Barbara Pflaum (1912 – 2002)
Austrian photographer and photojournalist
Barbara Pflaum (1912-2002) was an Austrian photographer and photojournalist, active in the 1950s until her retirement in 1977.
Born on 10th January 1912 into a wealthy family, Barbara was the youngest of six children. In 1934, she graduated from the School of Applied Arts in the Austrian Museum of Art and Industry, Vienna.
In the same year she married Peter Pflaum, an entrepreneur, with whom she had three children. The couple got divorced a few years into the marriage. Continuing her studies at the University of Applied Arts, Barbara eventually graduated with a degree in graphics.
A late entrant into the field of photography, Barbara was given her first camera, a Rolleiflex, by Austrian writer Herbert Tichy in 1952. This laid the foundations for her career in photography, both as a press photographer and as a commercial artist.
Often regarded as the “First Lady of press photography”, her oeuvre included “dynamic, idiosyncratic and highly effective” images of actors, singers, political events and everyday life. Her images often carried a ‘tongue-in-cheek’ element.
Barbara worked for the weekly newspaper Wochenpresse, taking photographs for the reportage, domestic and culture sections of the paper. She also authored several illustrated books including Wie ist Wien? (1961) and Die Wienerin (1965), as well as contributed to magazines including Theater heute and Die Bühne.
Barbara also exhibited her work, as part of solo and group exhibitions, between the 1950s and 1980s. She died in Vienna on 24th March 2002, aged 90, leaving behind an archive of more than 150,000 negatives.
Valerie Loudon, photographer and Barbara’s granddaughter, has commented:
“Photography is a driver of memory. No other medium is capable of bringing the past into the present as well or as precisely. But photography is more than mere documentation; its impact also depends on the photographer’s approach and perspective. Indeed, it is with her tangible presence that Barbara Pflaum succeeds in bringing back to life moments from history. At times criticised, her technical imprecision is in fact essential: it means that time and again [Barbara’s] pictures give viewers the arresting sense of having been present”.
Today, Barbara’s estate is held by the Austrian photo agency brandstaetter images. The first major retrospective of her work was held by the Wien Museum, Vienna, in 2006.
By Shyama Laxman