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iShip building; Drill and dye worker, Cunard-White Star Lines, John Brown’s Shipyards, Clydeside, Scotland, 1934.
Vintage gelatin silver print. © E.O. Hoppé Estate Collection/Curatorial Assistance.

Unveiling a Secret. Industrial photographs, 1912-1937
curated by Urs Stahel

«No man can stand beneath the span of some mighty bridge with its soaring pillars and not feel that inherent something that lifts him above the physical plane, reaching out to immensities veiled from full understanding»

E.O Hoppé*

The exhibition currently set up at the MAST in Bologna tells us about a very strange story. This story proves how a chain of often fortuitous events can sink the work of a successful photographer into oblivion and then bring it back to light to give it the place it deserves in the history of photography. Something similar happened to the artistic production of the babysitter of the 50s with the passion of photography, Vivian Mayer, when her surprisingly vast archive of photographies was discovered and brought to the public attention. But unlike, Vivian Mayer, Emil Otto Hoppé – the author of the images shown in Bologna – was not a photo amateur, but instead a German photographer that enjoyed a wonderful international success for almost forty years.
Between 1910 and 1940 of the last century, Hoppé was the most famous and celebrated portrait artist, almost as famous as Stieglitz, Steichen and Strand. Thanks to his several explorations around the world, he was also an esteemed landscape and travel photographer also capable of grasping the revolutionary payload of the contemporary industrial development. His awareness and fascination for modernity soon brought him to re-orientate his artistic practice in favor of industrial topography which has made him become today, thanks to the filter of time, one of the most important forerunners of the genre.
His images somehow glorify the human genius and industrial technology and this makes the experience of their vision almost synesthetic and makes it resemble, in different shapes and with different aims, to the one of certain vanguard movements of the same period. Complying with the spirit of that time, Hoppé saw in the new futuristic industrial landscape – with its imposing machineries, presumptuous architectures, lucent surfaces and noisy accelerated dimensions – the symbol of a new model of beauty and most importantly the beginning of a new era where not only the aesthetic of the landscape would deeply change, but also the nature of work and production themselves. His enthusiasm for the modern is also visible in the internal structures of his images and in his approach to them. Hoppé was in fact very little in line with the stereotype of the genial, messy and destitute Bohemian artist of the XX century, he was in fact a pragmatic bourgeois, a businessman part of the high society.
How is it possible then that his name and work have been forgotten for almost half a century?
The reasons are various, as explained by the curator Urs Stahel in the introduction to the catalogue of the exhibition; nevertheless the prevailing one seems to be that when in 1954 Hoppé decided to sell almost his entire work to the Mansel Collection his pictures were archived by theme and not by name: «The name Emil Otto Hoppé was, so to say, buried in the library by this form of archiving and inventory. Although his pictures (sorted by topic and location) were still available upon request, this fragmentation meant that is was no longer possible to recognise the opulence, density, size, quality and importance of his work». (1)
Only after an encounter with Hoppé's nephew at the beginning of the Nineties, photographic historian and critic Graham Howe began to research the unknown eclectic photographer which, he realised after, was briefly introduced to him twenty years before by Bill Jay, photographic historian himself. His first research confirmed his young shortsightedness – in 1920, Hoppé really was the most famous photographer in the world, as Jay told him – and together with his group, he started to research, organise, classify, conserve and digitalise this lost treasure. Almost 200 of his pictures are today offered to the eyes of the world again thanks to the exhibition organized by Fondazione MAST in collaboration with E. O. Hoppé Estate Collection/Curatorial Assistance.

