Xerjoff Magazine

Madame d’Ora, First Woman Photographer of the Twentieth Century


Currently an exhibition celebrates the talents of the anti-conformist, liberal and innovative Madame d'Ora, first woman photographer of the twentieth century. She portrayed artists, writers and the glamour of the fashion world.

Dora Philippine Kallmus was born in Vienna in 1881 to a wealthy family of lawyers; she was an artist who in the course of her life was able to claim numerous records. In 1905 she was the to be admitted to theory courses at the Graphische Lehr- und Versuchsanstalt (Graphic Training Institute), the first woman photographer of the twentieth century and the first to establish her own photographic studio bearing her name.

Actually, to be more precise, she opened the studio under the pseudonym Madame d’Ora – a French name- perfect for the Viennese upper-class bourgeois and aristocratic environment of the early twentieth century.
Consequently, she became extremely popular among the Austro-Hungarian aristocracy, which immediately showed great interest in her unconventional photographic style, free from rules and discretion.

Madame d’Ora’s fame crossed the borders of Austria and reached Paris, a city that welcomed her with open arms when, during the 30’s and 40’s, she opened a studio and began her collaboration with major magazines (Officiel and Femina) and haute-couture maisons. Her atelier became a meeting point for the most popular people of the time, as evidenced by the portraits of Josephine Baker, Tamara de Lempicka, Alban Berg, Colette, Pablo Picasso, Maurice Chevalier, Marc Chagall, and the Rothschilds.

The Nazi occupying forces in Paris interrupted this effervescent creativity. Madame d’Ora closed her study and took refuge in a cloister in the countryside. This was the end of an era and the beginning of a catastrophic period for Europe. Currently, the intense professional history of this Women’s Emancipation heroine is re-evoked through a comprehensive retrospective of her works entitled “Madame d’Ora – Make me beautiful”. After the opening at the MKG in Hamburg, the exhibition will travel to the Leopold Museum in Vienna from July 13th to October 29th.