A Foreigner's View of Oregon: The Portland Photography of E.O. Hoppe

By Strayer, Jennifer | Oregon Historical Quarterly, Spring 2015 | Go to article overview

A Foreigner's View of Oregon: The Portland Photography of E.O. Hoppe


Strayer, Jennifer, Oregon Historical Quarterly


THE NAME EMIL OTTO HOPPE (1878-1972) is probably unfamiliar to most Oregonians, if not most Americans, yet at one time he was one of the world's most famous photographers. Although he had an illustrious career in the early twentieth century, with time the London-based Hoppe faded into obscurity. Over the past thirty years, interest in his work has revived, becoming a topic of study for scholars of photography. Hoppe's archive includes a small number of negatives that he produced during a trip to Oregon in 1926, when he was photographing the United States for his book Romantic America. (1) Six photographs made from those negatives represent Oregon in the book. An examination of the Oregon photographs adds to the growing picture of Hoppe and his work by highlighting how the choices he made as a photographer helped create a story of place that was as much a construct as an objective depiction.

Hoppe produced Romantic America for Ernst Wasmuth A.G., the German publishers of the Orbis Terrarum (Global Travel) series. Each Orbis Terrarum book focused on the architecture, landscape, and topography of a different country and was marketed to appeal to tourists--both actual and armchair. The books were printed in multiple countries, as Ernst Wasmuth A.G. sold publication rights to foreign publishers. In his description of the books, Hoppe captured the substance of the series and the prestige for a photographer who was chosen to be a contributor: "This series had an international reputation; each volume was published at thirty shillings, had a sale of over a hundred thousand copies, and contained more than three hundred full-size illustrations printed in photogravure and captioned in four languages" (2) Romantic America was not Hoppe's first Orbis Terrarum book (that was Picturesque Great Britain), but it was the only one for which he both contributed the photographs and wrote the introduction. Published in North America and Germany in 1927, it was viewed by thousands of readers, both European and American. (3)

Hoppe claimed to have spent eleven months in 1926 producing the photographs for Romantic America. He often traveled by automobile but also used trains and even more antiquated methods, such as pack mule, to reach remote locations. (4) Because this was not his first Orbis Terrarum volume, he was already a seasoned traveler with a road-tested kit of equipment that included a Graflex single-lens reflex camera. More importantly, Hoppe believed he had developed a certain expertise in the "personal qualifications" he deemed necessary for a successful travel photographer. Those included: "A well-developed sense of proportion enabling one to remain coolly observant and detached and grasp the salient characteristics of a civilization, situation or scene" and the "absence of prejudice and ability to put aside preconceived ideas." (5) The degree to which Hoppe actually put aside his preconceived ideas to produce the photographs for Romantic America is open to debate, but the fact that he was an accomplished, well-known photographer at the peak of his game is beyond dispute.

Hoppe was born in Germany in 1878. As a young man, he moved to London, where he pursued a career in banking. Several years later, he changed professions and became a photographer, initially focusing on portraiture. By the end of World War I, Hoppe had achieved prominence in his field and traveled to North America as an acclaimed expert with a reputation in particular for defining and capturing female beauty. He was "hailed in newspapers all over the country as a supreme judge of beauty," and portraits from his The Book of Fair Women were reproduced in a full-page spread in the Rotogravure-Picture Section of the Sunday New York Times. (6) He set up a studio in New York, and for several years, when not in London or traveling on other assignments, spent part of his time photographing prominent Americans of both genders. In the 1920s, those portraits appeared in newspapers and periodicals such as the highbrow Vanity Fair and the more populist Motion Picture Magazine. …

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