Women’s History Month: Hildegard Rosenthal

Photography, South America

NOTE: As March is Women’s History Month here in the United States, I thought I’d acknowledge this by highlighting a few female photographers from the past throughout the month.

Hildegard Rosenthal (1913 – 1990)

Hildegard Rosenthal arrived in Brazil in 1934 as a refugee from the Nazis. Although she was not Jewish herself, she had married a Jew, Walter Rosenthal. She soon found herself moving in important artistic circles and was persuaded to begin photographing her new home. During a span of nine years, 1938–47, Rosenthal took thousands of images of São Paulo before abandoning her undertaking in order to raise a family. Records show that it was not until 1974 that her photography was first shown, at the Universidade de São Paulo. Most commentators of her work have underscored her primary interest in photographing people in public spaces.

Self Portrait, circa 1938

Self Portrait, circa 1938

Hildegard Rosenthal is allegedly the first female to have worked as a photojournalist in Brazil. She was one of a generation of European photographers who immigrated at the time of World War II (1939-1945) and found work in the Brazilian press. One of the best-known images created by Rosenthal is that of the camarão, the tram that carried passengers in and out of the financial and commercial center of São Paulo.

São Paulo, circa 1940

São Paulo, circa 1940

While I’m not aware of any books on Rosenthal (at least not in English), there is a concise biography that can be found at the Itaú Cultural Encyclopaedia of the Visual Arts (where I borrowed some of the information for this post along with the two photos by Rosenthal). In addition, David William Foster’s essay “Downtown in São Paulo with Hildegard Rosenthal’s Camera” can be downloaded as a PDF here.

São Paulo, circa 1940

São Paulo, circa 1940

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