Debbie Robson's Reviews > Margaret Michaelis: Love, Loss and Photography

Margaret Michaelis by Helen Ennis
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it was amazing

I love books on photography. In the early 80s before I started writing seriously, I used to borrow photography book after photography book and look at an amazing amount of photos. I mistakenly thought this was just one of those books - a collections of photos with a brief bio of the photographer and maybe the odd detail about some of those photos. This book is so much more. It is a quest taking twenty years embarked upon by a curator of photography to understand the nature and personality of the photographer bequeathing photos to the National Gallery of Australia. She actually didn't bequeath them as such. Instead she told Ennis - "Take the photographs". Simple words that I found quite haunting as Ennis has been haunted by the need to understand this complex and often difficult woman who died soon afterwards.
Margaret Michaelis was born in Austria in 1902 into a Jewish family. She became a photographer quite young and worked at various studios in Vienna and Berlin. Her first husband was involved with the anarcho-syndicalist movement and both Grete as she was called then and her husband Rudolf were targeted by the new regime in Germany during the early 1930s. They fled Berlin in 1933 to settle in Spain. In Barcelona Michaelis took photographs for GATCPAC (Group of Spanish Architects and Technicians for the Progress of Contemporary Architecture). This organisation gave Michaelis's photographs a public profile in exhibitions and magazine issues.
I won't say too much more about Michaelis's life except that not surprisingly the Spanish Civil War had profound effects on both Margaret and Rudolf and utimately led to her arrival in Australia in 1939, effectively cutting her life in two. This is quite evident in her photographs which vary greatly. There are her early photos in Europe, her wonderful photos of the poor in the Barrio Chino and her architectural photos, as well as her Cracow photos. And then there are her captivating portraits taken in Australia. I particularly love her photos of dancers, the dancers themselves frequently expressing their belief that Michaelis was in tune with their craft and in many instances was able to capture exquisite photos of dancers in flight.
Through all this Ennis takes us on a very personal journey gradually tracking down information on Michaelis's life, visiting the places she used to live and finally coming to terms with what she has been able to discover about this consummate artist, all the while cataloguing and defining Michaelis's contribution to the art of photography. Highly recommended to all lovers of biography and the history of photography.
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Reading Progress

September 12, 2010 – Shelved
January 24, 2013 – Started Reading
January 24, 2013 –
page 33
February 18, 2013 –
page 90
February 23, 2013 –
page 130
February 25, 2013 –
page 172
February 28, 2013 – Finished Reading

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