Are these exquisite corpses? Is there a bitter commentary underneath the seemingly objective, straight-on framing of these views? Is she perhaps doing for Western culture what photographers such as Edward Sheriff Curtis did for Native Americans a century ago, romanticizing the final moments of a passing age?
When asked whether she intends anything specific in her choice of perspective — her contemporary interior spaces are often photographed without the seemingly rigid symmetry of older interiors — Hofer is studiously opaque: “There is no explicit, voluntary choice on the spot or in the lab according to the historical context of the space,” she writes in an e-mail. “I assume it is the space as space that drives such decisions.”
The photographer wants to focus on the pure objectivity of the images, the way in which the challenge of making the image dictates all the decisions of the photographer. But the images want to say more, even if their urge to speak leads to ambiguous statements.
The curators of the Baltimore show have used a 2005 image of the Louvre as a dramatic introduction to the exhibition. Displayed on the axis of one of the museum’s galleries, the Louvre interior seems to extend the BMA space far into the distance. The color of the Louvre floor also echoes the marble coloring of John Russell Pope’s 1937 addition to the BMA.
But there’s something wrong. The Louvre corridor veers off slightly to the left, revealing the odd but subtle shift in perspective created by the photographer’s vantage point. On closer inspection, many of the images that feel symmetrical are, in fact, not symmetrical at all.
The photograph also makes Pope’s building feel derivative, and under the objectifying magnifying glass of Hofer’s camera, the beauty of all of these interior spaces begins to seem generic. The Louvre is as empty, hollow and beautiful as the Peabody Library, which looks as though it should be someplace in Europe.
Paradoxically, for all their details and specificity, once you have entered a Hofer interior, you have left the real world of actual places and locations. Culture becomes a veneer — delicious to contemplate, but superficial, too. Which makes it doubly ironic that getting Hofer to photograph your cultural icon somehow elevates it. There’s a sharper edge to these images, a hostility almost, that is bracing.
is at the Baltimore Museum of Art through Feb. 26. For information,