[ Stefania Biamonti ]

(*) - reported by Urs Stahel in Emil Otto Hoppé: Unveiling a Secret. Industrial photographs, 1912 -1937, inserted in the catalogue accompanying the exhibition, MAST, 2015, p. 14.
(1) - Urs Stahel, Emil Otto Hoppé: Unveiling a Secret. Industrial photographs, 1912 -1937, inserted in the catalogue accompanying the exhibition, MAST, 2015, p. 11.

iDelaware Bridge, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA, 1926.
Vintage gelatin silver print. © E.O. Hoppé Estate Collection/Curatorial Assistance.

iRotary Kilns under construction in the Boiler Shop, Vickers-Armstrongs Steel Foundry, Tyneside, England, 1928.
Modern Digital Print. © E.O. Hoppé Estate Collection/Curatorial Assistance.

iThe Sydney Harbour Bridge under construction, Sidney from North Sydney, Australia, 1930.
Modern Digital Print. © E.O. Hoppé Estate Collection/Curatorial Assistance.


Emil Otto Hoppé: Unveiling a Secret.
Industrial photographs, 1912-1937

curated by Urs Stahel
21 January – 3 May 2015*

MAST Photo Gallery
via Speranza, 42 – Bologna (Italy)

Opening Hours: Tuesday to Sunday,10 am - 7 pm. Closed on Mondays
Admission: free

(*) Alongside Hoppé's industrial photography on show (Level 1), in the area dedicated to Side event (Level 0) MAST exhibits the rich variety of subject matter in the artist’s repertoire with a series of digital projections of other themes from celebrity portraits to nudes and from human typologies to landscapes.
To find out more about Hoppé as a portrait artist, open the panel on the last image at the bottom of the article, right before the Biography section.

iConstruction of the dirigible LZ127 "Graf Zeppelin", Zeppelin Works, Friedrichshafen, Germany, 1928.
Modern Digital Print. © E.O. Hoppé Estate Collection/Curatorial Assistance.
April 6th, 1929

«And if there can be idealism in industry, there can also be romance – the romance of establishing large undertakings from small beginnings, the romance of adventure and achievement [...] there can be beauty and attraction even in a factory – the attraction of the power of man's mind over matter, the attraction of feats of scientific and engineering skill, the attraction of a mighty and smooth-running organization».
E. O. Hoppé

(E.O. Hoppé in Country Life, 6th April, 1929)

iMerchant Bankers, London Stock Exchange, England, 1937.
Vintage gelatin silver print. © E.O. Hoppé Estate Collection/Curatorial Assistance.


Between 1910 and 1940, Hoppé consolidated his success as a portrait photographer. His clients were politicians, British aristocracy, very well known businessmen, writers, artists, philosophers and dancers and this contributed to his international prestige. However, he later began to find interest in the reality of society, the manufacturing and the work linked to it and among his portraits we can find workers, casters, woodcutters, blacksmiths, bankers and unemployed.

Australian lumberman, Tasmania, Australia, 1930.
Vintage gelatin silver print. © E.O. Hoppé Estate Collection/Curatorial Assistance.

Unemployed, New York City, USA, 1921.
Vintage gelatin silver print. © E.O. Hoppé Estate Collection/Curatorial Assistance.

