Hugo Bernatzik

Hugo A Bernatzik ventured into Africa nearly 80 years ago equipped with a cumbersome camera and created one of the most perfect documents of a paradise soon to be lost to the onslaught of the 20th century. Although well known as an ethnographer in his lifetime, Bernatzik’s photographs drifted into obscurity and their rediscovery is unquestionably one of the most important photographic finds in recent years. Michael Hoppen Gallery is proud to present a rare opportunity to view this extraordinary work face to face.

In 1927 Bernatzik first traveled to southern Sudan, at the time one of the remotest places in Africa. Working at fever pitch with his awkward camera equipment in this inhospitable environment he vividly captured the people he encountered. His genuine interest in the ‘real’ people and their way of life resulted in images compelling enough to make us not only regret what has been lost but to also wonder at what he saved.

All of Bernatzik’s belongings, negatives and cameras were destroyed by fire in Austria during the Second World War. What was to survive was one almost complete set of small prints, unique and in remarkable condition, accompanied by a set of diaries and small albums bearing testament to his extraordinary life. His work fills the gap between the great pioneer 19th Century photographers and the late George Rodger and Leni Riefenstahl who ventured into Africa a generation later.

Born in Vienna in 1897, Bernatzik abandoned his medical studies to travel, financing his journeys with journalism and by selling his photographs. Over the span of his career he undertook research in and photographed, amongst others, Egypt, Sudan, Papua New Guinea, Bali, Southeast Asia and Swedish Lapland. Bernatzik fell ill on his last trip to Morocco and died in Vienna in 1953 from a tropical disease at the age of fifty-six.