Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Forgotten Women - Madame d'Ora Part Two

Madame d’Ora - Part Two
Nicola McDonagh


In my previous post, you can view it here: I talked about Dora Kallmus, a forgotten pioneer in the world of early photography. Today I will continue her amazing story.  

Dora’s studio in Vienna, Atelier d’Ora, was an instant success and helped  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, 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. She turned 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 be involved in the fashion industry, 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 to 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.

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 from the accident meant that she lost most of her memories and could no longer use a camera. She died October 28, 1963 at the age of seventy-six.


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 field.


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

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

‘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, woman are getting stronger. They’ll be taking over everything.’

‘And making a better job of it too.’

‘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?’ Ralph narrowed his eyes and shook his head. ‘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.’

Thank you for reading my post. If you would like to know more about my work please visit my

All photos taken from Pinterest

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