. There is a nimble intelligence at work here, whispering questions of blistering force. What is it that constitutes our identities, our histories, and the substance of our presence, besides the mere fact of our physical selves? There is a great and woeful decency to Höfer’s undertaking, conscious as it is of historic fragility—bear in mind that the photographer came of age in postwar Germany. She is adamant to testify to the worth intrinsic to the human passage through time, yet unwilling to capitulate to easier sentimentalizing.
© Copyright Gil Blank