Multifaceted oeuvre of photographer Maria Austria at the Jewish Historical Museum

On 26 January 2018, an exhibition opens at the Jewish Historical Museum with a survey of the work of the Amsterdam Jewish photographer Maria Austria, one of the Netherlands’ most important 20th-century photographers. Maria Austria: Living for Photography will present the first comprehensive picture of her large and diverse oeuvre, produced in the years 1930 to 1975. The Jewish aspects of her life and work will also be referred to, for instance with her series of photos of the abandoned and dilapidated Achterhuis, made in 1954.

Maria Austria (1915-1975) was best known as an innovative photographer of the experimental and avant-garde theatre of the 1960s and 1970s. What is less well known is that she also made countless social documentary photo-reportages on the reconstruction of the Netherlands in the post-war decades and that she also specialised in portraits.

Maria Austria’s photography encompassed a remarkable variety of subjects. She felt just as comfortable on the stage, documenting plays, ballets and operas, as she did around ordinary people in their homes or in factories. She focused on documenting history, in all its rich layers. Thanks to her wide-ranging interests, her work is now an inexhaustible visual source of the ways in which normal life was gradually rebuilt in the post-war Netherlands: socially as well as culturally and economically.

The common thread in this diverse oeuvre is the central place of individual human beings. Maria Austria was a photographer of people, and depicting their emotions and experiences was key to her work. She did this work with exceptional dedication, compassion, and love of her profession. She truly lived for photography.

The exhibition displays over 250 photographs (both vintage and new prints), as well as newspapers, magazines, books, and personal documents. It is based on the work of the AFdH publisher Martien Frijns, who spent years researching for his book Maria Austria, fotografe. This sizeable monograph will be published at the same time as the exhibition and runs to 768 pages, over 600 of which are filled with Austria’s photographs. Frijns discovered many unknown photos that have modified the existing public perception of Maria Austria.

The exhibition will be on view until 2 September 2018 and has been prepared in close cooperation with Martien Frijns, the Maria Austria Institute (MAI) in Amsterdam, and Helly Oestreicher. The MAI preserves, administers, and operates the archives of Maria Austria and those of many other well-known photographers.

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