Three quarters of the photo studios in Vienna before 1938 were run by Jewish women. The exhibition “Vienna’s Shooting Girls—Jewish Women Photographers in Vienna” looks at the reasons and sheds light on a great chapter in the history of Jewish women in Vienna. A selection of works by some forty Jewish women photographers offers a representative picture of the history of Austrian photography in the first decades of the twentieth century.

Browsing the illustrated magazines and revues of the First Republic, the reader might gain the impression that Vienna at this time was a city of women—and Jewish women in particular. Jewish photographers had a strong influence on life in the city. High-end portrait photography was dominated by women, mostly from liberal Jewish families. Higher education and vocational training have a long tradition in Judaism, and a career was of increasing importance for women. Photography was a very attractive profession for them because it did not require academic qualifications, which were still very difficult to acquire at the time. It offered a realistic chance of success and also of serious artistic recognition. Photo studios could even be run from home, with the equipment being the only significant investment required.

Dora Kallmus was one of the first Viennese women in the twentieth century to recognize the potential of photography as a career opportunity for women. Under the pseudonym Madame d’Ora she created her own unmistakable style and exported it successfully from Vienna to Paris. Austria’s women photographers were at the forefront of fashion and portrait photography in particular. Their progress came to an abrupt end following the emigration of most of them after the annexation of Austria by the Nazis and the inability in a lot of cases to pursue their careers in exile.

The exhibition at the Jewish Museum Vienna follows the steps of the photographers in exile and the arbitrary end of this era for Vienna but also recalls how it was continued in other countries and continents. It features works not only by Madame d’Ora or Trude Fleischmann, but also by less well-known women like Edith Tudor Hart, Hilde Zipper-Strnad, or Claire Beck.

The exhibition runs through March 3, 2013.