Photographer Maria Austria may be more remembered as one of the most skilled theater photographers of the mid-20th century — but that's not all Maria accomplished with the camera. She was also a skilled social documentary photographer, providing a candid porthole into many of the social movements at play in her day. In the upcoming exhibition Maria Austria 1915 to 1975 opening on the 17 October at the Das Verborgene Museum in Berlin, this virtually unrecognized side of her life become a little less obscure.
Born into an artistic family, Austria's affinity for photography came naturally and she immediately undertook training at the Höhere Graphische Bundes und Lehr- Versuchanstalt. From there, she worked as an assistant to Viennese photographer Willinger and took shots of various avant-garde theater performances in 1934. Theater photography was her first specialization — taking portraits of dancers, actors, comedians, conductors, and directors of various large ballet companies such as the Holland Festival, the Dutch Operation Foundation, and the Concertgebouw Orchestra. However, she did not stay trapped inside the walls of theatre houses for long, eventually moving outside to documents the tales unfolding on the world's stage.
During the Second World War, Austria moved from Vienna to Amsterdam in 1937 and started her career as a documentary photographer. She started using the name Maria Austria and in 1945, building her own photo agency, Particam along with fellow photographers Aart Klein, Wilm Zilver Rupe, and her husband Henk Jonker. The group specialized in covering the reconstruction of Netherlands post-war, from ordinary people getting on with their daily lives to the rebirth of toppled industries. The key point of her photographs, however, were the emotions depicted on the faces of her subjects. This was how she became a figure in neorealist photography, a movement which follows the concepts of social realism. The museum talked to the magazine further about Austria's vision:
“Within photography, neo-realism developed throughout Europe, the idea of a better society, supported by humanity and compassion, of which Maria Austria's photographs of the 1950s also tell. Among scenes of life on the streets, in the cafes, in the markets and playgrounds, there is also the picture Amsterdam 1950 a typical motif of the Dutchman with his bicycle, a robust touring bike with an upright sitting position, which belongs to the identity of every Dutchman , After the Second World War, it became the symbol of liberation, as the German occupiers had confiscated the bicycles in 1944 and deliberately robbed the population of their mobility.”
Like the people working together to rebuild the city, Austria was as passionate and dedicated as a photographer of the people. Her oeuvre is now housed at the Maria Austria Institute, in collaboration with the Amsterdam City Archives. The display will be open until 10 March 2019.
Images are from the press kit.