Candida Höfer helps you discovering the world’s most stunning libraries

Candida Höfer - Benediktinerstift Admont I, 2014
Candida Höfer – Benediktinerstift Admont I, 2014


Nobody ever thinks of standing in the library aisles to take photographs, apart from Candida Höfer of course. She not only does a great job of bringing out the beautiful aspects of the spaces between books she takes but also captures the intensity of the reading mood. With no effort to stage any of the locations she pictures, Höfer targets locations that have no form of human disturbance. This emptiness allows viewers to see the spaces for their color. The loud silence that is imagined by virtue of an absence of human interference offers the objects in the room an opportunity to project their voices.


Libraries is a volume of pictures that is rather sumptuous; viewers are treated to images taken in the British Library located in London, the Whitney Museum of New York, the Escorial of Spain, and Pierpoint Library of New York among many others.

What is this project about?

In her work, the artist conducts an exercise to redefine the library space. While definitions encompass what is contained therein and what happens, Höfer understands that the subject is rather complex and diverse. The focus in her photographs is on the interior spaces. Only once or twice has she had an interest in exterior views. Actually, when taken from the outside, such pictures are intended to capture how the library looks as opposed to how it blends with the buildings around it.

Candida Höfer - Augustiner Chorherrenstift Sank Florian III, 2014
Candida Höfer – Augustiner Chorherrenstift Sank Florian III, 2014

Video: Candida Höfer about camera preferences & technique

YouTube video
4 min 18 sec


Libraries is predominantly a show of the inner core of library structures in different parts of the world. Visitors can expect to come across pictures of reading areas, halls, index cards, shelves with books, and computer terminals. Sometimes, the only evidence that someone or people have been using the library is book-lined corridors, messy reading cubicles, and empty shelves; these, too have been included in the album. From a distance, it appears as though the books are abstract art pieces on the walls. Only when a picture has been taken within close range can the photographer and viewer bear witness to the torn and well-maintained among them.

Scale & detail

Höfer’s photographs are often large in scale, which allows viewers to immerse themselves in the image and appreciate the intricate details of the interiors. The large format captures the grandeur of the spaces and the minute details of book spines, architectural elements, and even the wear and tear on furniture. This level of detail invites viewers to explore the image, drawing them into the space and allowing them to feel as if they are present within the room.

Absence of people

One of the most striking features of Höfer’s library images is the absence of people. This deliberate choice creates a sense of stillness and timelessness. Without the presence of people, the focus shifts to the architecture, the arrangement of books, and the play of light and shadow. The spaces appear both monumental and intimate, evoking a sense of reverence for the knowledge and history contained within.

Symmetry & composition

Höfer’s images are meticulously composed, often using symmetry to highlight the architectural beauty of the spaces she photographs. The symmetrical compositions give her images a sense of balance and order, emphasizing the grandeur and solemnity of the libraries. The careful framing and perspective also guide the viewer’s eye, allowing them to take in the entirety of the space and appreciate its architectural and aesthetic nuances.

Play of light

Höfer has an exceptional ability to capture the interplay of natural and artificial light in these grand spaces. Her photographs often showcase the way light filters through windows, illuminates bookshelves, and casts intricate shadows on the floor and walls. This mastery over light not only accentuates the architectural details but also creates a mood, adding depth and dimension to the spaces she photographs. The light often brings a serene, almost ethereal quality to the libraries, emphasizing their quiet majesty.

Cultural & historical context

While Höfer’s images are visually stunning in their own right, they also serve as a documentation of cultural and historical spaces from around the world. Each library she photographs has its own history, architectural style, and significance. By capturing these spaces, Höfer provides viewers with a visual journey across different cultures and epochs. The diversity of libraries she chooses, from the baroque grandeur of European institutions to more modern and minimalist designs, offers a commentary on the evolution of architectural and cultural trends over time.

Emphasis on texture & material

Höfer’s photographs often emphasize the textures and materials present in these grand spaces. Whether it’s the grain of wooden bookshelves, the intricate patterns of marble floors, or the ornate designs of a ceiling, the attention to texture adds a tactile dimension to her images. This focus on materiality not only showcases the craftsmanship of the interiors but also invites viewers to imagine the physical sensations of being in such a space.

Candida Höfer - Installation view of The Space, the Detail, the Image, Galería Helga de Alvear, Madrid, Spain
Candida Höfer – Installation view, The Space, the Detail, the Image, Galería Helga de Alvear, Madrid, Spain


Quite deliberately, Höfer takes her photographs, intending to explore social architecture. Does a building have emotions? The buildings in Höfer’s pictures can be seen to intimidate, oppress, seduce, and even adopt a sense of hospitability or not. How viewers interpret the surfaces of the various buildings is a factor of how their cultural beliefs tie in with present life forms.

Candida Höfer - Installation view of The Space, the Detail, the Image, Galería Helga de Alvear, Madrid, Spain
Candida Höfer – Installation view, The Space, the Detail, the Image, Galería Helga de Alvear, Madrid, Spain

All images: Candida Höfer & ADAGP, Paris unless otherwise noted.