Elsbeth Juda brought a new modernist artistic vision to Britain from Germany. Although a trailblazing female photographer, Juda’s artistic contribution is largely unrecognised today. She disregarded fashion photography’s formal conventions, using unusual, often incongruous backdrops for her shoots.
Elsbeth Juda was born in Darmstadt, Germany in 1911. As a young woman, she moved to Paris, where she found work as secretary to a banker. In 1931, Elsbeth married her childhood love, Hans Peter Juda (1904–1975), and they went to live in Berlin where he was a financial editor at the Berliner Tageblatt. In 1933, they fled Nazi Germany for London with nothing but two suitcases and a violin.
Once in England, Juda struggled to find work; a Jewish émigré and a married woman, she hardly felt herself welcome in the workplace. In search of resolution, she reinvented herself as a ‘darkroom boy’ in Soho’s Dean Street, working under the name ‘Jay’. And it was in this red-lit room that her love of photography grew and she learned to process colour film. She finally got her lucky break when, while working on a job in Soho, the usual photographer was running late. Juda was asked to stand in, and the shoot was such a success that she was soon promoted to photographer. She went on to work as a successful commercial photographer for magazines and advertising agencies in a career spanning over 45 years.