Evelyn Hofer’s charming photos capture New York in the 60s and 70s

Beguiling, bygone New York City – from bums to the Bowery: Stunning portraits of people and places capture the Big Apple in the 60s and 70s

  • Photographer Evelyn Hofer took the original set of city portraits in the 1960s as part of the 1965 book called ‘New York Proclaimed’ with text by British writer V. S. Pritchett
  • Hofer shot with an old-school, large format 4 x 5 camera, which required the use of a tripod and a black cloth
  • Born in 1922 in Germany, Hofer’s family fled the Nazis and she later moved to New York City in 1946
  • Andreas Pauly, her longtime assistant and friend, and Sabine Schmid have edited a new book, ‘New York’ by Evelyn Hofer, who died in 2009, using images from the 1965 book and adding images from the 1970s

There is a deliberateness to the photographs of Evelyn Hofer that can be seen in each of her portraits – whether it be people or places – of New York City in the 1960s and 70s.

The hairstyles and hats speak to the eras of bouffants and afros, of bums and the Bowery, and train stations and tracks that are no longer in use or have been modified beyond recognition. Her subjects – the policeman with his long black coat and hands in white gloves, the boys on the stoop, the hot dog stand worker, the barflies, and the older woman looking regal with her light purple flower – stare forthrightly at the camera.

It was all by design. Hofer took her photographs with a German, large format 4 x 5 camera that could only be used with a tripod, explained Andreas Pauly, her former longtime assistant and friend, and one of the editors of a new book, ‘New York’ by Evelyn Hofer. The new book reprises some of Hofer’s city portraits of its denizens, buildings, landmarks and architecture from a 1965 book called ‘New York Proclaimed’ with text by British writer V. S. Pritchett as well as including some of her photographs from the 70s.

‘I think she was very careful in the composition and this is when you work with a big camera, you take much more care about composing an image… versus snapping with a small camera and I think you can see that,’ Pauly told DailyMail.com. 

She would always ask people if they were willing to be photographed, Pauly said.

‘And then she had to put up her tripod, her camera, get the film ready. So for her, taking portraits even on the street, it was always a collaboration with the people,’ he said. 

In a new book, ‘New York’ by Evelyn Hofer, there is a deliberateness to her portraits of people and places in the city during the 1960s and 70s. Hofer shot with an old-school, large format camera that required a tripod, and always asked people for their permission to photograph them. In the above image, ‘Hotdog stand’ from 1963, the worker (center) clad in all white makes the colors in the banner rimming the pale green stand pop all the more

Hofer’s former longtime assistant, Andreas Pauly told DailyMail.com that the above image, ‘The Bowery,’ from 1963 was not a planned one. Hofer saw the portraits as a collaboration, he said. Manhattan’s Bowery, shown here in the 60s with three men at bar, has undergone tremendous change: once called ‘Skid Row’ where the homeless congregated and home to punk bars such as CBGB, it has been completely gentrified

Hofer was ‘quite strict’ with her images, according to Pauly, one of the editors of ‘New York,’ and would most likely destroy negatives of photographs that she didn’t like. ‘Car park’ from 1964, above, showing the incredible tail ends of cars from the time period, made the cut

Hofer was born in Germany in 1922 and her family fled 11 years later to Switzerland to escape the Nazis. Hofer moved to New York City in 1946 and would document the city with her camera. She died in 2009 in Mexico City. 

Pauly became her assistant in 1982, working with her both in Europe and New York. Even during that time period, Hofer’s camera choice was unusual, he recalled. 

‘Compared to other photographers, she took much more time for taking one image,’ Pauly said.

An early assignment with Hofer in Rome showed Pauly how she approached her work.

‘The first day, she went to the place without taking the camera. And I was quite surprised and I asked her why don’t we take the equipment and everything. She said, ‘Well, you know Andreas, it’s important for me to get the feeling from a place and I just want to absorb the atmosphere.’

