Essay: Dorothy Bohm

  • MARK HAWORTH-BOOTH

     
    HONORARY RESEARCH FELLOW
    VICTORIA & ALBERT MUSEUM

     

    © Tessa Traeger

    The eminent curator of photographs and writer John Szarkowski once described photography as - essentially - an art of 'pointing'. We could also think of it as the 'art of noticing'. Photography is also, like every other medium, a means of sharing. We are not all equally gifted at noticing - while some seem to miss nothing, others are the opposite. As Don McCullin says, 'I'm always gleaning with my eyes'. The act of pointing is not neutral, of course: one can point enthusiastically, affectionately, ironically, with admiration, approval, condemnation or derision. Or to question what passes as normal. Getting to know an extensive body of work like Dorothy Bohm's enables a viewer to become familiar with her characteristic take on the world of appearances. Her favourite venue for photography is democratic - the streets and other public spaces we all inhabit. In general, she notices with pleasure, points with delight and shares with grace and generosity. However, on occasion - when, for example, the subject is the objectification of women in western mass culture - this photographer will observe critically and point, so to speak, pointedly. These photographs were not made with commercial intent on behalf of a brand, a tourist board or a political agenda. They were made in service of seeing. How greatly lockdown has sharpened our simple human appetite for looking at and making sense of the public realm we used to take for granted.

     

    Dorothy Bohm brings a cultivated eye to her viewfinder. She knows the history of photography well and has counted some of the most eminent street photographers as friends - most notably André Kertész and Manuel Alvarez Bravo. Her long experience of the medium has given her instinctive skill in composition and a subtle sense of tonality. Her intelligence and care for innocence embrace the natural world which is now so often at odds with what is presented as orderly civilization. Her photographs do not offer a rarefied or privileged view of the world. On the contrary, the viewpoint in these photographs is one that welcomes us all in. We feel that we too would have noticed that arrangement of forms - or tones or textures or colours or gestures - if we had walked that way at that time. It is doubtful, however, that we would have had the skill and technique to turn that moment of noticing into an image worth sharing.

     

    I am very glad that these images are being offered here and that a percentage from each sale will be donated to a cause special to my dear good friend Dorothy Bohm.

     

    MARK HAWORTH-BOOTH
    HONORARY RESEARCH FELLOW, VICTORIA AND ALBERT MUSEUM