This summer Pallant House Gallery presents one of Britain’s most respected photographers, Dorothy Bohm (b. 1924), revealing her personal connections to the county of Sussex. Highly regarded for her work, Bohm is particularly well-known for her photographs of London, Paris and New York. This exhibition presents a series of black and white photographs depicting Sussex life during the 1960s and 1970s – a body of work that has not previously been exhibited as a focused display.
Sussex Days: Photographs by Dorothy Bohm
23 May – 2 September 2018
De’Longhi Print Room, Free admission
This 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.
Bohm'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, Bohm 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 Bohm'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.
Bohm'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. Bohm 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, Bohm 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, Bohm‘s friends and contemporaries included Bill Brandt, André Kertész, Brassaï and Henri Cartier-Bresson. Involved in the founding of The Photographers' Gallery in London, Bohm was its Associate Director for 15 years, where she championed emerging talent, including that of the photographer Martin Parr. Bohm 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 Bohm'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' will be on display in the De'Longhi Print Room at Pallant House Gallery from 23 May until 2 September 2018. Entry to the exhibition is free.