Emil Otto Hoppé - Hoppé is born on the 14th of April 1878 in Munich and studies drawing with Prof. Hans von Bartels. In 1902, he meets the portrait artist Franz von Lebach and decides to move to London where he works for the Deutsche Bank and begins to take pictures. In 1903, he becomes a member of the Royal Photographic Society and in a very short time the London Illustrated News publishes twelve of his portraits, he wins the Regular Award, takes part in photographic exhibitions and wins a Royal Photographic Society scholarship (FRPS). In 1907 he leaves his job at the Deutsche Bank and opens his first photographic studio in London. In 1909, he sets up and organises the Great Britain section at the Dresden International Photographic Exhibition when he shows for the first time his topographical views of London, a work that he will carry on for more than fifty years. In 1910, he sets up a personal exhibition at the Royal Photographic Society which will be the first of several. In a very short time, he becomes in fact the most famous portrait artist of his age: he portrays members of the British royal family and the most famous European artists, politicians and scientists of the time such as the Russian dancer Lydia Lopokova, Ezra Pound, Filippo Tommaso Martinetti and Albert Einstein. In 1914, Hoppé becomes Art editor for the brand new magazine Colour, while in 1916 he contributes to the first numbers of Vogue England with pictures and editorials. In 1920, The New York Times announces Hoppé's arrival to the States and his intention of finding five american beauties to be part of the soon to be released volume The Book of Fair Women, published in 1922. During the same year he publishes the volume Taken From Life written by J. D. Beresford. Between the 1920s and the 1930s, confident of the strength of his reputation as topographic and portrait artist, he starts travelling around the globe working on different assignments and commissions. Nevertheless, the main objective of his explorations is to describe the fascination and majesty of modern industrial sites that have for him an extraordinary and revolutionary payload. In 1930, he publishes Deutsche Arbeit and various other publications. He comes back to London in 1939 when the war has started, but he will travel again at the end of the conflict. In 1947, sponsored by the Colonia Office, he starts a wide photographic and journalistic survey of Jamaica. In 1954, he sets up the exhibition A Half Century of Photography at Foyles Art Gallery in London, that was then shown at the Lenbachhaus in Munich and later on, thanks to the British Council, in India and the Middle-East. In the same year, feeling that the end of his career was getting closer, Hoppé decides to sell most of his collection to a photographic archive in London where it remains literally buried for decades. In 1968, on the occasion of his ninetieth birthday, he is interviewed and photographed by John Hedgecoe for the magazine Queen and the Kodak Gallery organises an exhibition in his honour. In 1972, he receives the Royal Photographic Society Honorary Fellowship but he dies in December of the same year. His name sinks into oblivion until 1994, when Graham Howe starts with his group, the Curatorial Assistance, a big recovery operation and digitalisation of his entire work.

Photo: E.O. Hoppé, Self-portrait, Germany, c.1933. © E.O. Hoppé Estate Collection/Curatorial Assistance.

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Doing, the limit, the beauty, the origins of an Industrial Italy
curated by Enrica Viganò and Camillo Fornasieri

«I photograph with the same spirit in which marble is sculpted. I try to carve my lights and shadows and obtain, with living things, those forms that fascinate me so much»

Stefano Robino

The world of work and workers, life in the post war period, the birth of the great industrial centres of northern Italy and the consequent transformation of urban areas and suburbs. There was all this in the images of Stefano Robino exhibited recently at the CMC - Centro Culturale di Milano; this and much more.
Through the selection of photographs gathered together for the exhibition one could indeed glimpse the profile of an Italy in reconstruction, of a country eager to rise and evolve, made up of people anxious to leave behind the misery and the ruins of war forever. Even emigrating, if necessary. An Italy still fertile, full of contradictions and knots still to be untied, but nevertheless confident in the future and, above all, in its capacity to produce.
Stefano Robino knew. In 1939 he joined FIAT Grandi Motori as a technical designer, thanks to his passion for photography he soon became one of the most active and appreciated members of the photographic section of the FIAT Sports Cultural Group. His photographic eye not only focuses on the industrial reality, but you can say that with him photography made its official entrance into Italian building yards. His work gave him in fact a vantage point from which he could capture everyday life inside the factories, the profound changes which the entire industry was undergoing, as well as the renewed confrontation / clash between the workers and the new, gigantic machinery.
A perfect position to experiment, thanks to his background as a painter, a photographic language that pointed straight to the objectivity of the story, rather than the synthesis between art and document in vogue at that time among the amateur photographic circles. We are in fact in the early fifties and, although still steeped in a certain neorealist aftertaste, his expressive language represented a real novelty for the time.
At an aesthetic and formal level, his photography appeared in fact to collect the legacies of that season of the early twentieth century that witnessed more difficult social realities, the main function of the photographic medium – think of Lewis Hine and the shots he took in American factories – to then move in an unprecedented direction that will lead to widen one’s gaze and to show not only the industry as the new cathedral of modernity, but also the relapse and changes that this emerging entity (at least in Italy) caused the surrounding landscape and the suburbs. From its image is perceived the awareness of being in front of an epochal change, the emergence of a new world. An awareness that seems to echo the one shown, in a totally different way, by Emil Otto Hoppé at least a couple of decades before in other parts of the world (cfr. previous text). However, in the Robino’s images there is no exaltation for modernity, no preventive adhesion.
There is undoubtedly the fascination for these new environments, respect for the talent, dedication and pride of doing demonstrated by the men working in them, but there is also a critically attentive eye on the contradictions of the industrial world, its limitations, and on the shape, which the emerging industrial landscape was taking and, with it, the customs of Italian industry. Criticality which spreads through the mixture of both classical and experimental at times, work realised in the darkroom and – as explained by the critic Dario Reteuna – «with signs capable of passing on messages that were never superficial, intimate but useful, felt, moved but supervised», proof of his authorial calibre which soon made him known throughout the world.

