Frank Hofmann


Frank Hofmann was an influential photographer, both commercially and artistically, introducing interwar European modernist ideas and practices into New Zealand.

Hofmann was born in 1916 in Prague, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He was given a camera in 1929. At 16 he joined the Prague Photographic Society, whose prevailing aesthetic was informed by a respect for pictorialism and a vital interest in the New Photography then dominating the photographic avant-garde. This pairing of influences characterised Hofmann’s work throughout his life.

In early 1940 Hofmann (who was Jewish) escaped to England after the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, soon emigrating to Christchurch. He set himself up as a free-lance photographer, but soon secured work at Standish and Preece’s studio, Christchurch’s premier studio. He stayed there for a year, before moving to Wellington, then to Napier, in search of a more secure position.

Within months he was offered a job by Clifton Firth, who ran Auckland’s most fashionable studio, so moved once again. In 1947 he became manager of photographic production at Colonial Portraits. In the early 1950s, Hofmann and Bill Doherty established Christopher Bede Studios, which for 20 years was to dominate the home-based portrait photography business in New Zealand.

Hofmann was married to Helen Shaw, a well-known editor, poet and short-story writer. He was heavily involved with the Auckland Camera Club (later the Auckland Photographic Society). He also became a foundation violinist of the Auckland String Players.

Two years before he died, a retrospective was mounted at Auckland’s Aberhart North Gallery, and two years later the National Art Gallery mounted and toured nationally Object & Style. Hofmann died in Auckland in 1989 having made an important contribution to the cultural life of his adopted country.

Adapted by Andy Palmer from the DNZB biography by Peter Ireland

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