Self-Portrait in Mirror by Marta Hoepffner (Germany, Pirmasens, 1912-2000) Germany, 1941 The Audrey and Sydney Irmas Collection. Via LACMA
Marta Hoepffner (1912–2000)
Born into an avant-garde family as the niece of Dadaist Hugo Ball, Marta Hoepffner studied modernist painting, graphics, and photography at the Frankfurt Art School from 1929 to 1933 under German abstract artist Willi Baumeister. She also undertook a preliminary course in painting at the Bauhaus, and was inspired to experiment with abstraction by the photography of Lazlo Maholy-Nagy.
With the rise of Nazism and its dislike of modernism, Marta kept her experimental work secret. She left the school and scraped a living making picture stories for the Illustrierte Zeitung, and illustrations for Das Illustrierte Blatt (1936 – 1938), as well as portraits of soldiers and public figures.
At the same time, she perfected solarization, double exposure and photograms in her studio in Hofheim am Taunus. Her style of high-contrast light studies combined pictorial abstraction with the techniques of the New Vision movement.
Marta Hoepffner, Selbstportrait (self portrait), Solarisation, Karton (Foto: © Rheinisches Bildarchiv Köln, rba_d042528) Via Kulturelles erbe Köln
In her photograms, such as ‘Homage a Kandinsky’ and ‘Homage a de Falla’ (1937) she likened music to abstraction, placing stencils on photosensitive paper to create an abstract play of diagonals, grids and mists.
She ran her ‘Workshop for artistic photographs’ in Frankfurt from 1934 – 1944 and befriended local artists such as photographer and filmmaker Ella Bergmann-Michel (1896 – 1971) and painter Friedel Schulz-Dehnhardt (1909 – 2011). She also joined an urban renewal program, “Bund Das Neue Frankfurt” (New Frankfurt Project 1919 – 1933) and contributed photography to a 1930 edition of the Das Neue Frankfurt.
When her Frankfurt studio was bombed in 1944, she moved to her secret Hofheim am Taunus base.
In 1949, her first exhibition was mounted at the Frankfurter Kunstverein and she was encouraged to open The Marta Hoepffner Photo school for 18 – 20 year olds at Kapellenstraße 4, Hofheim am Taunu., with her sister Madeleine. They ran the school together with her partner, the photographer Irm Schoeffers, (1927 – 2008) until 1975, teaching courses on the Bauhaus model; a focus on the technical, experimental scope of photography.
Marta went on to play a role in the light and kinetic art movement in the 1950s and 60s, with work such as her 1957 Magische Realität.
‘Optical values take on a life of their own in photography. Light, shades, shapes and intermediate forms can become the content of an image for independent, often abstract form.’ (1957)
Her archive is held in the Stenger Collection in the Museum Ludwig -Agfa-Historama, Cologne and at the Stadtmuseum Hofheim am Taunus, which introduced an annual photography prize in her honour in 2002.
The 2018 Tate Modern exhibition ‘SHAPE OF LIGHT: 100 years of photography & abstract art’ featured her work and in 2019/2020 The Zeppelin Museum mounted ‘Pathways to Abstraction. Marta Hoepffner and Willi Baumeister.’
By Paula Vellet