Josef Hoflehner : Mystery and Sensuality of Black & White
Josef Hoflehner
Mystery and Sensuality of Black & White
Francis Hodgson, March 9, 2020

Josef Hoflehner (1955) lives in Austria but works everywhere: he has long held a fascination with secluded places and empty spaces and since the early 1990's, he has worked in some of the most remote and forbidding areas of the world; including Antarctica, Vietnam, China, Japan, the Yemen, Iceland, and most recently, the Deep South of the United States. This exhibition will draw from each. His black and white images are seen in dream-time – where everything is slowed down and the landscapes are reduced to elemental and painterly shapes; they are sublime, and quiet - and offer us something not picked up by the naked eye in real-time. The prints are beautiful; and are reminiscent, in their technical purity, of the great masters of early twentieth century landscape photography.

Connected Rocks - China.
Connected Rocks - China.
Conversation with Francis Hodgson*

A certain kind of photography returns to the landscape some of those qualities which the eighteenth century thought of collectively as the ‘sublime’, in which grandeur and proportion are offset by a certain sense of horror, and the awful power of nature is the measure of the true littleness of man. Photography is always more or less literal, but this kind of landscape makes no apology for demanding always to be treated also as metaphorical. Josef Hoflehner is becoming one of the most distinguished exponents of this kind of landscape. You cannot look at Hoflehner’s tiny Statue of Liberty on its swampy island without thinking of those lagoony cultures which dot the world, Venice foremost among them, where the works of man are always under immediate threat. We have become used, since 11th September 2001, to thinking of Manhattan threatened. Seen like this, a rise in Atlantic water level of no more than a few inches looks like a permanent dreadful risk. Hoflehner has a gift for this kind of thing, and he also works very hard at it.

Unleashed in the East - Austria
Unleashed in the East - Austria
Modern sublime photography has a variety of origins. There is a British lineage whereby black-and-white is as a much a moral spectrum as a chemical one. The landscapes of Bill Brandt, their contrast ever-increasing as he grew older, are forerunners, and Hoflehner certainly inherits some of their manner, perhaps via such great developers of the Brandtian line as Michael Kenna. Another line comes ultimately from pre-photographic arts in Japan, calligraphy or wood block, and is passed on through the great poets of the less-is-more such as Hiroshi Sugimoto or Shoji Ueda. Yet another tradition derives from nineteenth century landscape photography. Hoflehner’s treatment of water, in particular, harks backward with his lovely long slow exposures giving water back its fluidity after so many years of being frozen at 1/250th sec. None of this is accidental. Hoflehner’s materials are sparse but his messaging is wonderfully rich. The best of his pictures can be looked at again and again, precisely because they ask us as viewers to test our conclusions and check our metaphorical reading. This tiny tree, propped up by a taut support on either side: is it a prisoner or a patient?

Quiet Morning - Iceland
Quiet Morning - Iceland
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