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Margaret Gross Michaelis-Sachs

By 15th December 2022February 23rd, 2023No Comments

Margarethe (Margaret) Gross was born in 1902 into a Jewish family in Dzieditz, near Cracow, in what was then Austria (now Poland). Her liberal upbringing led her to studying photography at the Institute of Graphic Arts and Research in Vienna, followed by apprenticeships in some of the leading Viennese studios of the 1920s including the prestigious Studio dOra, where she worked in the New Photography style, advertising, and fashion.

She moved to Berlin in 1929 to set up her own studio, Foto-gross, but as Nazism took hold, she fled with her partner – the anarchist and anti-fascist Rudolf Michaelis – to Barcelona in 1933.

From 1934-37, she worked there with a group of modernist architects – the GATCPAC – who were committed to rebuilding and revitalising the Barrio Chino in old Barcelona. Margaret documented their work for their 1935 exhibition Nova Barcelona (New Barcelona).

Margaret’s street photography,  taken from rooftops, attic windows, and the floors of derelict buildings, appeared in modernist magazines along with her graphic photomontages. She captured a unique and compelling record of social change through her images of elite architectural projects and new urban planning, but also through her street photography which revealed the rarely seen poverty of 1930s Spain.

Margaret also worked for the Comisariat de propaganda (CNT-FAI) at the beginning of the Civil War, documenting the 1936 funeral of the leading Spanish anarchist Buenaventura Durriti and the visit of American anarchist Emma Goldman to the rural Spanish collectives. Her idealistic photographs were used on several postcards for the CNT-FAI before Kati Horna (1912-2000) took over as official photographer.

Fleeing Spain in 1937, Margaret briefly re-joined her family in Poland, documenting the vanishing Jewish Quarter of Cracow,  before fleeing to London in December 1938. She was eventually accepted for migration to Australia and arrived in Sydney in September 1939.

She opened her own photographic studio a year later and for the next twelve years Margaret was one of the few women photographers working in Sydney. She specialised in portraiture, advertising, and dance photography until her failing eyesight led to her retirement in 1952.

She kept her collection of early photographs hidden until her death in 1985, when her son discovered them and donated her extraordinary archive to the National Gallery of Australia. Her photographs of the Spanish Civil War, together with Kati Hornas, were kept safe in Spain and are now held in the Collection International Institute of Social History, IISH  Amsterdam.


By Paula Vellet