A woman of courage and creativity. An exhibition at the Jewish Museum showcases the work of photographer Maria Austria (1915-1975): her first solo exhibition in the country she shares her name with.
- Renowned documentary, portrait and theatre photographer
- Also worked for the resistance in WWII
- Exhibition covers a lifetime of photos
- Runs June 21, 2023 – Jan 14, 2024
- Book Jewish Museum tickets* online
- See also:
A photographer in exile
(Exhibition view; press photo © David Bohmann)
Maria Austria was born as Marie Oestreicher into a German-speaking Jewish family in Karlovy Vary (then part of the Austria-Hungary empire) in 1915 and trained in photography in Vienna. She left for the Netherlands in 1937 to join her sister.
That departure echoed the stories of so many of the time: human talent and potential leaving teh country due to the growing anti-semitism that would soon lead to the unimaginable horrors of the Shoah.
After WWII (part of which she spent in hiding working for the resistance), Austria built a long, successful and influential career “in exile” in her adopted country as a documentary photographer with an eye for realism and social commentary.
Austria also enjoyed lasting influence as a portrait and theater photographer. Her impact was such that prestigious institutions like New York’s Museum of Modern Art exhibited her work (in 1953’s Postwar European Photography) and such locations as Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum own photos by her.
(Stairs leading to the hiding place. Anne Frank House, Amsterdam, 1954; press photo © Maria Austria / Maria Austria Institute, Amsterdam)
Given the above, a solo exhibition for Austria’s work seems long overdue in the country she once called home. Step forward the Jewish Museum with Focus! Click! Maria Austria – Photographer in Exile.
The exhibition takes us through the full gamut of Austria’s photographic work, beginning with her freelance efforts in 1930s Vienna through to the final years as, for example, in-house photographer of Amsterdam’s Mickery Theatre.
Austria’s preferred subjects and the genesis of her style become apparent in that early work. For example, a photo of workers at a tar-making machine in Karlovy Vary hint at a feel for social realism.
The modern approach to composition and strong use of light and dark would evolve into a love of contrast that becomes particularly notable in the theatre photos from the end of her career.
(Ellen Edinoff in Cantos. Mickery Theater, Amsterdam 1972; press photo © Helly Oestreicher)
Apart from the demonstration of talent and an artistic evolution, the exhibition also includes numerous photos that simply offer an intriguing sojourn through time and topics. For example:
- A photo of marching German soldiers in Amsterdam taken secretly from Austria’s hiding place in 1944
- Various photos from the 1954 Het Achterhuis series covering Anne Frank’s hiding place
These perhaps represent Austria’s most resonant work: photos of places mentioned in Anne Frank’s diary on behalf of a planned US stage production. (We also see photos of the filming of the 1959 movie The Diary of Anne Frank.)
- Shots of life in Amsterdam immediately after the war. Or 1960 Vienna. Or 1965 Israel
I confess an instant love for the 1950 photo Street Scene with a Cow. A cow who clearly refuses to conform to expectations.
- Numerous portraits, including such international personalities as Peter Ustinov (1948), Leonard Bernstein (1950), Josephine Baker (1970) and even Oskar Kokoschka (snapped by chance in Salzburg in 1955)
The exhibition ends with photos of plays and other performances; photos that revolutionised Dutch theatrical photography.
Here, Austria’s photos veer into art as she avoids the traditional static capture of scenes in favour of movement, contrast and experiments with focus.
And that final section has a surprise photo bonus for fans of Dr Who or The Hobbit films, too: An Evening with Sylvester McCoy taken in 1971 at the Mickey Theatre.
Dates, tickets & tips
Go on a photographic and historical journey with Maria Austria from June 21st, 2023 to January 14th, 2024. An entrance ticket from or for the Jewish Museum includes this special exhibition.
(Booking service provided by Tiqets.com*, who I am an affiliate of)
The dates intersect with two other solo exhibitions at the Albertina Museum with considerable photographic work on display: VALIE EXPORT (June 23rd to October 1st) and Joel Sternfeld (late September to late January). And September normally sees a special World Press Photo exhibition move into the Westlicht gallery and camera museum.
How to get there
Follow the travel tips for the main Dorotheergasse site on the Jewish Museum overview page. Find the photos in the special exhibition gallery space up one floor from the entrance.
Address: Dorotheergasse 11, 1010 Vienna