Saturday, August 28, 2010

Dorothy Bohm retrospective - Manchester

Went to see the Dorothy Bohm exhibition in Manchester last week.  Lovely way to spend an hour out of the rain. 

Dorothy came to England in 1939 to escape the Nazis and worked in a photographic studio. There was a shortage of photographic material during and after the war so Bohm only took four pictures of each sitter. Two as she imagined the subject would like to be seen and two as she saw them. Would be an interesting and extremely difficult project to attempt.  Unfortunately there were not multiple examples of her studio work to illustrate this statement.  She travelled extensively and settled in London raising a family.  In 1971 she co-founded the Photographers’ Gallery.

In her work, Bohm sought to “portray dignity and the harmonious relationships of people to their environment”.

Having seen the Manchester retrospective of her work, I think she certainly achieves this and I found it to be surprisingly inspiring.  The pictures are very gentle, appealing art shots.  Not often challenging or necessarily thought-provoking but that is fine for me.  Her head is turned by the kind of shapes and colours that draw my eye too and I loved what she describes as “indications of the human to complete the picture”. 

Many of the photographs in a way just seem like very good snapshots from someone’s travels.  She captures people and communities and built environments well – seemingly snapping at the scene before her without much intellectualising of the best composition or angle. Some of her urban shots (particularly of walls or buildings) are taken at angles that I would find too casual.  I would have wanted to square up more or to have walked around and try to find a ‘better’ shooting point (she may of course have done this and was in fact shooting from the best spot).

I liked the torn posters set but, when I tried to analyse response to this I found myself moving to the opinion of:  but what’s the point?  I often feel like this about my own work of course - even the better stuff.  Following my thought process on this, I should also say that pictures of posters, graffiti, street art or anything including sculptures or paintings are starting to leave me with an uneasy feeling that the image gets an immediate boost because it already includes some (usually good) art made by somebody else.  Surely this is cheating a little bit?

I am also fascinated by whether or not her images are very obviously taken by a woman.  They seem very feminine to me but, as a woman, it is difficult to be objective.  An interesting area to explore I think.

Some of the Bohm quotations on the walls at the gallery:  “I photograph the humble, the anonymous who are spontaneous and mirror all of us.”

“People everywhere live with the same joys, the same loves, terrors, tragedies. But it is a world of constant change… it is the evanescence that moves me – the vulnerability of human existence, happiness that passes, beauty that fades.”

“In the photograph the child remains forever a child; laughter remains.  The blossoming tree retains its blossom.  A woman picking flowers in the sunshine lives forever and in them, just a little, so do I.”

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