Forgotten Women Madam d’Ora- Part Two

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In my previous post, I talked about Dora Kallmus a forgotten pioneer in the world of early photography. In the late nineteenth, early twentieth century Dora broke all the rules in composition and subject matter. Her vibrant, often risqué poses earned her celebrity status, and she soon became the toast of Vienna and much of Europe.

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Yet who has heard of Dora Kallmus?

You can read part one Forgotten Women Madam d’Ora here: https://nicolajmcdonagh.wordpress.com/2019/03/08/forgotten-women-madam-dora-part-one/

Today I will be continuing her amazing story.

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Dora’s studio in Vienna, Atelier d’Ora, was an instant success and helped her to secure her position as The Photographer of a new millennium. Her daring poses and unusual subjects, such as exotic dancers and revealing self portraits, gained her a reputation for taking risks. Exactly what her famous clients craved.

But Dora was ambitious and wanted to attract a wider clientele. So in 1925 she and her assistant Arthur Benda opened a studio in Paris. Although it was a success, Benda preferred his life in Vienna and returned, taking over her studio and renaming it d’Ora-Benda-Wien. His actions caused a rift between them and they never spoke again.

Loosing her technical assistant did not deter Dora and she carried on with her fashion photography and portraits of stars in theatre and the silver screen. But things were about to change for Madame d’Ora. Firstly, when the National Socialists gained power in Germany in 1933. Unfortunately for Dora, the fashion industry collapsed and magazines that featured her photographs were reprimanded for doing so and she was no longer able to show her work in this way.

Second was the German invasion of France in 1940. Dora, despite converting to Christianity, was still a Jew and was forced to sell her Parisian studio. For much of the second world war, Dora went into hiding in such places as a cloister in La Lanvese, southern France and even on a farm. Finally relocating to Austria in 1945. Although Dora survived the rest of her family were not so fortunate and were killed in the holocaust.

The tragedy of the war weighed heavily upon Dora. Her photography changed drastically and she began to turn her talents to photographing the horrors of the aftermath of survivors from concentration camps.

She began a series of documentary photographs capturing the misery of refugees fleeing to Austria. Dora continued to take fashion photographs, but her interests seemed to switch from glamorous photo shoots to dark representations of the horrors of the casualties of war and oppression.

 

Her disturbing series of images from 1950-58 when she was now in her seventies, captures the gruesome and terrifying plight of animals sent to slaughter. She vividly captures the brutality of the slaughterhouses in Paris and in doing so the inhumanity of her fellow man. Perhaps a reflection of what she saw in the concentration camps a decade earlier.

Please visit my Pinterest site to view Dora’s photographs taken in the Parisian abbatoir. I chose not to put them here as some people may find the images too distressing.

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When Dora was knocked down by a motorcycle in 1959 she returned to her family home in Frohnleiten Austria, that had been sold under the Nazi rule but then returned to her.Her injuries form the accident meant that she lost most of her memories and could no longer take photographs. She died October 28 1963 at the age of seventy-six.

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Dora Kallmus’s legacy lives on in her outstanding photographic works of art. She was a pioneer in the field of photography and should be remembered for her daring and unique style that brought her fame, fortune, and a passion for pushing the boundaries of the photographic image that influenced many future practitioners in the art.

In fact, I liked Dora so much that she is now a character in my new historical crime mystery book set in Vienna 1899, titled Black Danube. Here is a snippet that includes my interpretation of a what a young and eager Dora Kallmus might have been like:

Ralph coughed. ‘No, you don’t. I won’t let you muscle in on another project. You know, Herr Katz, Dora here started a week ago and already wormed her way into Herr Hoffman’s affection. Fluttering those long lashes, pouting that plump mouth, she now assists him taking portraits of some of his best clients. I used to do that. Now, I stay out here, whilst she…’

She, is clearly the better photographer, that is why Conrad chose me over you.’

‘So, it is Conrad, now?’

I tapped the counter. ‘If you have quite finished your argument? May I have what you have slaved over?’

Ralph sighed. ‘Apologies. She irritates me that is all.’

