Margaret Michaelis

Dzieditz, 1902 – Sidney, 1985

grupo autores

In December 1933, a couple fled Berlin, leaving their flat intact. She was Margaret Gross, a photographer; he was Rudolf Michaelis, an archaeologist at the Berlin State Museum. They were headed for Barcelona, where they were taken in by fellow German anarchists in exile.

Born into a Jewish family in Dzieditz, Austria (today, Dziedzice, Poland), in 1918, Gross moved to Vienna to study at the Graphische Lehr-und Versuchsanstalt [Institute of Graphic Arts and Research], from which she graduated. She got her professional start in 1921, as an assistant at Atelier d’Ora. Two years later, she took a position at the studio of the photographer Grete Kolliner, where she spent five years, before moving to Berlin for a few months. In 1928, she left to work at Olga Freundová’s studio in Prague. Late the following year, she returned to Berlin.

In 1930, she met the archaeologist Rudolf Michaelis, with whom she would have a romantic relationship and share her libertarian ideology; Rudolf was the head of the cultural branch of the anarcho-syndicalist union Freie Arbeiter Union Deutschlands [Free Workers’ Union of German or FAUD]. Gross worked at various photography studios and, in August 1932, founded Foto-Gross at their home.

Hitler’s rise to power impacted her life. In March 1933, Gross was briefly arrested during a raid on the anarchist publishing house ASY. Michaelis was fired from his job and, in autumn, arrested and imprisoned whilst Gross was visiting her parents. Upon her return and following the release of her by-then husband, the couple fled Berlin.

In Barcelona, they were taken in by Helmut and Dora Rüdiger. Michaelis got a job at the Archaeological Museum, whilst Gross founded Foto-Studio Michaelis at their home at number 36 Calle del Rosellón, 4º, and, in a matter of months, at number 218 Avenida República Argentina.

Although the couple separated in 1934, Margaret kept her married name. She continued to work as a photographer using the credit line Foto-Elis. Her main client was GATPAC [Grup d’Arquitectes Tècnics Catalans per al Progrés de l’Arquitectura Contemporània or Group of Catalan Architects for the Advancement of Contemporary Architecture], for whom she published an outstanding photo essay on the city’s Raval district, also known as Barrio Chino [literally, Chinatown], in 1934. She also contributed to the organisation’s magazine A.C. In addition to her architectural photography, her advertising art was featured in magazines such as D’ací d’allà and the Madrid weekly Crónica.

From the start of the revolution, Foto-Elis was regularly credited in the publications of the Information and Propaganda Office of the CNT-FAI [Confederación Nacional del Trabajo–Federación Anarquista Ibérica or National Confederation of Labour-Iberian Anarchist Federation]. This was hardly surprising, given that her friend Helmut Rüdiger was responsible for the office’s German-language propaganda. In addition to depicting the days of July and daily life in the rearguard, she covered the process of collectivisation of transport, the demolition of the monument to Antonio López, the mass meeting in August at Teatro Olimpia, and the arrival of the British Red Cross at the Portbou train station, amongst other things. In autumn of 1936, she travelled with Arthur Lehning, Emma Goldman and the journalists Hanns-Erich Kaminski and Anita Karfunkel through Aragon and Valencia to document the revolution in rural areas.

The CNT office used her images on postcards, in the foreign section’s newspapers, such as L’Espagne Antifasciste, and in its books 19 de Julio and ¿España? Un libro de imágenes sobre cuentos y calumnias fascistas [Spain? A picture book about fascist tales and slander]. Needless to say, her work could also be found in the libertarian press, such as Tierra y Libertad, Umbral, Tiempos Nuevos or Mujeres Libres.

At the same time, she worked with the Catalan government’s Comissariat de Propaganda [Commissariat for Propaganda], taking photographs of refugees arriving in Barcelona and nursing homes for the elderly. The Comissariat published them in newsletters, postcards and books such as La revolució i l’assistència social [The revolution and social work] by Domènec de Bellmunt, the album Madrid and the magazine Nova Ibèria.

In early 1937, she left for Paris, then Poland, and, from there, for London. Her journey ended in 1939 in Australia, where, one year later, she would open PhotoStudio M Michaelis. She died in Sydney in 1985. Her work is held by the National Gallery of Australia. Prints can also be viewed in the Arxiu Nacional de Catalunya [National Archive of Catalonia]. As well, there are negatives and prints in the CNT-FAI archive in Amsterdam.


Online exhibition Cinc dies pel Barri Xino (2021)

Ennis, Helen (2005): Exhibition Margaret Michaelis: love, loss and photography Canberra: National Gallery of Australia.


Mendelson, Jordana; Lahuerta, Juan José and Ennis, Helen (1999). Margaret Michaelis: fotografia, avantguarda i política a la Barcelona de la República. Barcelona - València: CCCB / IVAM.

Antebi, Andrés; González, Pablo; Ferré, Teresa and Adam, Roger. (2020) Gràfica Anarquista. Fotografia i Revolució social. Barcelona 1936-1939. Barcelona: Ajuntament de Barcelona.

Rodríguez Roig, Dolors i González, Itziar (2022). Margaret Michaelis. Cinc dies pel Barri Xino. Barcelona: Ajuntament de Barcelona.

Rubio, Almudena (2022): “Las cajas de Ámsterdam: Margaret Michaelis y los anarquistas de la CNt-FAI en la Guerra Civil”, Historia Social, núm. 104, pp. 71-91.