Dorothy Bohm's fantastical and poetic colour photographs, on show at the Photographers' Gallery from Friday, provide a welcome opportunity to survey the work of a British photographer whose unsettled history has marked her work. Like Andre Kertesz, Brassai and Bill Brandt, Dorothy Bohm was forced to make her home in a country not her own, and so used her camera to embrace humanity and reflect a joy and affirmation of life.
A Lithuanian Jew, Bohm was nine years old when her family moved in 1933 from the historic East Prussian town of Konigsberg to Memel - where she studied German. In 1939 the Germans marched into Memel and her father sent herbrother and herself to study in England. 'I did not realise then that my life was to change completely,' she says.
When a cousin of her father suggested photography as a career, Bohm became apprenticed to the half-Czech, half-French photographer Germaine Kanova in Baker Street. In 1945 she started her own portrait studio. She returned to Europe in 1948, then travelled to the United States and Mexico where she took her first colour photograph in 1955.
Bohm's subject-matter is diverse. But she is drawn mainly to people. Circus performers, fairground attractions, shop windows, landscapes, architecture and market stalls are frequent subjects, as are mural paintings.
Clever use of lighting and strategic juxtaposition is her trademark. Witness the dappled light on the side of a building in Zurich, resembling the eerie incarnations of windows. Then examine Monte Carlo 1987 (right): a row of motorbikes parked against a mural depicting a fashion parade - light, colour and juxtaposition are in perfect harmony.
Bohm says she has always strived to imbue her work with a sense of mystery: 'It is a great insult when someone who likes one of my pictures says that I must have a very good camera to be able to achieve the result'.
In one image - of a fresco painted on the outside of a public building in Trento in Italy - Bohm describes how she'd spent days looking at the fresco. 'The weather had been dismal. One lunchtime the sun came out and lit up the building and I saw my picture.
'I always choose poetic, mysterious, transitional moments when the light is right,' Bohm explains. 'My personal photography was a labour of love. Always emotional, intuitive and unpremeditated. I always lived it intensely.'
7 Oct-19 Nov, The Photographers' Gallery, 5 Great Newport St, London WC2 (071-831 1772)
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