Dora snorted. ‘Afraid of a little competition, well, you won’t get far.’

‘Oh, you see what I have to put with?’

‘I do indeed. Get used to it Ralph, women are getting stronger. They’ll be taking over everything.’

‘And making a better job of it.’

‘Well said, Dora.’

‘Herr Katz, solidarity, please.’

Dora grinned. ‘I like you Herr Katz. Finally, a man who isn’t afraid of  a strong woman.’

‘Even though she is young and precocious? She wears the most expensive silk gowns and doesn’t care if she spills chemicals on them because she is rich enough to buy another? I swear she’ll be the owner of this place in a couple of years.’

‘This place?’ Dora laughed. ‘Not good enough. I intend to open my own studio. Bigger and better than this male orientated stiff-necked, old-fashioned emporium.’

 

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Forgotten Women Madam d’Ora – Part One

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To celebrate International Women’s Day, I thought I’d post this story about an amazing pioneering female photographer that history has forgot.

In my new book, an Historical Crime Thriller set in Vienna 1899, my protagonist, Leo Katz, is a photographer. Whilst researching photographers from that period, I was delighted to discover that women were emerging as professionals in this field.

One woman caught my attention, Dora Kallmus. She was extremely influential in changing the way people posed for their picture. Dora’s unique style helped to popularise the celebrity portrait, and her fashion photography broke all the rules. Yet, History has chosen to forget her.

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Born in 1881 to a wealthy Jewish family in Vienna, Dora was clearly a headstrong young woman and knew what she wanted to do. She befriended the son of the painter Hans Makart, and whilst assisting him in his studio, she discovered the wonders of photography.

In 1905, she became the first woman allowed to study theory at the city’s Graphic Training Centre,  GraphischenLehr-und Versuchsanstalt, and in the same year was accepted as a member of the Association of Austrian Photographers. Two years later she finished an apprenticeship with Nicola Perscheid, where she learned her craft.

Although she was not allowed to do the technical training, because she was a woman, that did not stop her opening her own studio in Vienna in 1907. She brought a fellow student of Nicola Pesrcheid with her, Arthur Benda, who would remain her technical assistant throughout her early career.

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Her studio Atelier d’Ora, became a sensation, and along with Arthur Benda, Madame d’Ora’s shop was the place to go for the fashionable and cultural elite of Vienna. Her new approach to photographing a subject, natural, relaxed poses rather than the stiff, grim images people were used to, made her photographs sought after. The artist, Gustav Klimt and his muse Emilie Flöge, being some of her most famous clients.

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Dora’s Middle Class Jewish background aided her in attracting customers. Her father, Doctor Phillipp Kalmus, a respected lawyer, brought clients from the civil service, government, and the banking world. With such a notorious profile, Dora landed the job of photographing the coronation of Kaiser Karl, King of Hungary. Now she was in demand by royalty and members of the Imperial family who visited her studio to have their portrait taken.

But it was through her cousin, the acclaimed actress Rosa Bertens, that Dora broke into what was to become her trademark work. Photographing the rich and famous throughout the theatre, music, fashion and art worlds.

News of her avant-garde work spread, and customers flocked to her doors. Now everyone wanted to be photographed by Madame d’Ora, whose unorthodox compositions were the talk of the town. Attracting famous dancers such as Anna Pavlova, Josephine Baker, and, Mary Wigman. Writers such as Arthur Schnitzler, artists, Gustav Klimt, actors, Maurice Chevalier, musicians, Pablo Casals and the composer, Albern Berg.

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Her keen interest in fashion photography inspired her to change the way the industry presented their clothes. She created new ways to portray models, and her fresh ideas were soon snapped up by many lifestyle periodicals such as Die, Madame, and Officiel de la Couture et de la Mode.

Madame d’Ora became Coco Channels first choice to capture her new creations in all of their glory. All this when she was still under thirty years of age.

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In Part Two, I will focus on Dora’s later career and how she developed not only as a portrait photographer to the stars, but how the traumas of the second world war developed her career as a documentary photographer.
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