He added: ‘‘And then later on she made notes in her little notebook what she found, what she felt and then only the second day we started to photograph.’

Her camera was from the 50s, and she used old lenses as well because she liked the quality. It also required a black cloth that she had to drape over the viewfinder to see the image, which was upside down, he explained.

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‘It’s quite another way to photograph compared to modern cameras,’ Pauly said.

Hofer was also very careful in choosing whether or not a photograph should be in color or in black and white, he explained.

For instance, ‘Hotdog stand,’ from 1963 is in color – the decorative banner in hot pink, yellow and blue that rims the light green stand pops against the white top, apron and pants of the worker, while the red of the Pepsi logo on the wood crates stands out. In another color photo, ‘Policeman, 59th Street’ from 1964, contrasts the black of the officer’s uniform with the bright red of the Miller High Life billboard ad with its slogan ‘Enjoy Life.’ 

‘Old woman, Chinatown’ from 1964, which also doubles as the book’s cover, was not a planned image, Pauly said. An older woman, wearing a black cardigan and beaded hat, and a dark grey dress accented with a blue necklace and a light purple blossom, stares straight ahead, with a young boy on her left and a woman wearing black shades on her right.

‘I think she saw it, and then she stopped and put up her camera,’ he said. ‘It must have been Chinese New Year because there were a lot of people standing on the streets, I could see that from the other images and they were watching the firecrackers and the dragons.’

Pauly said that because of the camera equipment that Hofer used – she had to put up the tripod and camera as well as get the film ready – she was ‘very careful’ in the composition of an image. Above, ‘Policeman, 59th Street’ from 1964 shows an officer in a long black coat and wearing white gloves in contrast to the Miller High Life red billboard in the background

‘Old woman, Chinatown’ from 1964, shows an older woman (center) wearing a beaded black cardigan and hat and staring straight at the camera, with a young boy on her left and a woman wearing black shades on her right. Pauly said he thinks the image, which is also the book’s cover, was not planned and that it was Chinese New Year. ‘I think she saw it, and then she stopped and put up her camera,’ he said

Hofer, who lived in the city for decades, took photographs of everyday New Yorkers and the images she took in the 1960s became part of a 1965 book called ‘New York Proclaimed,’ which included text by British writer V. S. Pritchett. After she died in 2009, Pauly and Sabine Schmid, the other editor of ‘New York,’ decided to the re-edit the book with a focus on Hofer’s photography and included the above image titled ‘Santo Domingo in New York’ from 1964 that shows what looks like a family in clothes and hairstyles of the era

The image above, ‘L train station’ from 1964, harks to a time period when there were many more elevated train stations in Manhattan. Hofer photographed several cities and took shots of their architecture and buildings

Another shot that Hofer decided should be in color was ‘Arteries’ from 1964, which shows avenues, highways and streets on the West Side, and Pauly said he thinks that it is the area where the Port Authority Bus Terminal is now.

‘That’s why she called it arteries, that’s where all the traffic comes in New York,’ he said, noting that she probably took the image from a building overlooking the area.

Pauly said that other photos were better suited for black and white. Hofer took many shots of architecture, and, one image, ‘Westside brownstones,’ from 1965 is almost hypnotic in its undulating image of the buildings’ stoops.

‘This works only in black and white so because of the light and shadow,’ he said.

Pauly said that he thinks another image – ‘The Bowery’ from 1963 – was also not planned.

‘I think she was going through the streets and she must have seen these people sitting at the bar,’ he explained.

The black and white photo shows three men in a row inside a bar, the establishment’s window with its neon signs and advertising it has beer. Pauly said she took a shot of the man in the middle by himself, and then when the other two joined him, she took an image of all three.

This image speaks to a different era of the city: Manhattan’s Bowery was once known for being an enclave of the homeless and had the moniker ‘Skid Row.’ It was always the home to famous punk bars such as CBGB where bands including the Ramones played. This neighborhood is now gentrified and home to the city’s priciest places.

