The straightforward formality of Hofer's black and white portraits bears a certain resemblance to those of August Sander, but her subjects are captured with a bit more environment around them, making their personal stories richer and more evocative. Gravediggers in long black coats armed with unusually long shovels pose in a narrowing alle of dark evergreens, while the headwaiter at a London Club stands with extreme seriousness and competence in his waistcoat and medals amid the hunting paintings and dark wood paneling. Mods in skinny jeans, a girl with a beehive harido, and even a quirky man in a dog funeral parlor (complete with flowers and caskets) get equally structured and formal treatment, keeping these portraits fresh and lively while still giving them a sense of universal timelessness.
Hofer's color work builds on the same sense of exacting precision, but she deploys it in these images with much more awareness of the balance of color across the frame. A man's lime green pants pop next to a bright pink door, and the bold target and red lettering on the yellow sign of a Coney Island shooting gallery is set off by a royal blue sky and the pink wall below. Policemen alternately pose in front of frothy pink cherry blossoms and the intense red of a beer billboard, while women in funky hats and sunglasses stand outside a Harlem storefront church, flanked by a kaleidoscope of colored windows. Given that these images were taken in the mid-1960s, Hofer was clearly on the cutting edge in terms of understanding how color would permanently change the nature of photography. Like the black and whites, they remain crisp and effective, particularly since their use of color is so strong.
I came away from this exhibit impressed both by Hofer's consistent sense of control and by her obvious adaptability. She clearly understood which tools worked best in which circumstances, using shadowy black and white for a dapper Parisian guard, and color for the silvery flash of a Cadillac tailfin. Very, very few photographers working during this same time period straddled black and white and color with such success. This quiet, unassuming show is proof positive of her steady versatility.
- Obituary: NY Times (here)