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Photography show captures interdisciplinary explorations

Media release

17 August 2011

Photography show captures interdisciplinary explorations

Neville Wright House (designed by Vernon Brown), Takapuna, Auckland, 1944

“Photographic perception...must become semi-automatic and instantaneous [like] playing...on the keyboard.”

Those words epitomise the ethos and practice of Frank Hofmann – photographer, writer, musician and artist – whose interdisciplinary explorations are on display in a forthcoming exhibition at the Gus Fisher Gallery, The University of Auckland.

Frank Hofmann (1916-1989) was born in Prague and arrived in New Zealand in 1940 as a refugee from Nazi-invaded Czechoslovakia. A respected commercial photographer based first in Christchurch and then in Auckland, Frank Hofmann was also an art photographer with strong links to music, writing, architecture and visual arts.

The exhibition From Prague to Auckland: The photography of Frank Hofmann (1916-89) makes clear that Hofmann was particularly skilled at using the camera not just as a recording instrument but as a creative tool. His subjects ranged from people and portraits to landscapes, buildings and domestic objects; they were pictured through Hofmann’s compelling use of light and shadow, patterning and texture, angle and composition.

According to exhibition curator, Department of Art History Associate Professor Leonard Bell, Hofmann “believed that a good knowledge of the various arts was necessary to understand and practice any one kind of artistic activity, whether photography, visual arts, architecture, literature or music”.

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When he wasn’t behind the lens, Hofmann was honing his own raft of interdisciplinary skills: he was an accomplished violinist, who in the early 1940s joined the newly formed Auckland String Players (which evolved into the Symphonia of Auckland and then Auckland Philharmonic Orchestra). He also published prolifically, writing for specialist and amateur photographers in a wide range of periodicals and newspapers. And through his close friendship with modernist architect Vernon Brown, Hofmann photographed the interiors and exteriors of many houses and buildings in some of his most acclaimed works.

“Frank Hofmann was one of the best photographers of his generation in New Zealand. He is particularly important for introducing interwar European modernist ideas about, and practices in, photography to this country,” says Associate Professor Bell, who has written extensively on the works and careers of exiled, refugee, migrant and travelling artists, photographers and architects.

From Prague to Auckland: The photography of Frank Hofmann (1916-89) will be mounted from 26 August – 29 October at the Gus Fisher Gallery (74 Shortland Street). A speaker series will run concurrently with the exhibition. For information visit

A special publication by Associate Professor Bell, From Prague to Auckland: the photography of Frank Hofmann (1916-1989), will accompany the exhibition.

Associate-Professor Leonard (Len) Bell has taught Art History at the University since 1973. His books include Colonial Constructs: European Images of Maori 1840-1914 (1992), In Transit: Questions of Home and Belonging in New Zealand Art (2007) and Marti Friedlander (2009).

The University of Auckland’s National Institute of Creative Arts and Industries comprises the School of Architecture and Planning, Elam School of Fine Arts, the Centre for New Zealand Art Research and Discovery (CNZARD), the School of Music and the Dance Studies Programme.

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