For more than seven decades, the click of a camera shutter was the soundtrack to Dorothy Bohm’s life.
She was a teenager in Lithuania when her father gave her a Leica as she boarded a train to flee the Nazis. She studied photography in Manchester, England, after the Blitzkrieg drove her from London. Her camera was a steadfast companion when she traveled the world, chronicling her travels and the people she saw with an empathetic eye. And as her renown as a photographer grew, she switched to color film and experimented with bold new styles.
Mrs. Bohm created a vast body of photographs, in the process becoming a grande dame of the art form, before she died at 98 on March 15 at a care facility in Northwest London. Her daughter Monica Bohm-Duchen confirmed the death.
Mrs. Bohm began as a portraitist, but her photography blossomed when she left the studio. She branched out to make black-and-white landscapes and street photographs that documented life in cities like London and Paris; colorful abstract compositions; and still lifes.
There was a permanence to photography that Mrs. Bohm, whose life was uprooted repeatedly, found appealing.
“A photograph fulfills my deep need to stop things from disappearing,” she told The Times of Israel in 2016.
Her photographs have appeared in more than a dozen books and more than two dozen exhibitions:
A streetlamp casts a filigreed shadow in a beam of sunlight slanting into a deserted alley.
A sturdy woman selling flowers seems to rise out of a cloud of petals in front of a striped umbrella propped on its side.
Israeli and Palestinian children play on a sun-drenched street, laughing into the lens.
A woman and a child stare down at a small dog in a starkly-lit courtyard as Mrs. Bohm’s camera stares down at them.
Regardless of the subject, warmth suffused much of her work.
“Dorothy Bohm knows her camera not only sees, it feels,” wrote Roland Penrose, an English artist and historian, in the introduction to her first book, “A World Observed” (1970).
Mrs. Bohm wanted those feelings to be positive. As she said in 2016: “I’ve seen a lot. But I don’t show the ugliness of life; I try to show the good.”
Dorothea Israelit was born on June 22, 1924, to Tobias and Ethel (Meirovich) Israelit in Koenigsberg, East Prussia (now Kaliningrad, Russia). Her mother was a homemaker, and her father was a successful textile industrialist.
After a privileged childhood, the Israelit family, who were Jewish, moved to Lithuania in 1932, where Mr. Israelit had business interests. In June 1939, with the rise of Nazi Germany and its persecution of Jews, her father sent Dorothy to a boarding school in England for her safety.
When she said farewell to her parents, her father handed her his Leica and said, “It might be useful to you,” she recalled in 2016. She made it to England but would not see her parents again for more than 20 years.
Dorothy was attending a boarding school in Ditchling, a village in East Sussex, in the south of England, when a relative there suggested that she try photography. After interviewing with the London studio photographer Germaine Kanova, she was hired to be her assistant.
But with London being bombed in the Blitz, beginning in September 1940, Ms. Kanova was forced to close her studio, and Dorothy moved north to Manchester. In 1942, in the midst of war, she graduated from a photography program at the Manchester College of Technology (now the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology).
While in Manchester she met Louis Bohm, a Polish Jewish refugee whose mother and sister had died in the Warsaw Ghetto. They married in 1945, and Mrs. Bohm insisted that he complete his studies for a chemistry Ph.D. while she worked. She opened a portrait studio in Manchester, called Studio Alexander, in 1946.
By the late 1940s, Dr. Bohm was working for a petrochemical company and traveling frequently. Mrs. Bohm, carrying her Rolleiflex camera, accompanied him on trips to Israel, Mexico, Russia, Egypt, Portugal, Italy and Switzerland, at first producing black-and-white, usually plein-air, photographs.
The couple lived in Paris, New York City and San Francisco before settling in London’s Hampstead neighborhood, where Mrs. Bohm lived until her death.
In the late 1950s, Mrs. Bohm learned from the Red Cross that her parents and sister Dina had survived the war but, by then living in Soviet-controlled territory, had all been deported to Siberian labor camps as capitalist enemies of the Kremlin and had spent years there before being released. They were living in Riga, then part of the Soviet Union and now the capital of Latvia, when Mrs. Bohm visited them for a reunion in 1960.
Three years later, Mrs. Bohm’s parents obtained permission to go to England. Her younger sister, Dina, moved to Israel in the early 1970s.
Mrs. Bohm’s first show of her photographs was held in 1969 at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London.
Beginning in 1971, she became associate director of the Photographers’ Gallery, one of London’s first galleries devoted solely to photography. It had been founded that year by Sue Davies. Mrs. Bohm spent 15 years at the gallery in that role, nurturing up-and-coming photographers like Martin Parr and Marketa Luskacova and working with stars like Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Bill Brandt and André Kertész.
Impressed by Polaroid photos shot by Mr. Kertész, Mrs. Bohm worked with Polaroids in the early 1980s and switched to color film exclusively in 1984. Her color work included abstract images of torn posters, reflections of store displays in puddles and mannequins leaning in storefronts. Her photographs of Hong Kong and Japan were all shot in color.
Dr. Bohm died in 1994. In addition to her daughter Monica, she is survived by another daughter, Yvonne Nicholas; four grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
Mrs. Bohm’s other books include “A World Observed 1940-2010: Photographs by Dorothy Bohm” (2010) and “About Women: Photographs by Dorothy Bohm” (2015). She was the subject of two documentaries, one for the BBC titled “Dorothy Bohm — Photographer” (1980) and “Seeing Daylight: The Photography of Dorothy Bohm” (2018).
By 2018, Mrs. Bohm had stopped making photographs but, as she told The Guardian, the visual world still brought her joy.
“From my bedroom there’s a wonderful view, as beautiful as any in the Mediterranean,” she said.
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