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Matinee: 'Leica Portrait of Thomas Hoepker' Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

27 September 2014

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the fifty-second in our series of Saturday matinees today: Leica Portrait of Thomas Hoepker.

This short (just seven minutes) and sweet clip of former Magnum Photos President Thomas Hoepker was just published as part of Leica's Hall of Fame 2014 series. This year's exhibition program at the Leica Galerie at photokina 2014 included Hoepker's project Wanderlust, a retrospective of his photojournalism. Leica also published an interview with Hoepker for the occasion.

In the video, Hoepker agrees to "answer some questions." The first is what his name is, which is different in German (Höpker) than "American." He briefly mentions his 304-page book, Wanderlust: 60 Years of Images, as a few of his images flash across the screen.

But that's only an introduction to his start in photography when a German magazine sent him to America to rent a car and drive across the country. "It doesn't matter how long it takes," he was told. So he spent five months driving across the United States before returning home.

That leads to his story about one of his two most important shots, both of whose stories he tells in this clip. The first is of Mohammed Ali.

He was sent to London by the German magazine Stern to cover a big fight with a German boxer. Ali "was more than an athlete," Hoepker remembers in the interview. "He was a political person and was also very funny."

And it led to a great photo in what Hoepker that was a poor setting for a photo.

He was a bit worried about photographing Andy Warhol but he had an idea. He asked Warhol to hold up some large gels and look through them and the artist was surprisingly cooperative. "His face didn't change, he was simply doing what I wanted him to do," Hoepker remembers, "and then he said goodbye and that was it."

The other important image he discusses is his 9/11 shot of a group of young people having a good time along the shoreline while, in the background, "the world is ending."

Ironically, "we had about six or seven Magnum photographers in Manhattan at the time. They got amazing pictures from there and I felt like I hadn't been close enough to really get the shots I wanted."

But later a curator arranging an exhibition saw it and wondered why it had never been shown before because it had "character." So it was recovered from oblivion.

It's a disturbing image, not least to the people who are in it, one of whom complained to him that he hadn't asked their permission to take the photo. He points out that if he had, there would not have been a picture. It would have become something else, posed and false, instead of what he had come cross, naive and unaware.

The video is almost too short but it's so well done it still manages to cover a lot of ground (and leaves you plenty of time to get out there and shoot today). But if you want a bit more, there's the companion interview.

Both pieces end with a plug for Leica, but a modest one. The interview, though, includes a little advice for photographers:

A very simple piece of advice is to think before you click. See the world first, not through the lens. Take it all in. If you see something you truly find interesting, whether it be the place or the light or a person or a face, only then do you try to capture it. And be serious. Stick with it. Follow that person or that mood or that light. Find that famous decisive moment and that split second where everything comes together. More often than not it's no good. You may take fifty pictures and come out with only one good one, but that's part of the process. If you are true to yourself, you discard all of them but the one. That's the beauty of the delete button -- no one has to know!

Or, like Hoepker, maybe you just put that "disappointing" photo away for a while until some curator finds it interesting enough to make it one of your most important pictures.

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