The new book also documents neighborhoods such as Soho, Chinatown, Times Square, Lower Manhattan, Upper East Side, Coney Island, Kips Bays, Little Italy and Harlem, and iconic landmarks and places such as the Manhattan Bridge and Central Park. It includes portraits of people working, such as a woman in a tollbooth, a doorman, and a man holding a sign, and of past professions such as an elevator man.

Many of the images that Hofer took in the 60s was for the 1965 book ‘New York Proclaimed,’ which included text by British writer V. S. Pritchett.

While working on an exhibition in Munich with curator Sabine Schmid – the other editor of ‘New York’ – they ‘decided that it’s a pity that you can’t get these books anymore.’

They decided to re-edit the book, with more of a focus on Hofer’s images. ‘New York Proclaimed’ had a lot of text, Pauly said, ‘and that was, I think, partly V. S. Pritchett, partly Evelyn Hofer’s images, which had, of course, a connection… We thought we (would) concentrate on her photography and so it should be mostly a photography book.’   

While Pauly and Schmid selected images from the 60s and the original book, ‘New York Proclaimed,’ he said they also decided to add some of Hofer’s photographs from the 70s, like this one, ‘Three boys at the front door’ from 1975, that would fit well in the new book. As in her some of her other portraits, the three young men (above) stare forthrightly at the camera

This image, ‘Man on roof,’ from 1981 is the only one that was included in the new book, ‘New York’ by Evelyn Hofer, that was from the 80s, Pauly said. Hofer was always conscientious in her composition and choices for images and that can be seen in this photogragh, above, with a man (center) on a New York City building

Another shot that Hofer decided had to be in color was ‘Arteries’ (above) from 1964, which shows avenues, highways and streets on the West Side, and Pauly said he thinks that it is the area where the city’s Port Authority Bus Terminal is now. He noted that she probably took the shot from a building overlooking the area

‘But then we thought it would need something and that’s why we asked the writer to write a little piece on these images,’ he said.

‘New York,’ which is published by Steidl, does include an essay by John Haskell.

‘We added a few more images from the 70s,’ he said, noting there is one photograph from 1981. ‘We thought they might fit well in that kind of book. That’s why the pictures are slightly different then from the original book from 1964.’

He added, ‘It was not everything was our choice, it was also her choice.’

Hofer was ‘quite strict,’ he said about her images, and if she didn’t like it, she most likely would destroy it. She also marked her contact prints with the photos she liked.

A new book, ‘New York,’ by Evelyn Hofer and published by Steidl, focuses on her city portraits of New York City during the 1960s and 70s

“So since I was working with her for more than 20 years, I knew more or less what images were important to her,’ he explained. ‘That’s why it wasn’t so hard to choose images. At one point it was more difficult to eliminate images.’

Pauly said that they became good friends after working together for so long, and he took over managing her photo estate around 2000.

‘The last images she took in 2000 and then she got more ill and she had an operation, and then her dementia got worse so then that’s why she didn’t work anymore,’ he recalled.

When she died in 2009, he said he took care of the estate on his own.

Over Hofer’s career she tackled different subject matters and genres. Her first book was on Florence, 1959’s ’Stones of Florence,’ and was ‘purely architectural,’ he said.

‘Later on, she did more and more portraits so the last of these series of books, which was from 67 and it’s a book on Dublin, and this book is mainly portraits so I think that changed in her career that she got more and more interested in portraits,’ Pauly said.

She also did fashion photography in New York when moved to the city in 1946, working for Harper’s Bazaar and later on for Vogue, he said.

When it became hard for her to travel in her final years, Hofer started doing still lives at her apartment in New York, Pauly said.

Pauly said that the photographs in ‘New York’ have taken on a new meaning with the passing of time.

‘It makes quite a difference if you look at the images like 50 years later, so some images became more interesting by out of historical reasons because certain buildings don’t exist anymore… You just have a different view of certain images I think.’

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