Seeing Daylight: The Photography of Dorothy Bohm
A retrospective on one of Britain's most accomplished street photographers
Dorothy Bohm is one of Britain’s finest street photographers, arriving in the UK in 1939 after fleeing Nazi persecution in Lithuania. At 92 she continues to take pictures, capturing moments in life with humanity and compassion. With contributions from friends and family, and reflections from Dorothy herself, this insightful documentary reflects her most important images and revisits the places that have shaped her unique view of the world.
Once in the UK a cousin of Dorothy’s father suggested that she studied photography in Manchester, and she was accepted at the young age of sixteen. By 1946, she would have her own studio. “I think the difference with her and other photographers is that she’s not just seeing the picture, she’s feeling the pictures and so that emotion comes out in the imagery,” says photographer Marissa Roth, “So you feel her pictures, you feel the passion in it, you feel the emotion, the pathos, the humour, the irony.”
Dorothy has lived through and documented immense changes in world history. It began by her return to the European mainland after the fall of Nazism. “The early pictures were mainly on the continent and the continent recovering from Hitler,” she recalls, “It was just the beginning of new life for these people.” Her photographs provide not only a window into a bygone era, but into the lives of the individuals that inhabited it. “If you want your subject to surrender something of themselves and reveal something, you in turn have to give of yourself, you have to make yourself open and vulnerable and not everybody can do that,” muses Roth, “I think Dorothy does that magnificently again because she is open, warm, passionate, emotional, honest.”
In 2010 a new exhibition brought Dorothy back to Manchester, where her photography, and her relationship with her lifelong love Louis Bohm, first blossomed. The Second World War had left its indelible mark on both of them. “We never spoke about the past, it was too sad. We lived in the present and he had a very optimistic streak in him, fortunately.” The couple had raised two children and were living in Hampstead by the time Louis passed away. Dorothy remembers overcoming her grief. “Photography helped me and I’ve done a lot and Louis, who encouraged me such a lot, never saw how much.”
Now within her ninth decade of life, Dorothy continues to take to the streets to document the people, the culture, and the humanity that inhabits them. Despite past occasions where she has suggested an end to her work, the camera always returns to her hand. “Photography’s in Dorothy’s bloodstream,” summarises writer and curator Colin Ford, “She will never give it up.”