Inside the archive of Magnum Photographer Thomas Hoepker

Inside the archive of Magnum Photographer Thomas Hoepker
A new exhibition highlights the images that saw the legendary “author photographer” elevate photojournalism to new heights.

“Where does the journalist end, where does the artist begin,” German photographer Thomas Hoepker once asked. Recognizing these boundaries as fluid and permeable, he chose to identify as an “image maker” — a position that has served him well over his seven-decade career.

Now 87, the legendary Magnum Photos member unveils an extraordinary wealth of unpublished work in the new exhibition Thomas Hoepker: All Around the World – Unseen Color & Early Black and White. The show brings together unpublished works from the outset of his career made in Italy, Brasilia, Dublin, Hong Kong, Paris, New York and Rio.

After getting his start in the 1950s, Hoepker has helped elevate photojournalism and documentary photography to new heights, using the camera as a tool of storytelling and social change. A self-described “author photographer,” he has generated the stories he wanted to cover, traveling around the globe to cover marginalized communities.

Thomas Hoepker Hong Kong, 1971 © Thomas Hoepker / Magnum Photos, courtesy Galerie Buchkunst Berlin;
Thomas Hoepker Chinatown, Neujahrsfest, 1977 © Thomas Hoepker / Magnum Photos, courtesy Galerie Buchkunst Berlin

From the Konibo people of the Peruvian Amazon to exiled leper colonies in Ethiopia, Hoepker published his work in leading German picture magazines Stern and Kristall, bringing stories of underrepresented people to the attention of millions during the golden age of print.

“I want to try to provoke with my pictures, without artificially creating sensations and without distorting the truth,” Hoepker said in 1965. “But I would like to set something in motion now and then in order to help.”

Hoepker did just this with his reportage of the famine in the Indian State of Bihar. He traveled there alone during a smallpox outbreak, chronicling the devastating conditions that resulted in the death of four million people. His compassionate coverage in Stern resulted in a series of major fundraising campaigns for famine relief.

In February of this year, curator Ana Druga and Christine Kruchen, filmmaker and wife of Hoepker, began collaborating on Italia, a new book of the photographer’s work from the late 1950s. While sifting through over 10,000 negatives in the collection, they were surrounded by hundreds of boxes on shelves from Hoepker’s career that had largely gone unseen.

Thomas Hoepker Love Birds, Rom, Italien 1956 © Thomas Hoepker / Magnum Photos, courtesy Galerie Buchkunst Berlin

“They were labeled with titles that read like a journey through the second half of the 20th-century,” says Druga. “That's the phenomenon of the photo reporter: you come back from Hong Kong, hand in 20 pictures to the editor, and then there are seven in the newspaper. The remaining 800 slides go into a box and the next day you fly out again and start the next story.”

The discovery inspired the creation of a photo book series, ‘All Around The World,’ beginning with Italia, as well as the exhibition, which highlights Hoepker’s groundbreaking work made a decade before the New Color photography movement of the late 1960s.

“It was rather challenging to make the selection with so many new and exciting motifs, says Druga. “But the reward is a lasting joy that runs through the entire collective work. Such an archive is a cabinet of wonders.”

Thomas Hoepker Magnum Photos courtesy Buchkunst Berlin Brasília, Brasilien 1968 print

Thomas Hoepker: All Around the World – Unseen Color & Early Black and White is on view through January 13 2024 at Galerie Buchkunst Berlin.

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