Photographer: Thomas Hoepker

Thomas Hoepker

Thomas Hoepker (1936) worked at Stern magazine as a reporter, and later as an art director. He traveled the whole world from Guatemala to Finland in search of expressive moments, and he was the photo editor of the American GEO for several years. That time, he was primarily a travel photographer, not a reporter. Recently, Hoepker decided to create his retrospective exhibition in Munich, Germany, named “50 years of work”. There, the photos contrasted sharply with the picture of the events of September 11, 2001, which had already taken shape, and caused a great deal of discussion.

For some time, as an operator and producer, he participated in the filming of documentaries for German television. In 1989, he became a member of the most prestigious association of documentary photographers in the world, The Magnum photo agency. From 1992 to 1995 he was vice-president of the New York branch of Magnum, and in 2004 he was elected president of the agency. To his opinion, a good photographer, even if he does not realize this, should show a self-portrait in each his picture. A professional photo reporter is distinguished by the fact that his works reflect the spirit of the time. This is a very difficult task. He must not only always be aware of the events, but also takes an active part in them. He thought, that the main rule is to find an explanation for everything. We must try to understand the life of those people and the culture of those places through the author’s pictures. Conclusions and reflections, this is the basis of any photo reporter.

He began to experiment with the old grandfather’s camera 9×12 format when he was as early as 14 years old. Later, in the gymnasium, under the impression of the works of the German photographer Otto Stein, he tried to create collages and photograms. These are images, obtained by photochemical means: the object is placed on a photo paper or film and illuminated by a lamp so that its shadow gets on the photo material. A really serious step for him was to participate in the famous Jugend photographers’ competition, which was traditionally held as part of the international exhibition. In 1956, the famous Henri Cartier-Bresson, one of the founders of the independent Magnum photo agency, appreciated the works presented at this competition, comparing them with real professional ones. Hoepker studied the history of culture and archaeology and spent a lot of time in museums, examining paintings, photographs, and sculptures. He was convinced that there was no better education for a photographer than an acquaintance with the beautiful. It develops a taste.

At the age of 23, he got his first job as a photographer. He made portraits of Germany’s famous people for the journal Möncher Illustrieren. But the most interesting and important task for him was the photo story of the life of Mohammed Ali. For a long time, he accompanied an outstanding boxer, wherever he was, from the gymnasium to the hairdresser. The most famous snapshot of Ali was made during his training. Mohammed Ali’s photos became popular due to their simplicity and emotionality at the same time.

Another well-known photo was taken on the day of the September, 11 during the terrorist attack. Hoepker went to Brooklyn to take a picture of Manhattan when the second plane crashed into the tower of the World Trade Center. Following a professional instinct, he took several pictures and went directly to the site of the tragedy. His colleagues and himself decided to publish a book in memory of this date. Hoepker suggested that a photograph can greatly distort the story that is imprinted on it. Some pictures are contrary to the reality or may be misinterpreted. But it is not good to destroy them.

Now the media policy has changed a lot: publications have become manipulated. Looking through a newspaper or magazine, it is sometimes difficult to understand where truth ends and fiction begins. Reporters work quite differently. The story of a doctor who worked in the hospital in Peru in the middle of the forest was especially memorable for the audience. At that time, tourist trips to such distant countries were practically impracticable. The only opportunity to visit these places was to see them through the eyes of the photo reporter, on his pictures. And Hepker always tried to reflect in his works socially significant topics, publishing reports from places where people resist hunger, illiteracy, and disease. He visited a lot of countries, where people were deprived of the opportunity to live normally.

The new book by photographer Thomas Hoepker presents photographs, reflecting 30 years of his work in East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Thomas Hoepker made a wonderful selection of photos of New York, from burnt buildings of the South Bronx to glamorous parties in the Village and Soho. Those, who knew New York at the time, not by hearsay, can admit that the atmosphere of the city is greatly conveyed by this series of photographs.