[ Stefania Biamonti ]

iStefano Robino, Ironworks, 1952.
23,8 x 29,9 cm.

iStefano Robino, FIAT Grandi Motori: assembly phase.
17,0 x 20,2 cm.

iStefano Robino, FIAT Grandi Motori: inside of ship engine with connecting rod and crankshaft.
24,4 x 16,3 cm.

iStefano Robino, The Departure of Christopher Columbus, Genoa (Italy) 1957.
39,8 x 29,7 cm.

iStefano Robino, Basse di Stura, 1969.
16,7 x 23,5 cm.

iStefano Robino, Bowlers.
11,9 x 40 cm.

iStefano Robino, Turin: morning between buildings of the Cottolengo.
40 x 30,5 cm.


Stefano Robino. Il fare, il limite, la bellezza. Alle origini di un'Italia industriale
(Stefano Robino. Doing, the limit, the beauty. The origins of an Industrial Italy)
curated by Enrica Viganò and Camillo Fornasieri
25 November 2014 – 8 February 2015*

CMC - Centro Culturale di Milano
via Zebedia, 2 – Milan (Italy)

Opening Hours: Monday to Friday, 10 am - 1 pm and 3 pm - 7 pm;
Saturday and Sunday, 4 pm - 8pm
Admission: free, donations welcome

(*) The show in question is now over, but you can see some works by the author, on the topic, thanks to the exhibition Quel che resta del giorno by the Circolo Fotografico La Gondola, in which you will find the section entitled L’Italia positiva by Stefano Robino. Fotografie 1951-1969. The exhibition is part of the event Tre Oci Tre Mostre and will remain on display in Venice, at the Casa dei Tre Oci (Fondamenta delle Zitelle, 43 - Island of Giudecca) until April 12, 2015.

iStefano Robino, Railway Turin - Milan on the outskirts of Turin.
30 x 39,7 cm.

Stefano Robino - Was born in 1922 in Turin, where he still lives today, Stefano Robino began working as a technical designer at FIAT Grandi Motori in 1939 and, in 1940, began to photograph. After the war he worked as a painter, in his free time he visited the studios of painters Sartorio and Spazzapan, showing their works in various solo and group exhibitions. Soon, his passion for photography led him to join the Photographic Section of the FIAT Sports Cultural Group and he gets involved in the expositive and cultural life of the group. His gaze is focused on realities that are part of his own life, on paths of collective life and, above all, the world of work and social life, of the suburbs and the new emerging industrial landscape. His images, conveyed through exhibitions and important national and international press coverage, earned him many awards, acclaim and notoriety worldwide. In 1965 he became head of the photographic laboratory FIAT Grandi Motori in Turin, while between 1971 and 1974 he is head of the Publicity Department of Grandi Motori Trieste. His photographs have been published in numerous international magazines, including LIFE, US Camera, ModernPhotography, PopularPhotography, LEICA Fotografie, La Stampa, Ferrania, L’Europeo, Rivista Italiana and Progresso Fotografico. In 2002 the new offices of the Management, Organisation, Planning, Development and Human Resources of the Piedmont Region were furnished with one hundred of his large photographic panels.

Photo: Stefano Robino, The Departure of Christopher Columbus, Genoa 1957. 45,7x36,1 cm.

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