Dorothy Bohm in conversation

14 Sep 2022

Regular hours

10:00 – 18:00

Free admission

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Somers Gallery

England, United Kingdom

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Dorothy Bohm in conversation with writer Amanda Hopkinson and curator Monica Bohm.


Meet legendary phoropgraphre Dorothy Bohm. 

Dorothy Bohm (née Dorothea Israelit) was born in 1924 in Königsberg, Germany (now Kaliningrad, Russia). In 1932 the family settled in Memel (now Klaipeda, Lithuania) to escape the rising threat of Nazism. In June 1939, her parents sent her to the safety of England, where she has lived ever since.

In 1940, Dorothy enrolled on a vocational photography course at Manchester College of Technology, and between 1942 and 1945 worked as an assistant at a leading portrait studio in that city. Following her marriage to fellow refugee Louis Bohm in late 1945, she established her own portrait studio - Studio Alexander - in central Manchester. In 1947 a visit to Ascona in the Ticino region of Switzerland prompted her to work outside the studio for the first time, and from then on she would travel extensively.

In 1954, the couple relocated to Paris for a year, and in 1956 paid an extended visit to the USA. It was then that Dorothy visited Mexico for the first time. On their return to England, they settled in Hampstead in north west London. Two years later Bohm decided to ‘give up her Manchester studio in order to concentrate exclusively on her deeply humanist and empathetic street photography.

Bohm’s first solo exhibition took place at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London in 1969. In 1971 she was closely involved with the founding in Covent Garden of the pioneering Photographers’ Gallery, and served as its Associate Director for the next fifteen years.

It was in the later 1970s, prompted partly by her friendship with photographer Manuel Álvarez Bravo, that she paid another visit to Mexico. She started working in colour in the early 1980s (although this was preceded in the mid-1950s by a small number of colour images taken in the USA and Mexico) and in the mid-1980s abandoned black and white photography completely.

The first book of Dorothy’s photographs was published in 1970, followed by over fifteen more. Her work has been exhibited widely, and is held in a number of public collections in the UK, including Tate, the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Museum of London and the National Portrait Gallery. A major retrospective was held at Manchester Art Gallery in 2010, and further exhibitions and publications have followed, consolidating her reputation as one of the doyennes of British photography. She was elected an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society in 2009. Now aged ninety-eight, she continues to be closely engaged with her photography.

Monica Bohm-Duchen is a London-based independent writer, lecturer, and curator. The institutions she has worked for include the Courtauld Institute of Art, Sotheby’s Institute of Art, Tate, the National Gallery, the Royal Academy of Arts and Birkbeck, University of London. She has been acting as the curator of her mother Dorothy Bohm’s photographic archive since the late 1990s.

Amanda Hopkinson has written widely on C19 and C20 photography, including monographs on Julia Margaret Cameron, Martín Chambi and the Mexican 'godfather of photography', Manuel Álvarez Bravo. She has also contributed texts to three of Dorothy Bohm's earlier books. Among the exhibitions she has curated are one from Mexico (Edinburgh), Brazil (The Barbican) and of work by Latin American women photographers (The Photographers Gallery) among others. For a period of years. she also had a regular column in The British Journal of Photography and The Independent newspaper, and has contributed to numerous academic and photographic publications and to BBC TV and radio programmes on photography.

In addition, she has spent the past 20 years as a professor of literary translation (University of East Anglia; City, University of London and is co-director of Bristol Translates, the literary translation summer school at the University of Bristol, and has translated over 40 books from Spanish, French and Portuguese.

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