Madame D’Ora (1881 – 1963)
The most famous of the Viennese pre-war photographers was Dora Kallmus, otherwise known as Madame d’Ora. The darling of the aristocracy and Viennese society, the charming Dora was born into a family of Jewish intellectuals in 1881.
She began an apprenticeship with the Berlin-based photographer Nicola Perscheid in 1906 and was the first woman photographer in Vienna to open her own studio in 1909.
Since Dora was barred from receiving technical training in photography, she was assisted by her business partner Arthur Benda who did all the darkroom work while Dora did the lighting, posing and marketing.
In 1916, she photographed the coronation of Emperor Charles I of Austria and the great and good flocked to her door. D’Ora moved to Paris in 1925, at the invitation of fashion industry magazine L’Officiel.
Capitalising on the transition of fashion magazines from illustration to photography, she catalogued all the Paris collections and her work appeared in Vogue Paris, Tatler and Vanity Fair.
When the Nazis seized control of Paris in 1940, she was forced to close her studio. Dora spent the war years hiding in Ardeche and most of her family perished in the Chelmno concentration camp.
Her post-war work reflected these tragedies, with a series on displaced persons for the UN and personal studies of the slaughterhouses of Paris. Her work became dark and thoughtful, a brooding Colette in 1954 to an aging Pablo Picasso in 1956, one of her final photos.
Much of her archive is held in Nachlass Madame d’Ora, Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg and in the Ullstein Bild collection.
By Paula Vellet