Libraries: Candida Höfer

Prestel. Sept. 2019. 272p. ISBN 9783791385617. $65. PHOTOG
German conceptualist Höfer has long specialized in carefully composed photographs of public spaces, such as museums or zoos, eerily unsullied by any human occupants, and along a typology almost Linnaean in precision. A pupil of photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher, she has been setting her tripod up in prominent world libraries since the 1990s. This beautifully produced volume is her pictorial tribute to the diverse architectural and visual environments of 100 repositories. There is great variety here: orderly, warm wooden spaces (Trinity College, Dublin); ornate rococo (Abbey Library, St. Gall), and modern (France’s Bibliothèque Nationale). Several views of book storage systems are thrown in, as if to taunt armchair library space planners. The compositions have a geometrical emphasis, almost sterile in their depiction of unpeopled space. Because it’s about art and not travel, missing are any explications of a library’s significance. For Yale’s Beineke or Spain’s El Escorial, this doesn’t matter, but it would’ve been nice to know the story behind those parapet walls in Utrecht or the reason why shelves are empty at Venice’s Biblioteca Cappuccini.
VERDICT A compelling aesthetic project that will appeal to bibliophiles and photography and architecture fans.
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