A trailblazing female photographer

Abigail Morris, Chief Executive of the Jewish Museum London

When I consider the theme of International Women’s Day 2018 – pressing for progress in the global struggle for gender parity – I am struck by the importance of celebrating the often unrecognised contribution of innovative female figures of the past. At the Jewish Museum London our latest exhibition, Elsbeth Juda: Grit and Glamour, does just this. Elsbeth Juda (known professionally as ‘Jay’) was a British photographer best known for her work for The Ambassador magazine in the 1950s and 1960s. The exhibition showcases a selection of her most striking images for the magazine, featuring glamourous commercial shots and portraits of some of the best known faces in British art and design.

Elsbeth was born in Germany in 1911 and fled for London with her husband Hans in 1933. In 1946 Hans launched The Ambassador magazine focussed on promoting British fashion, trade and industry for the global export market. With Hans as editor and Elsbeth as in-house photographer and associate editor, The Ambassador was published monthly in English, German, French and Portuguese, and had subscribers in over 90 countries. Elsbeth also worked for advertising companies and fashion magazines including Harper’s Bazaar. She is yet another example of a Jewish émigré who brought a new artistic vision to Britain as a refugee from Nazism. She studied photography with the Bauhaus photographer Lucia Moholy and was hugely influenced by European modernism.

Although a trailblazing female photographer, Elsbeth’s artistic contribution is largely unrecognised today. She disregarded commercial photography’s formal convections, using unusual, often incongruous backdrops for her shoots. Partly as a result of her own modesty – always referring to herself as a ‘commercial photographer’ rather than an artist – she has never achieved the recognition she deserves. By exhibiting Elsbeth Juda: Grit and Glamour at the Jewish Museum London, we hope to highlight to those who know of her – and those who don’t - the incredible work of this remarkable woman and all that she achieved in her extensive career. Join us this International Women’s Day to celebrate Elsbeth Juda and help us #PressForProgress.

Elsbeth Juda: Grit and Glamour will run until 1 July 2018 at the Jewish Museum London.