From New York to Israel: Women as seen through Dorothy Bohm’s humane lens

PUBLISHED: 13:00 10 December 2015

Spain 1959

Spain 1959


Bridget Galton opens up a new book, entitled About Women, which captures the long-time Hampstead photographer’s pictures from across the globe.

Mainland Greece 1950Mainland Greece 1950

“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 find beauty in the most unlikely places.”

For 75 years photographer Dorothy Bohm has captured the changing world around her.

Born to German-speaking Jewish parents in East Prussia in 1924, her career began at a Lithuanian train station fleeing Nazi Europe for England, when her father hung his beloved Leica around her neck telling her ‘this might be useful’.

First as a studio portraitist in Manchester, then a street photographer living in Paris and inspired by Cartier Bresson, she travelled widely to the US, Russia, Israel and South Africa, capturing a post-war world changed forever by the conflict that had made her a refugee.

Rome 1961Rome 1961

Not incidentally, she also charted the changing roles of women. In a preface to her new book, About Women (Dewi Lewis Publishing £30) Bohm’s Hampstead neighbour, the novelist Marika Cobbold writes: “Nostalgia plays no part in Dorothy’s work. It’s change that interests her, the flux and motion of social development. Hence the leitmotif in this collection of her photographs, of the constantly evolving roles of women.”

She adds that Bohm’s own life forms a bridge between pre-war Europe and the world that came after.

“Her work connects us, not just with different eras, and continents but most vitally, to each other. Her pictures show us that our differences lie mainly in our circumstances…rather than in our hearts and our souls. Dorothy’s genius is capturing the moments when our surface selves slip, allowing a glimpse of the truth of us, our common humanity.

Events that so brutally shaped Dorothy Bohm’s early life, cannot happen in a world viewed her way, because when we look through her lens, we see not ‘others,’ but ourselves.”

Israel 1976Israel 1976

Bohm herself has said being a woman has been an advantage as a photographer because “women subjects are less threatened by a woman.”

“I can win their trust, move in closer.”

She has also said that women often express more in a photograph because they are less inhibited about showing emotion.

That’s evident in a collection of both black and white and colour images that ranges from nuns to western fashionistas.

42nd Street, New York City, 195542nd Street, New York City, 1955

In some, the subject boldly holds our gaze. In others their joie de vivre bursts from the image. Women at domestic work, women wearing the veil, and western society’s mannequins that co-opt the female form in rampant consumerism, are observed with warmth and curiosity.

Bohm, who helped found The Photographer’s Gallery and has lived in Hampstead since 1956 where she continues to photograph her locality, appropriately dedicates the book to her two daughters Monica and Yvonne, the four grandchildren “who give me so much pleasure” and to “wonderful husband Louis” whom she met in 1940 and who was a life partner until his death in 1994.

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