A World Observed 1940 - 2010: Photographs by Dorothy Bohm - Press information
21st Jun 2011 - 28th Aug 2011
A World Observed 1940 – 2010 is the first comprehensive retrospective of the work of London-based photographer Dorothy Bohm and brings together over 150 images, tracing an exceptional career which spans 7 decades.
The exhibition opens at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, University of East Anglia, Norwich on Tuesday 21 June and runs until Sunday 28 August. Bohm’s visually striking photographs focus on the human figure in its natural setting and document the rapidly changing world of the last 70 years. A World Observed is a Manchester Art Gallery touring exhibition.
"Throughout her long career, Dorothy Bohm has produced a significant body of work that takes its place in the great tradition of street photography. She will surely be recognised as one of the key British documentary photographers of the twentieth century, due not least to this touring exhibition. Through her camera she has consistently recorded her subject with respect, tenderness and sensitivity, reflecting a joy and affirmation of life." - Calvin Winner, Head of Collections Management and Conservation, Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts.
This exhibition includes photographs from each stage of Bohm’s career, including black and white street photography and vivid colour images of contemporary life alongside vintage studio portraits and jewel-like Polaroids. Also on display will be archival material, a selection of family photographs, books, exhibition posters and some of her correspondence with other photographers and artists. Bohm’s visually sophisticated yet immediately accessible photographs capture split-second moments of the lives of ordinary people. Artist Roland Penrose has written of her work that ‘she has condensed humanity, made it stable and visible’.
Born into a Jewish family in Königsberg, East Prussia (now Kaliningrad) in 1924, Bohm was sent to school in the UK in 1939 to escape the threat of Nazism. She studied photography at Manchester College of Technology, graduating in 1942. Following graduation she worked at Samuel Cooper photography studio for four years, before establishing her own Studio Alexander portrait studio in Manchester. Bohm has stated that she always tried to find something beautiful in her sitters, without over-glamorising or flattering them.
In the late 1940s, in the course of many visits to the artists’ colony of Ascona in Switzerland, Bohm discovered a love for open air photography. She continued to work in black and white, but by the late 1950s had abandoned studio photography to devote her time to the ‘street photography’ which forms the basis of much of her work. With her husband Louis Bohm she travelled widely, visiting the newly formed state of Israel, living in Paris for over a year and visiting the USA and Mexico before settling in Hampstead in 1956. In the late 1950s Bohm discovered that her parents and younger sister, who she had not seen since arriving in England, had survived the war and were living in Riga, Latvia. She succeeded in obtaining a visa to visit them, and became one of the first western photographers to take pictures in Moscow and Leningrad (now St Petersburg) after the war.
“I have spent my life taking photographs. The photograph fulfils my deep need to stop things from disappearing. It makes transience less painful and retains some of the special magic, which I have looked for and found. I have tried to create order out of chaos, to find stability in flux and beauty in the most unlikely places.” – Dorothy Bohm
Bohm continued to travel throughout her life, photographing places as diverse as South Africa, Egypt and Venice. Having explored the potential of Polaroid photography to memorable affect in the early 1980s, she began to work with colour film during a visit to the Far East in 1984, and has worked exclusively in colour ever since. Although the human figure in its natural setting continues to be the focus of her work, her approach has become more painterly, with a greater interest in spatial and other forms of ambiguity.
In addition to her work as a photographic artist, Bohm was intimately involved in the founding of The Photographers’ Gallery, London in 1971 and continued as its Associate Director for the next fifteen years. In 2009 she was elected an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society.
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A Manchester Art Gallery touring exhibition