Dorothy Bohm is the ideal role model to chart women’s ascent

‘Women in Focus’ is a snapshot of Bohm’s ‘affection for London and sympathy for women’

A woman strides down Camden High Street while two young men look on. To many, this is a normal occurrence few are likely to notice, but to photographer Dorothy Bohm, this is what she has learned (from French photographer Henri Cartier-Bressen) to call the “decisive moment.”

“Temperamentally, the idea of fixing a moment in time which would pass appeals to me enormously,” Bohm said. “Reality is seen, interpreted by me.”

And Bohm, 88, has been capturing that reality, the reality of life in London and the realities of women’s lives, for more than 60 years.

Bohm, originally from East Prussia, moved to England to finish her schooling when WWII began and studied photography at Manchester College of Technology. Four years later, she opened her own studio on the advice of her new husband, Louis. While he earned his PhD, she was the bread winner for the two of them, an uncommon occurrence in 1946.

“I’ve been very lucky,” the honorary fellow of the Royal Photographic Society said.

One of the things that amazes her is the way women have been able to enter into the wider aspects of life, Bohm said. She was not entirely conscious of the struggles facing women during the women’s rights movement because she had an exhibition at the Mel Institute of Contemporary Arts in 1969, and, in 1971, co-founded The Photographers’ Gallery, London, where she worked as the Associate Director for 15 years.

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Bohm has lived in Hampstead since 1956 and she and her husband raised their two daughters there, one of whom, Monica Bohm-Duchen, still lives in the area and is an art curator, working with the Museum of London to coordinate Bohm’s latest exhibition, Women in Focus.

“So in this small exhibition, I am trying to show my empathy for women and my admiration for what has been achieved over the years,” Bohm said. “And having two daughters and three granddaughters who are very successful in their jobs makes me very proud and happy because I’ve seen, in my long lifetime, that women have been able to do so much more than they were able to do before.”

While Bohm did not personally choose the pieces to be featured in this exhibition, her daughter worked with the museum to whittle the collection down from hundreds of pictures to just over 30 smaller pictures, which, she says, she hopes people will take the time to look at more carefully, something less likely to happen in a large exhibition. Bohm said she is very pleased with the choices the museum has made and looks forward to the chance to share her photography with a wider audience.

“What excites me the most (is) that I should be able to talk with my pictures to a lot of people who possibly wouldn’t have had the opportunity to see my images,” she said. “It’s a different kind of audience than the art gallery; it’s a much more popular place for visitors.”

The Museum of London exhibition is free and runs from Nov. 16 until Feb. 17, 2013. It features photographs of women and of representations of women around London from the 1990s to the present. At 88 years young, Bohm continues with her passion, photographing women in the area she’s grown to call home.

“What is amazing (is) that, despite the fact that I’m such a very old lady, I still react exactly as I did when I was young, so you don’t basically change,” Bohm says. “The only thing that’s gone is the energy, but although I say I’m very tired, when it comes to photographing, I forget that I’m tired.”

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