Dorothy Bohm has worked as a photographer for longer than the Rolling Stones have been on the road and just like them she is still at it. The exhibition Women In Focus at the Museum of London presents the output from Bohm training her lens on women around London. This is London in its guise as the avant-garde spots of the 1990s and noughties. Documentary style, Women In Focus takes you through more of a spectrum, and less of a metamorphosis, of womanhood in the cosmopolis. There are strong themes in Bohm’s images. She reveals the feminine obsession with preening, showing it cuts across cultures. Bohm’s photographs do a lot of sniffing at. One set of images viewed, side-by-side, take a light feather duster approach to the subject of the changing role of women in the capital. Another set, dab daintily at the theme of ‘women operating in a man’s world’.
Bohm’s images do a lot of hinting at. There is no slam-dunk on the social issues we have been lulled in, by the title, to come and engage with. There are a lot of moments but no Cartier Bressonesque ‘decisive moments’. She however, comes close to delivering a slam-dunk decisive moment. It is when she turns her lens on our society’s continued obsession with the sexualised female, that she achieves this. Camden High Street 1997 is the image that aims to do the trick. This image depicts the still primal exchange between men and women in our supposed civilised contemporary London. Interestingly there are two Camden High Street 1997s on display, both talking about the same thing. While one aims for the light touch approach the other aims for the knock out blow on the same subject. See the exhibition, compare the two same-titled and same subject images and you will, no doubt, see which is which.
We live in a world where the art is defined by the story. In many cases this is not necessarily the story the art on display is telling, but the story that surrounds the art. The story might have inspired the art but not necessarily so. The story itself is defined by or has to be seen to contain specific key references; usually a recognisable social issue or the focus on a specific demographic. It is on this premise that the exhibition Women In Focus might have been given its title. With this exhibition both the story and the key reference are obviously women. As a significant demographic, women are very much in focus at the moment. Witness, the issue of ‘women in the boardroom’, which currently keeps popping up now and again in mainstream media. Add to this the education of women, which has been brought into sharp focus by the Taliban attack on Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani blogger on the issue of education of girls. These and other current affair topics mean in essence Women In Focus is quite rightly a timely and relevant exhibition. The exhibition however raises questions, not about society but about itself like: what is it trying to say and could it be said more forcefully?
Women in Focus: Photography by Dorothy Bohm is at the Museum of London until 17 February 2013.
By Depo Olukotun
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