Candida Höfer

Epic Gaze


When viewing Candida Höfer’s photographic works on a mobile phone for the first time, it may be challenging to experience any emotion at all. The artist consistently utilises a balanced composition with the subject perfectly centred, particularly in her images of immaculate empty spaces. There is a notable absence of subjective evaluations or discussions of contemporary topics such as gender within her pieces. In stark contrast to the constant bombardments of visual imagery in the modern world, Höfer’s works seem austere and detached. However, by looking at her pieces tranquilly in a museum, it offers an entirely different experience. Here, one is inevitably captivated by the sheer depth and meticulousness of her photographic oeuvre.

The Düsseldorf School of Photography went on to influence the art worldwide. Over the past 50 years, the school has focused on a highly methodical approach to photography while also exploring the ontology of photographic image and other artistic techniques. As a result, the school has made a major contribution to photography as a recognisable global art form.

Candida Höfer is a prominent figure in the school and undoubtedly best-known for her contributions to German art movements such as New Objectivity and Deadpan Photography. She is widely hailed as a pioneer in the art of creating large-scale colour photography. Her remarkable body of work features her creations of vast interior spaces, often within large public buildings. Höfer is recognised for her precise and explicit attention to detail, as well as her multi-layered visual language. The absence of human presence is also a recurring theme in her work. Additionally, the artist has a keen artistic sense and an exceptional expressiveness. Her nearly perfect photographic techniques and precise approach to composition have indeed led to her being hailed as one of the most influential contemporary photographers in history.

The Macao Museum of Art presents a selection of images from Höfer’s oeuvre that she has created over the past 20 years in this large-scale ‘Epic Gaze’ exhibition. The works are organised into various themes –from classic ones such as ‘Theatres’, ‘Museums’ and ‘Libraries’ to innovative ones such as ‘Passages’, ‘Worldview’ and ‘Unseen Works’. This arrangement allows Macao audiences to better understand Höfer’s artistic approaches and techniques at different stages of her career.

Höfer’s works allow us to comprehend once again the intricate nature of a specific space. Thus, her works cannot be simply categorised as ‘architectural photography’. While the artist often provides a precise composition of the space depicted, there is an adventurous visual approach that is evident in so many of her photographs. Similar to the main techniques that feature in French philosopher Henri Lefebvre’s ‘spatial triad’ model, a classical oil painting creates depth by both using a specific subject and organising the composition around a diagonal line. This technique enables Höfer’s viewers to step tranquilly into the world she has created, which is rich in meaning and detail and stimulates their imagination.

In her ‘Theatre’ and ‘Museums’ series, Höfer skilfully depicts the progressive idea of public space. However, the artist redefines the idea of the ‘non-place’ through her recent ‘Passages’ series, or the ceilings in her ‘Light bulbs’ series, and even in her outdoor tree series where trees resemble fences and intersections.

As the field of contemporary photographic art develops, it can be argued that the authenticity of the image itself is not the primary concern of artists. Instead, understanding the method of production and the ideology behind the image carries far more weight in the overall discussion. Today, when a smartphone is always at hand, making it easy to snap a photo or apply a filter to embellish an image, Höfer’s deeply ritualistic and serial works are perhaps even more relevant. Her images not only highlight the modern practice of photographic typology, but also show how carefully Höfer plans her work, while allowing the viewer glimpses of her moments of intuition. Whether a public or private photograph, a sublime freeze-frame or a simple record of a space, Höfer continually reinforces the ontological aesthetics of photography through the development of diversity.

In my opinion, the most fascinating aspect of Höfer’s work is not the architectural grandeur of the space she photographs, but her ability to control such magnificent scenery with rationality and restraint, while at the same time perfectly interpreting the abstract and wonderful ‘poetry’ of that space. In public spaces such as libraries, theatres and museums, the artist deliberately excludes people. As a result, Höfer emphasises the ‘presence of the absent’. By contrasting the overlapping of rich civilisations with the absence of humans, the artist draws attention to both the architectural orderliness and to the ‘humanity’ of a space.

Höfer avoids post-processing, relying instead on long exposures and natural light. Her serene-yet-dynamic images serve to highlight the ‘personality’ of a space with its architectural structures and curves. The artist transcends the idea of the actual function of a public architecture, and instead highlights its cultural symbolism and its sense of place by subtly displacing or pointing to the cultural and historical context of the space. Through Höfer’s lens, the mundane social function of a space is charmingly intertwined with a sense of awe and wonder. What follows are image-related questions about the abstract, recording, sequence, disorder, the present and the past. All of this tells the story of the building or space in a way that goes beyond simply the psychological aspects of the iconography within the frame. The viewer is psychologically present, but actual people are visually absent in Höfer’s work. This allows her to create a much warmer atmosphere compared to, say, other works that have been influenced by the Düsseldorf School of Photography. Höfer has successfully used photography as a medium to explore the interplay between architecture and psychology, thereby deepening the contemporary meaning of what it is called ‘image.’

The German philosopher Martin Heidegger came up with the idea of the ‘world picture’, implying that the world we see around us is a reflection of our inner being, and that a vision is simply a window into this world. Similarly, Höfer’s images are not only artworks but also records of space, cultural panoramas of a given era, and social catalogues of architectural history. They contain the essence of human civilisation. We are fortunate to be able to present a large-scale exhibition of Höfer’s work in Macao, which is home to many public museums. This exhibition will be an enriching journey through global cultures. I hope that by appreciating the artist’s openness to both similarity and difference, the audience who enjoy this exhibition will be inspired to think about Macao’s own public spaces and to imagine the possibilities that lie ahead for these spaces in the future.


Un Sio San

Director of the Macao Museum of Art

1st and 2nd floor, Macao Museum of Art

Opening Date:
2023/12/05 18:30
2023/12/06 - 2024/05/19