Once upon a time in the magical era of the Sixties, three talented young men set out from southern Germany. These three artists, Werner Hahn, Gerhardt Veit, and Hans Hoefer were to live an adventure throughout Asia, supporting themselves by painting and exhibiting their workalong the trail that led them through Turkey through to the Himalayas and beyond, and eventually Bali, and for quite some time, Ubud. In Bali, Hans came into his own as a photographer. It was here in 1970 that he conceived and put together the seminal Insight Guide:Bali, an illustrated guide book that had as its mission to “encourage readers to celebrate the essence of the place rather than fashion it to suit their preconceptions”.
The book, large for a guide book, became as much, if not more, coveted for its images as for the information it contained about an island about which not many people had any real concept at the time. Though the book became the first of an extensive series of fabled places around the world, Hans never really rested on his laurels, nor did his imagery of Bali stop with that. Since then Hans has sold his share in Insight Guides but continues to roam.Over the years, in between a busy schedule producing books from Hawaii to Sri Lanka, he worked on a series of “photo-art” images using a now no longer extant polaroid film that allowed the photographer/artist a short interval to manipulate the texture of the image. I chatted to Hans about this series.
Rio Helmi: Over roughly what period in time did you do these ?
Hans Hoefer: You have my Paper art sketches under Bali Art (on Hans’ website), which are drawings and water colours I did living in Ubud for 14 months in 1968/69 (before I moved into the Bali Beach Hotel to produce Guide To Bali, published in May 1970).
Then there are additional Bali Polaroid manipulations done in the 70-80s during visits, before the particular film that allowed this kind of work was discontinued by Polaroid around 1989. I have an archive of approx 4000 images in that style done until then.
RH: What is the technique?
HH: The SX-70 polaroid camera was not considered a pro camera at the time, catering to hobby photography. Only later, sometime in the late 80s the SX 70 process and film was “elevated” by a number of artists worldwide for their works, and became better known among serious photographers and artists.
I took that camera on assignment as a quick solution to satisfy requests for pictures from my “people subjects”. I just could pull out a picture for them creating lots of “instant” happiness all around, which in turn benefited my “other” photography.
I discovered that I could manipulate the emulsion when I squeezed a reject picture between my fingernails during a bus ride home. As an art and design graduate I could see instantly what I could do with this. I pasted a small steel plate to the back of the camera, and made my own tools from dentist equipment.
A particular feature of this technique was that I had only 20 minutes after each shot to do the manipulations before the pictures chemistry became fixed (like, frozen) and could not be manipulated any further. There always was a certain frenzy connected to the process. The immediacy and finality of the process has a lot in common with aquarelle in wet painting technique. You cannot correct it once done.
Another aspect to this is that as a printer and graphic artist I saw the SX- 70 film as an “uncompleted wet canvas” of sorts, which needed an additional process which is printing on paper as final art, equal to limited editions of graphic arts like etching, lithography or photo printing. I treat the polaroid as a negative is treated in fine art photography. It is a vehicle to the final photo print.
RH: Do you continue to do this, was it just for this series?
HH: I did this kind of work until film was discontinued, which makes the process a limited process possible only for a limited time. It was always a fun “on the side” activity beside my professional work. As technology is moving along, I continue to produce original prints using modern ink jet technology now (which has replaced the darkroom and lithography) to show this work today. The results are prints of 80 x 80 cm.
NB: Ubud Now & Then will publish a more extensive gallery of this series by Hans Hoefer in the coming week.
all images ©Hans Hoefer