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Margaret Michaelis: Love, Loss and Photography

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"Take the photographs," the elderly photographer Margaret Michaelis said in October 1985 to Helen Ennis, then a young curator from the National Gallery of Australia. Michaelis died a few days later and her archive was donated to the Gallery. Like many of her generation, Michaelis's life in Europe was dislocated by the rise of fascism and the outbreak of World War II, follo "Take the photographs," the elderly photographer Margaret Michaelis said in October 1985 to Helen Ennis, then a young curator from the National Gallery of Australia. Michaelis died a few days later and her archive was donated to the Gallery. Like many of her generation, Michaelis's life in Europe was dislocated by the rise of fascism and the outbreak of World War II, following which she suffered acute personal losses and challenges in finding a new path for her art and life in Australia. For Ennis, the injunction from Michaelis resulted in a journey through the hundreds of photographs in Michaelis's archive and to sites across the world in Vienna, Berlin, Barcelona, and Cracow. Crucial to the story are the dozens of love letters exchanged between Michaelis and her first husband, a prominent German anarchist imprisoned during the Spanish Civil War. Helen Ennis has approached the artistic legacy of Margaret Michaelis through a lucid and eloquent interweaving of her subject's professional and personal life. Helen Ennis is a senior lecturer at the Australian National University School of Art.


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"Take the photographs," the elderly photographer Margaret Michaelis said in October 1985 to Helen Ennis, then a young curator from the National Gallery of Australia. Michaelis died a few days later and her archive was donated to the Gallery. Like many of her generation, Michaelis's life in Europe was dislocated by the rise of fascism and the outbreak of World War II, follo "Take the photographs," the elderly photographer Margaret Michaelis said in October 1985 to Helen Ennis, then a young curator from the National Gallery of Australia. Michaelis died a few days later and her archive was donated to the Gallery. Like many of her generation, Michaelis's life in Europe was dislocated by the rise of fascism and the outbreak of World War II, following which she suffered acute personal losses and challenges in finding a new path for her art and life in Australia. For Ennis, the injunction from Michaelis resulted in a journey through the hundreds of photographs in Michaelis's archive and to sites across the world in Vienna, Berlin, Barcelona, and Cracow. Crucial to the story are the dozens of love letters exchanged between Michaelis and her first husband, a prominent German anarchist imprisoned during the Spanish Civil War. Helen Ennis has approached the artistic legacy of Margaret Michaelis through a lucid and eloquent interweaving of her subject's professional and personal life. Helen Ennis is a senior lecturer at the Australian National University School of Art.

10 review for Margaret Michaelis: Love, Loss and Photography

  1. 5 out of 5

    Debbie Robson

    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 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.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Catherine Davison

  3. 5 out of 5

    Deb

  4. 5 out of 5

    Sophie

  5. 5 out of 5

    Vicki

  6. 5 out of 5

    Erika Zerwes

  7. 4 out of 5

    Leona Thompson

  8. 5 out of 5

    Linda

  9. 5 out of 5

    Mandy

  10. 4 out of 5

    Del

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