Due to the newly opened exhibition Women in Focus: Photographs by Dorothy Bohm, I went to an event organised by The Museum of London featuring the British photographer Dorothy Bohm talking about her life and career in company with her daughter, art historian Monica Bohm-Duchen.

Dorothy Bohm, 18 years old.

Dorothy Bohm was born in 1924 in East Prussia. She moved to England in 1939 as her father was able to send her to a boarding school, allowing her to escape from the Nazis. She graduated from Manchester College of Technology where she studied photography and met her future husband. The main reason to study photography was not because she hoped to become an artist, but simply because she wanted something she could make a decent living from. After graduating she got a job in a portrait studio in Manchester, developing her reputation as a portrait photographer and four years later, in 1946, she decided to set up her own portrait studio in Manchester.

A portrait taken by Dorothy Bohm
Portraits by Dorothy Bohm

Dorothy’s portrait studio secured her a stable income which made her able to support her husband’s final years of study, and after he graduated he got a job in a petrochemical company that obliged him to move around the world. They travelled all over the world together, and have lived in both Paris, New York and San Francisco. In the late 1950s, Dorothy decided to abandon studio portraiture in favour of “street photography” and she sold her studio in Manchester.

Israel 1956, by Dorothy Bohm
Brussels, Belgium 1949, by Dorothy Bohm
Stockholm, Sweden 1967, by Dorothy Bohm
South Africa 1974, by Dorothy Bohm

This was the first time she was “free” to take photographs solely with an artistic purpose. Her photographs were mainly shot in black and white, but in 1980 she was persuaded by the fellow photographer André Kertész to experiment with colour, which she did for a few years, and from 1985 she worked exclusively in colour film.

Provence, France 1992, by Dorothy Bohm
Venice 1987, by Dorothy Bohm
London 1990s, by Dorothy Bohm
Paris 1988, by Dorothy Bohm

Today, Dorothy’s work has been shown in numerous exhibitions, both in the UK and abroad. Fourteen books of her work have been published and she is still photographing. It is her way of collecting memories.

“I have spent my lifetime 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

See Dorothy talking about her career in this video made by The Tate Gallery:


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