“For Nell Dorr, life itself is the work of art, photography, the means of revealing life.”

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Nell DorrRosa- Alone with the sea, 1929 (28.1982)

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Nell DorrMother and child, 1940 (33a.1982)

Nell Dorr was immersed in the field of photography from a young age by her father Jon Jacob Becker, who ran a large portrait studio in Cleveland. It was not until 1923, when she moved to Florida with her husband and three daughters that Nell Dorr founded her own studio. She focused on her personal work and had a strong interest in photo murals, which she presented in a one-person show at Merle Sterner Gallery in New York in 1932. In New York, where she had moved to that same year, Dorr met photographers such as Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen and became fully involved with the pictorial views of photography. Several years later her work was included in Steichen’s significant exhibition The Family of Man at The Museum of Modern Art.
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Nell DorrNude, ca. 1939 (26.1982)
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Nell DorrLillian Gish, 1908 (24.1982)

The death of her youngest daughter in 1954 brought for Dorr a focus on the relationship of mother and daughter. The publication Mother and Child, which she published that same year, reveals the deep connection between mother and child and Dorr’s talent of capturing the unspoken bond of that love. As Margaretta Mitchel phrased it in 1981She is a story teller. The photography of Nell Dorr is an impressionistic journal of a woman’s inner journey, of her many aspects and archetypes: child, maiden, bride, mother, matriarch, and muse. She does not confront her subject with her camera; she reveals it. Her pictures are windows onto a world of dreams and memories.  For Nell Dorr, life itself is the work of art, photography, the means of revealing Life.

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Nell DorrBaby in big bed, 1943 (37.1982)
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Nell DorrAbstract, 1968 (42.1982)

In May of this year the Gunn Memorial Library and Museum opened a retrospective of Nell Dorr’s work in her hometown Washington, Conn, a traveling exhibition that was first organized by The Massillon Museum in 2011. In it a series of oral histories with people who knew the photographer, talk about her work and life. The stories weave a picture of a deeply sensitive and caring woman.

Nell Dorr would have turned 122 today, August 27, 2015.

The Nell Dorr Estate is part of the photography collection at The Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Texas.

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2 Responses to “For Nell Dorr, life itself is the work of art, photography, the means of revealing life.”

  1. Thank you for this blog post! The Massillon Museum actually organized the exhibition currently on view at the Gunn Memorial Museum; it opened in Massillon in 2010. I’ll be giving a lecture on Nell Dorr at the Gunn on September 17th in conjunction with the exhibition.

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