AN exhibition of black and white photographs depicting Sussex life during the 1960s and 1970s by one of Britain’s most respected photographers is on show at a Chichester art gallery.
Dorothy Bohm (b. 1924), who is particularly well known for her photographs of London, Paris and New York, reveals her personal connections to the county of Sussex in the photographs, a body of work that has not previously been exhibited as a focused display.
The group of images, all taken on a Rolleiflex, provide a candid and often humorous window on a bygone era of Sussex life, whilst offering a resounding sense of familiarity: people devour ice-cream on Brighton seafront, sunbathe on Worthing beach, watch the polo at Cowdray and the motor-racing at Goodwood and picnic at a Horsham steam fair. Atmospheric landscapes, taken on and near the family’s working farm at Coneyhurst, Billingshurst, offer poetic but recognisable views of the South Downs.
Dorothy’s strong attachment to Sussex started in 1939 when she arrived in England from Nazi Europe aged 14. After a short stint at a school for Jewish children in Hove, she was sent to North End House School in Ditchling, where she learnt enough English to matriculate in just one year. Born in Königsberg, East Prussia (now Kaliningrad, Russia) into an assimilated Jewish family in 1924, she lived in Lithuania from 1932 to 1939. In June of that year, as the threat of Nazism became acute, Bohm was sent to England; on boarding the train, her father gave her his Leica camera, telling her “this might come in useful some day”. It was 20 years until she saw her parents and baby sister again, after they survived Soviet labour camps in Siberia.
A year later, having followed her brother to Manchester and enrolled to study photography at Manchester College of Technology, Dorothy met her future husband, fellow émigré Louis Bohm. Their shared liberal views of married life enabled her career in photography to evolve. Early on, she opened her portrait studio – Studio Alexander – in Market Street, Manchester, which supported the young couple while Louis finished his doctorate. From the 1950s onwards, their extensive travels abroad led to her abandoning studio portraiture altogether for the ‘street photography’ for which she has become celebrated.
In 1966, the Bohm family bought a farm at Coneyhurst in Billingshurst which they owned for over 20 years – it was during this time that Dorothy’s fondness for Sussex deepened. The photographs represent a very personal interpretation of a county in which she spent a great deal of time and yet never felt entirely at home in – a position that has permeated much of her photography and allowed her to notice often amusing everyday details which others may not see.
Dorothy’s photographs capture what her good friend and contemporary, the Hungarian-born photographer André Kertész, called “little happenings” – split second moments of ordinary people going about their business. Dorothy feels that being a woman has always been a great advantage, allowing her to melt into the background and put her subjects at ease. Despite, or perhaps because of, her early exposure to the very worst of human nature, Dorothy works on the belief that all humans have something beautiful within them and wants to bring that out in her photographs.
A key figure in the history of photography, Dorothy’s friends and contemporaries included Bill Brandt, André Kertész, Brassaï and Henri Cartier-Bresson. Involved in the founding of The Photographers’ Gallery in London, Dorothy was its Associate Director for 15 years, where she championed emerging talent, including that of the photographer Martin Parr. Dorothy is part of a larger history of women who have contributed to photography in innumerable ways, from early pioneers such as Constance Fox Talbot and Julia Margaret Cameron to photojournalist Dorothea Lange and Cindy Sherman.
This distinctive body of work is unusual within Dorothy’s oeuvre for being so rooted in her personal family life. Yet what it holds in common with all her photography – whether black and white or colour, in any of the locations she has visited around the world – is its unerring ability to capture the spirit of a time and a place.
Sussex Days: Photographs by Dorothy Bohm is on display in the De’Longhi Print Room at Pallant House Gallery 9 North Pallant, Chichester, until September 2. Entry is free. Phone 01243 774557 or visit pallant.org.uk.
Above: Dorothy Bohm, Worthing, Sussex, 1970s, silver gelatin print on paper © Dorothy Bohm Archive
Above: Dorothy Bohm, Self-portrait age 18, 1942, silver gelatin print on paper © Dorothy Bohm Archive
Below: Dorothy Bohm, Hove Lawns, Brighton & Hove, 1960s, silver gelatin print on paper © Dorothy Bohm Archive
Above: Dorothy Bohm, Brighton, Sussex, 1971, silver gelatin print on paper © Dorothy Bohm Archive
Below: Dorothy Bohm, Three Women, Sussex, 1966, silver gelatin print on paper © Dorothy Bohm Archive
Above: Dorothy Bohm, Cattle Market, Haywards Heath, Sussex, 1970s, silver gelatin print on paper © Dorothy Bohm Archive
Below: Dorothy Bohm, Goodwood Races, Sussex, 1970s, silver gelatin print on paper © Dorothy Bohm Archive
Above: Dorothy Bohm, Coneyhurst Farm, Billingshurst, Sussex, 1970s, silver gelatin print on paper © Dorothy Bohm Archive
Above: Dorothy Bohm, Sussex beach, 1970s, silver gelatin print on paper © Dorothy Bohm Archive
Above: Dorothy Bohm, Point to Point Race, Sussex (possibly Parham), 1970s, silver gelatin print on paper © Dorothy Bohm Archive
Above: Dorothy Bohm, The Horsham Steam In, Horsham, 1970s, silver gelatin print on paper © Dorothy Bohm Archive
Above: Dorothy Bohm, The Horsham Steam In Fair, Horsham, 1972, silver gelatin print on paper © Dorothy Bohm Archive
Above: Dorothy Bohm, Sussex, 1972, silver gelatin print on paper © Dorothy Bohm Archive
Above: Dorothy Bohm, Point to Point Race, Sussex (possibly Parham), 1972, silver gelatin print on paper© Dorothy Bohm Archive