Manchester Art Gallery

A World Observed 1940 – 2010: Photographs by Dorothy Bohm

The first comprehensive retrospective to trace Dorothy Bohm’s exceptional photographic career, a career spanning six decades and several continents.

Manchester Art Gallery
Saturday 24 April 2010–Monday 30 August 2010

From vintage portraits through jewel-like Polaroids to colourful images of contemporary life, this absorbing exhibition featured over 200 original prints by the leading photographer.

Attendees could discover a wide array of aesthetically striking and deeply humane works that document people and landscapes in a rapidly changing world.

Plus, the exhibition provided an opportunity to explore a recreation of Dorothy’s 1940s portrait studio and (re)discover the fading art of film processing in our replica dark room.

Dorothy Bohm’s exceptional photographic career

Dorothy Bohm was born in Konigsberg, East Prussia (now Kaliningrad) in 1924, and has lived in England since 1939. She studied photography at Manchester College of Technology (graduating in 1942) and went on to work at Samuel Cooper portraiture studio, before opening her own studio, Studio Alexander, in Market Street, Manchester in 1946.

In the late 1940s, having successfully established her portraiture studio, Dorothy discovered a love for open air photography. She regularly spent time in the artists’ colony of Ascona in the Ticino, Switzerland where she developed her photographic techniques.

By the 1950s she had completely abandoned studio portraiture for ‘street photography’. She travelled widely with her husband Louis Bohm (a fellow émigré from Nazi Europe, whom she met when they were both students in Manchester). Her work of this period provides fascinating insights into the changing face of post-war Europe, as well as the USA, the USSR and Israel.

The first time Dorothy experimented with colour photography was in Mexico in 1956. But her first cohesive body of colour work didn’t happen until the early 1980s, when she explored the potential of Polaroid photography to memorable effect. A small section of the exhibition was devoted to this transitional period in her career.

It was in 1984, on a visit to the Far East, that Dorothy used Kodak colour film for the first time and thereafter abandoned black and white entirely.

Since then, although the human figure in its natural setting is still the primary focus of her work, her approach has become more painterly and allusive, with an ever greater interest in spatial and other forms of ambiguity.

To this day, however, Dorothy Bohm continues to use photography in its purest, unmanipulated form.

In addition to her work as a photographic artist, Dorothy Bohm was intimately involved with the founding of The Photographers’ Gallery, London in 1971, and was its Associate Director for fifteen years. Her exhibition Dorothy Bohm: Colour Photography 1984 – 94, held at the gallery in 1994, was one of its best-attended exhibitions ever. In 2009, Bohm was elected an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society.

This exhibition was curated by Dorothy Bohm’s daughter Monica Bohm-Duchen, freelance writer, lecturer and exhibition organiser, together with consultant Colin Ford, writer, broadcaster and founding Head (until 1993) of the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television (now the National Media Museum) in Bradford.

The show toured to The Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts in 2011.