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Edward Hopper's Influence

Influence is a mysterious thing. Just when you think you've done something original, you discover something impossibly similar — and 30 years older. To say that American photographers are influenced by Edward Hopper does not necessarily mean they're imitating him. But when you place a 1930s Hopper painting next to a 1960s Robert Adams photograph, you might be surprised by the resemblance. Perhaps the similarities can simply be attributed to a shared history and culture, but it's hard to dismiss Hopper's legacy.

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Fraenkel Gallery's new book Edward Hopper and Company takes a look at Hopper's influence on photography. He is known as a painter of loneliness and desolation. When other artists were painting abstract splatters and blocks of color, Hopper was still painting landscapes and portraits. But an eerie use of light created a sense of foreboding in his work — an ironic type of noir that was unlike the paintings of his predecessors. With scenes of rural abandonment and urban solitude, Hopper illustrated the gothic side of the American spirit: empty, lonely and vast.

He had a deadpan way of portraying the world, and that same voice resonates in the photographs of Lee Friedlander, Walker Evans, Diane Arbus, and more. After all, these photographers, roughly around the 1960s and onward, were doing a similar thing. They were departing from the traditional landscapes of Ansel Adams and moving toward a new aesthetic: snapshots of quotidian places and faces. Jeffrey Fraenkel writes in the introduction:

Edward Hopper's relevance to American photography becomes clearer with each passing decade. His respect for humble subjects, his interest in the psychological, his depth as a landscape artist, and his astonishing sensitivity to color as a means of communicating feeling, are only some of the elements that may have led the writer Geoff Dyer to theorize that Hopper 'could claim to be the most influential American photographer of the twentieth century—even though he didn't take any photographs.'

The book compares 10 of Hopper's works with carefully selected photographs of eight masters: Adams, Friedlander, Evans and Arbus, along with Harry Callahan, William Eggleston, Robert Frank and Stephen Shore. The sole quotation from a photographer comes from Adams who recalls the first time he saw a Hopper painting as a child. "The pictures were a comfort," he writes, "but of course none could permanently transport me home. In the months that followed, however, they began to give me something lasting, a realization of the poignancy of light. With it, all places were interesting."

What do you think? Can a case be made for Hopper's influence? Or did the painter simply share an aesthetic, a culture and history with the photographers that ensued him?

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