Make Me Look Beautiful, Madame d’Ora!
Curated by Monika Faber and Magdalena Vukovic
Leopold Museum, Vienna
13 July 2018 – 29 October 2018
As it happens, I came across the above photograph of Arthur Schnitzler – and one of Gustav Klimt too – in the Make Me Look Beautiful, Madame d’Ora! exhibition at the Leopold Museum over the Summer.
These were two of d’Ora’s society portraits, which included, as well, minor Hapsburg royalty. Also, d’Ora (real name: Dora Kallmus) did a lot of work for fashion magazines in Austria and Germany and later France, a country frequented throughout her career and later moved to (Dora Kallmus was Jewish). Whilst in Paris, d’Ora photographed Josephine Baker and, another big music star at the time, Maurice Chevalier. There is a smiling, older, seemingly genuinely happy Picasso here too.
Two photographic series stood out for me, struck me as being of particular importance. The first showed refugees in Salzburg in the late ’40s: these were ethnic Germans from Eastern Europe, perhaps participating in the ‘orderly and humane’ expulsion (ethnic cleansing by another name) that Churchill had promised at Potsdam: R.M. Douglas’s fine history charts the abysmal failure of this policy. Anyway, it is clear d’Ora, the Jewish photographer whose sister died in the Holocaust, shows palpable compassion towards these displaced Germans.
Then there is the second series of photographs, these the most disturbing images of all. From the late ’40s onward, actually well into the 1950s, d’Ora took a peek into Parisian slaughterhouses. We see here row upon row of animal carcasses. There are the severed heads of sheep and cattle amid sometimes gleaming hygienic surfaces, as in this example:
And elsewhere the machinery of butchery (and genocide) stands ready and waiting. All is inanimate, dead. An accompanying text suggests (and it is surely correct) that d’Ora used this project as a way of approaching or addressing the Holocaust, an event that we know had touched her personally. I wonder, though, whether d’Ora had read and been influenced by Georges Bataille’s famous essay on slaughterhouses or seen any of the photographs by Eli Lotar that inspired it.
Make Me Look Beautiful, Madame d’Ora!, an exhibition showing hundreds of photographs of this wonderful artist, is showing at the Leopold Museum until 29 October. It is a must-see. Details here.