Born into an upper-class family, artist Lucy Schwob, alias Claude Cahun (1894, Nantes, France – 1954, Saint Helier, Jersey), benefited from an advanced education, which included studies in philosophy and literature at the Sorbonne University in Paris. Arguably best known as a photographer, Claude Cahun is one of the most important authors of Surrealist photography, alongside Lee Miller and Dora Maar. At the same time, she was also a remarkable poet and essayist, as well as a theatre-women, thus epitomizing the figure of complete artist, whose practice is inseparable from her personal life. An active member of the French resistance during World War II, Cahun was arrested in 1944 and, even though sentenced to death, was saved as German occupation came to an end.
Most of her photographs are staged and carefully constructed “photographic tableaux” that humorously play on the notion of identity. Still today an ineludible visual reference in the field of gender studies, Cahun’s photographs were radically original for their time. In many of her self-portraits, Cahun disguises herself, uses masks, displays outrageous femininity or, on the contrary, assertive masculinity, she shaves her hair and alternates between as diverse characters as a dandy or a sportsman. Hers is an art of metamorphosis, the portrayal of a performance which is both intimate and public, an outspoken affirmation of uniqueness and the refusal of abiding the dominating status quo and its precepts. Beyond the multiplicity of characters and personalities she displays, the recurrence of reflections, symmetries or even multiplication of images confirms the desire to escape from the binary and from the predictable. Often shot at home with the collaboration of Cahun´s romantic partner Marcel Moore (born Suzanne Malherbe), those photographs had not been publicly exhibited in 1954, when she passed away. Only in the 1990s her body of work begun receiving worldwide attention.
Caroline A. Jones, Eyesight Alone: Clement Greenberg’s Modernism and the Bureaucratization of the Senses (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005).
Greenberg’s Modernism and the Bureaucratization of the Senses (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005).