Edited by Blythe Daly

Nell Dorr (1895-1988) began mixing chemicals for her father, John Jacob Becker, at age 12. He was a portrait photographer in Cleveland, Ohio and the official photographer for the Baltimore and Ohio Railway. Nell Dorr moved to Florida in 1923 at which time her father completed her photography education. She opened her first portrait studio in Florida as both a means for her own enjoyment and a way to earn extra money for her family. She eventually moved her studio to New York where she became fully involved in the pictorial world of photography and befriended contemporaries such as Edward Steichen and Alfred Stieglitz. In 1934, she held her first exhibit at the Delphic Studios featuring portraits of thirty-six prestigious men. Among the men was the inventor John Van Nostrand Dorr who became her second husband. Nell Dorr passed away in 1988 at her home in Washington, Connecticut. She published four books of photography in which her art lives on.

I had the great fortune to know Nell Dorr as a child. I spent many afternoons at her estate playing the piano, eating cookies in her kitchen, and sitting with her on the patio. Her books are now out of print and her estate has been sold, but this web site is my tribute to Nell Dorr who shared with me her love of photography and her infinite artistic and spiritual wisdom.

© by Amon Carter Museum and the Dorr Estate

Nell Dorr's photography career began on the heels of the Pictorialist movement and continued for several decades to traverse a variety of subjects and perspectives. During this movement, artists as well as society as a whole began to believe that photography could be an art equal to any other and could yield artistic and aesthetic satisfaction. After a handful of shows and publications and the death of her youngest daughter in 1954, Nell Dorr gave up her commercial business and concentrated on photographs of mothers and daughters.

Nell Dorr spent almost six decades behind the camera and her work encompasses a wide range of styles and genres. Although her photography was at first a way to make ends meet financially, she nonetheless always considered her work an art, not a trade. When asked about the meaning of beauty, Nell Dorr replied "Without the one thing, beauty, I think I could not endure to live. With it, I can endure all. I find it equally in joy and in sorrow. In the greatest of each, in birth and in death, I find an almost unbearable beauty..."(from Mother and Child).

The majority of the photographs I have chosen for this page are from Nell Dorr's second book, Mother and Child(1954). During World War II, Nell Dorr took her three daughters (whose husbands were serving in the military) and her six grandchildren to a house in New Hampshire where she was joined by Tasha Tudor's family and her god-children.

Nell Dorr, in Mother and Child, seeks to capture the affection and affinity between a mother and a child. Nell Dorr used her camera to expose this affinity: "Become as one, you and your camera, clear as glass and selfless." The maternal connection is a "divine mystery" to Nell Dorr. "I see woman as the yeast of life without which all the dough in the world would not rise. The mother gives love to her child, inspiration to man and beauty to the world"(Popular Photography, March 1975). In Mother and Child, Nell Dorr gracefully combines loving photographs with her own eloquent words and poems. According to Nell Dorr, "A day is remembered for itself and the picture is all that we finally keep."

In the late 1920s and early 1930s Nell Dorr photogrpahed several series of nudes and flowers to show in a Miami resort magazine, The Gondolier. Many of the photographs taken in the Florida Keys were compiled in her first book, In a Blue Moon (1939). Nell Dorr wanted to get away from people and get in touch with the earth, the sea, and the sky, and, get away from clothes and become part of nature completely. For Nell Dorr, the Keys were "far away, peaceful places where you can throw off your fears and inhibitions, and bathe in the sea and the sun as you please"(In a Blue Moon). Most of the images of In a Blue Moon are light, seemingly underexposed, detailed, close-up photographs of dreamy flowers and nude women. The book is a dream-like expression of beauty.

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