BBC Culture

Candida Höfer: 'Haunted' spaces

  • Playing to the gallery
    Biblioteca do Palácio e Convento de Mafra I, 2006 (Candida Höfer, Köln/ VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014)
  • Staged reality
    Fondazione Bisazza_entrance (Candida Höfer, Köln/ VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014)
  • Doors of reception
    Palácio da Bolsa no Porto II, 2006 (Candida Höfer, Köln/ VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014)
  • Got the book
    Abadía Cisterciense Santa María la Real de Oseira I, 2010 (Candida Höfer, Köln/ VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014)
  • Among the gods
    IES Otero Pedrayo Ourense II, 2010 (Candida Höfer, Köln/ VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014)
  • Top shelf
    Real Gabinete Portugues de Leitura Rio de Janeiro IV, 2005 (Candida Höfer, Köln/ VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014)
  • A study in splendour
    Bibliothèque de la Sorbonne Paris I, 2007 (Candida Höfer, Köln/ VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014)
  • Going bust
    Biblioteca dei Girolamini Napoli I, 2009 (Candida Höfer, Köln/ VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014)


A new show reveals how Candida Höfer’s ‘architectural portraits’ leave out humans. BBC Culture peeks inside opulent buildings from around the world.

The genre of photography known as ‘ruin porn’ has taken off in recent years, depicting abandoned factories in Detroit and crumbling houses in New Orleans. Candida Höfer’s large-format images are not a world away in sensibility and an eeriness dominates the vast empty spaces she captures. But rather than documenting decay, Höfer seeks out opulence, from palaces and theatres to opera houses and libraries, to reveal how these buildings are inhabited.

A new show at the Fondazione Bisazza in Italy gathers together her architectural portraits, bringing tiny details to the fore with a straightforward composition and long exposure times. In the exhibition notes, Höfer says: “The subjects of my work are public and semi-public spaces. I prefer them when they are without people.”

“I wanted to capture how people behave in public buildings, so I started taking photographs of theatres, palaces, opera houses, libraries and the like,” the German photographer told the Guardian. “After some time, it became apparent to me that what people do in these spaces – and what these spaces do to them – is clearer when no one is present just as an absent guest is often the subject of a conversation. So I decided to photograph each space without people.”

Höfer uses only ambient lighting without any digital enhancement. “Spaces are about light,” she says, “that is why I photograph them in the light that I find in them.”

“As I travelled around, I found amazing buildings in the most inconspicuous of places,” she says. “Locals live their day-to-day lives amid marvels.”

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