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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Orloff, Abraham (Izzy) (1891–1981)

by Chris Jeffery

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Abraham (‘Izzy’) Orloff (1891-1981), photographer, was born probably on 21 March 1891 at Kamenka, Ekaterinoslav (Dnepropetrovskaya) province, Ukraine, Russia, youngest of nine children of Rafael Orloff, draper, and his wife Rachel, née Lipshitz. Educated at Russian and Hebrew schools, in 1903 ‘Izzy’ moved with his family to Palestine, where he became a carriage builder. He migrated to Western Australia, arriving at Fremantle on 13 January 1912, and found employment building coaches and sulkies, as a pedlar, and then canvassing for photographic enlargements. Naturalised in July 1914, in 1917-19 he worked in the local Censorship Office, Australian Military Forces, translating letters from Russian, Yiddish and German. In 1920 he travelled to Paris, where his sister Chana, a noted sculptor, lived. There he was employed at the workshops of Editions Photographiques Félix; he photographed prominent people such as the ballerina Anna Pavlova, and also Australian war graves in France. While visiting family in Palestine, he took pictures of the Arab riots at Jaffa in May 1921.

Back in Perth, Orloff worked at Dease Studios in Barrack Street; he also developed films for customers. In 1922 he set up his own business, La Tosca Studios, at North Fremantle, and in the mid-1930s moved to High Street, Fremantle. Specialising in portraits and group photographs, he also supplied passport and identification pictures, took and sold candid shots at dance halls, and provided the Sunday Times with news photographs. He became well known for his streetscapes, photographed from tall buildings with a big 5 x 4 in. Graphlex camera that captured the panorama. With the advent of 35mm colour transparencies in the 1930s, he adopted this format. He continued to work as a professional photographer at Fremantle until the 1960s.

Orloff was good-looking, nearly 6 ft (183 cm) tall and slim, with black hair and an aquiline nose. He was urbane, gregarious and civic minded, concerned for the welfare of newly arrived migrants and the disadvantaged. From 1925 he was a Freemason. Active in the Perth branch of the Australian Jewish Welfare Society, formed in 1937 to help Jewish refugees from Germany, he often holidayed in Israel and supported the Jewish National Fund. Although Orthodox, he was not strict. He was president and a life member of the West Coast Angling Club. An extrovert, he loved to dance, roller-skate, swim, sail and play tennis, and he was a champion chess player. In 1956 he was appointed a justice of the peace.

At the Synagogue, Bourke Street, Melbourne, on 20 August 1929, Orloff had married Minnie Rose, a Polish-born draper. They had no children. Survived by his wife, he died on 2 June 1981 at Yokine and was buried in Karrakatta cemetery. The State Library of Western Australia holds a collection of his images and negatives.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Reece and R. Pascoe, A Place of Consequence (1983)
  • L. Hoffman and C. Jeffery, Izzy Orloff, Photographer (1989)
  • Maccabean, 12 June 1981, p 2
  • J. Donaldson, interview with A. Orloff (197?, State Library of Western Australia)
  • A1, item 1914/7152 (National Archives of Australia).

Citation details

Chris Jeffery, 'Orloff, Abraham (Izzy) (1891–1981)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 30 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

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