The Eight Books That Inspire London Gallerist Mr Michael Hoppen
Photographs courtesy of Mr Michael Hoppen. Portrait by Mr Simon Brown
In 1992, Mr Michael Hoppen made a decision that would not just change his life, but would also have a huge impact on the contemporary art scene in London. “I was working as a photographer, but I was also a collector and I found myself comparing my own work to my collection,” he says. “And I suddenly saw that what I was doing would never be collectable. So, I sold all my photographic equipment and turned my photographic studio into a photographic gallery.” Thus, the Michael Hoppen Gallery was born in Chelsea, west London. 28 years later, it is one of the leading photography galleries in the world, showcasing photo masters as well as nurturing new talent. Mr Hoppen has worked with everyone from Mr Tim Walker to Ms Harley Weir and helped move photography from the margins of contemporary art to the dead centre.
Mr Hoppen describes himself first and foremost as someone with a “passion for collecting”, having begun his collection in 1979 with the purchase of a photograph of two sumo wrestlers by the Italian photographer Mr Felice Beato. To Mr Hoppen, the best photography is that “which you can connect with. A photograph might be 10 years old or 100 years old, but if there is something in it a viewer can recognise and understand, then you relate to it.”
During the pandemic, while his gallery is closed, Mr Hoppen is producing a weekly newsletter, which you can sign up for free on the gallery’s website. Here, the gallerist chooses eight of his favourite books for MR PORTER.
01. SX-70 Art by Mr Ralph Gibson
“This a book of essays and photographs was published in 1979. All the photographs are Polaroids, the name SX-70 being the name of the old Polaroid film. When I was a photographer, I used to love working with Polaroid. You used to have to ring up this wonderful woman who worked for Polaroid in London and you’d say, ‘I’m shooting an album cover for so and so at Polygram,’ and then this box of SX-70s would turn up. You could play with it – heat it up, freeze it. Opening this book, which features work by Helmut Newton and Andy Warhol, reminded me of how much I enjoyed that. Polaroids were like an early Instagram in a funny way. They share that instantaneousness. We see a picture coming from nothing in our hands. Those magenta, yellow and black lines start to appear and the images becomes visible. It is so fascinating to watch.”
02. The End Of The Game by Mr Peter Beard
“Peter Beard [who, since this conversation took place, was found dead after going missing from his Montauk, Long Island, compound] was an incredible man. Lots of people out there try to be like Peter, but they are very sorry versions of him. He was a photographer and adventurer and a friend for many years. The End Of The Game is a book of photographs and illustrations that show the changing of life in Africa, where Peter lived some of the time. It is a book about the disappearance of the wilderness and the coming of urban life. It documents the deaths of thousands of elephants in Kenya’s Tsavo lowlands and Uganda parklands in the 1960s.”
03. Delirious New York: A Retroactive Manifesto For Manhattan by Mr Rem Koolhaas
“I had a friend who was taught by Rem Koolhaas at the Architectural Association back in the 1970s. I am not an architect, but I love architecture and I went with them to a lecture and ended up meeting Rem. This book is not a book about photography, but rather about what photography looks at. I like the fact that all these amazing buildings were being built and people were coming to photograph them. When I went to New York in the 1970s and 1980s, there was nowhere like it. It was dirty, grubby, exciting, all the clubs and the music, and the drugs. I became obsessed with it. The book shows how Manhattan changed from a rocky island into a metropolis because of the invention of the elevator. I also like the book because it shows all Gaudí’s plans for hotels and buildings in New York.”
04. Les Erotiques Du Regard by Messrs Marc Attali and Jacques Delfau
“This is a strange but wonderful book. It is very voyeuristic and politically incorrect these days. It’s one of the reasons I chose it, in fact. It is about the male gaze, but also about the seduction of what you can’t see. I think it is beautifully constructed inside. The authors use typography and words of images to create a very seductive book. I am really into typefaces and this has an extraordinary variety of them.”
05. The Night Climbers Of Cambridge by Whipplesnaith
“What the book shows is these kids in the 1930s who got very drunk in the afternoons and evenings and then went and climbed all the spires of Cambridge, where they were all students. The book is a document of this club of climbers. There are lots of things I like about it, but I especially love the flash photography in there and the old buildings and this ridiculously crazy pastime, climbing spires while totally drunk.”
06. Mother’s by Ms Ishiuchi Miyako
“Miyako is a major artist in Japan and she represented Japan at the 2004 and 2005 Venice Biennale. This book documents the bad relationship she had with her mother. They didn’t get on terribly well. She recognised that the issue was not solely her mother, but a problem with both of them. After her mother died, she photographed the traces her mother left behind. The lipsticks, the slips, the hairbrush. It’s become a hugely powerful and very important series of pictures. The Getty showed it a couple of years ago. We’ve shown it in the gallery, too. Her work is some of the best work that has come out of Japan in the past 30 years.”
07. A Sloth In The Family by Mr Hermann Tirler (introduction by Mr Gerald Durrell)
“When I was a kid, I was fascinated by natural history. And I was a great fan of Gerald Durrell, the British naturalist, who wrote the most fantastic books. They were all very personable and full of anthropomorphism. I’ve kept this particular book since I was a child. It feels very personal as I’m a very lazy person, very sloth-like. And sloths are the best animals. Imagine having a pet you can hang on the washing line! The book is unintentionally surreal. It was published in the 1960s and so, when we look at it in 2020, it takes on a completely different dynamic. The clothes, the animals, the text – it is all just absolutely brilliant.”
08. Jazz by Mr Ed Van Der Elsken
“I’m a huge jazz fan. There’s something about the lighting in a jazz club. Before the smoking ban, I used to go often to Ronnie Scott’s. The smell and thickness of the air gave the place this very specific atmosphere. I love this book because it showcases some of the best jazz musicians in the world – Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins – but also because it is so beautifully designed. It is just a killer book. I mean, just look at the front cover: Dizzy Gillespie with his horn. It is seminal. Nobody had ever done anything like that before. The blue ink, the size. It is just wonderful.”
Photographs courtesy of Mr Michael Hoppen.