Page 1

Claude Cahun

Claude Cahun A Sensual Politics of Photography

Gen Doy

This book is dedicated to the memory of my mother, Margaret Elise Greig, and especially to the memory of my father, Roy NoĂŤl Doy, who supported me always. Also, with much love to my sons Sean and Davey, and all who would like to see the world change for the better, like Claude Cahun.

Published in 2007 by I.B.Tauris & Co. Ltd 6 Salem Road, London W2 4BU 175 Fifth Avenue, New York NY 10010 In the United States and Canada distributed by Palgrave Macmillan, a division of St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York NY 10010 Copyright © Gen Doy, 2007 The right of Gen Doy to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved. Except for brief quotations in a review, this book, or any part thereof, may not be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher. ISBN: 978 1 84511 550 0 (Hb) 978 1 84511 551 7 (Pb) A full CIP record for this book is available from the British Library A full CIP record for this book is available from the Library of Congress Library of Congress catalog card: available Typeset in Palatino by Dexter Haven Associates Ltd, London Printed and bound in Great Britain by TJ International, Padstow, Cornwall.


List of Illustrations Acknowledgements A Brief Chronology


ix xiii xv



Medusa and Her Sisters



Masks, Masquerades and Mirrors



Love, Politics and What She Wore



Politics and Its Objects




Notes Select Bibliography Index

149 193 201

List of Illustrations

(All images are photographs unless otherwise stated) (Jersey Heritage Trust is abbreviated to JHT)


3. 4.


6. 7.


9. 10.

Claude Cahun, Self-portrait, 21 x 12.4 cms, ca. 1920, JHT. Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore, photomontage frontispiece to chapter 11 of Aveux non Avenus, published 1930, JHT. Claude Cahun, Self-portrait, 17.8 x 23.6 cms, 1914, JHT. After Félicien Rops, illustration for ‘Les Marionnettes de l’Amour’, by Marcel Schwob (original watercolour 1872–1876), published in O. Uzanne, ed., Féminies, Académie des Beaux Livres Paris, 1896, courtesy Bibliothèque Nationale de France. Claude Cahun (and Marcel Moore ?), Schwob/Cahun reading with ‘L’Image de la Femme’, 11 x 8.2 cms, ca. 1915, JHT. Claude Cahun, Self-portrait with Masks on Cloak, 12 x 9.4 cms, ca. 1928, JHT. Claude Cahun, Self-portrait with Mask, 10 x 7.6 cms, ca. 1928, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nantes, photo RMN copyright Gérard Blot. Claude Cahun (and Marcel Moore?), Têtes de Cristal, British Museum, London, 10.8 x 8.2 cms, June–July 1936, JHT. Claude Cahun, Self-portrait with Mirror, 10.7 x 8.2 cms, 1928, JHT. Claude Cahun, Marcel Moore and Mirror, 10.7 x 8.2 cms, 1928, JHT.


2 7

16 22


41 42


59 60


Claude Cahun 11.

Claude Cahun, Self-portrait in Flowers, 10.3 x


7.8 cms, ca. 1939, private collection. 12.

Claude Cahun, Self-portrait in Poppy Field,


9.9 x 8.0 cms, ca. 1939, JHT. 13.

Photographic wallet from Cahun/Malherbe


Photographic wallet from Cahun/Malherbe


Claude Cahun, Self-portrait, 10.9 x 8.2 cms, ca.


archive, JHT. 72

archive, JHT. 82

1921, courtesy Richard and Ronay Menschel. 16.

Registration card of Lucie Schwob, issued 1922,


‘Passport’ photo of Claude Cahun,


Jersey Archives. 84

private collection, UK. 18.

Claude Cahun (and Marcel Moore?), Self-portrait


at Door, 8.0 x 5.5 cms, ca. 1937, JHT. 19.

Emmy Lou Packard, Frida Kahlo leaning against


a wall holding a cigarette, 19 x 19 cms, gelatin silver print, 1941, courtesy of Throckmorton Fine Art, New York. 20.

Claude Cahun (and Marcel Moore?), Self-portrait


in Velvet Evening Gown, 10.2 x 7.3 cms, ca. 1939, JHT. 21.

Claude Cahun (and Marcel Moore?), Self-portrait


at Cemetery, 7.9 x 5.6 cms, ca. 1947, JHT. 22.

Claude Cahun, Poupée 1, 10.8


Claude Cahun, Le Coeur de Pic, plate XIX, 10.9 x


Claude Cahun, Objects in Bell Jar, 10.8 x 8.3 cms,


Claude Cahun, Self-portrait in Dresser, 10.3 x 7.7


Claude Cahun, Interior at 70bis Rue Notre-Dame


x 8.2 cms, September 1936, JHT. 117

8.2 cms, 1936, JHT. 122

1936, JHT. 132

cms, ca. 1932, JHT. 136

des Champs, Paris, 10.8 x 8.2 cms, February 1938, private collection. 27.

Claude Cahun, Untitled, from negative,


Countess Castiglione (at the Mayer and


ca. 1932–1936, JHT. Pierson Studio), Self-portrait showing her legs,



List of Illustrations

29. 30.

from original glass negative, 23.8 x 29.9 cms, ca. 1861–1867, Musée d’Unterlinden, photo courtesy Christian Kempf. Claude Cahun, Untitled, 22.8 x 17.1 cms, ca. 1938, JHT. Francesca Woodman, Horizontale, Providence, Rhode Island, 12.5 x 13 cms, 1976, courtesy George and Betty Woodman.


1. 2. 3. 4. 5.


Rhiannon Ross, Self-Portrait as Sailor, photograph, 2005, private collection. Cindy Sherman, Untitled no. 198, courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures Claude Cahun, Self-Portrait with Quilt, JHT. Horst, Untitled, published in Vogue, (UK) August 1940, The Condé Nast Publications Ltd. Toni Frissell, Untitled, published in Vogue, (UK) February 1941, Tony Frissell/Vogue copyright The Condé Nast Publications Ltd. Joffé, Untitled, cover of Votre Beauté, November 1935, courtesy Bibliothèque Forney, Paris.

144 145


I would like to thank all those who helped me in the process of bringing this book into existence. In particular I want to acknowledge the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the British Academy and the Faculty of Art and Design of De Montfort University. Strenuous efforts have been made to locate copyright holders of the photographs illustrated here. In the event of any oversight, I will be pleased to make the necessary arrangements. I would also like to express my gratitude to Louise Downie and Val Nelson, John Wakeham, Basil Bigg and family, Joe Mière, Mary Southwood, Lizzie Thynne, Kristine von Oehsen, Chris Townsend, Charley Peters, my editor Susan Lawson, and all the museum, gallery and library staff who have helped me. For Stuart Wade, much appreciation for expert assistance with the images. Warmest thanks also to the referees who supported my applications for funding, without which this book could never have been published.


A Brief Chronology

1894 Lucy Renée Mathilde Schwob born in Nantes on 25 October. Her father is the proprietor of the newspaper Le Phare de la Loire. 1898–1904 Lives with grandmother due to her mother’s mental illness. 1907–1908 Education in private school in Surrey, after anti-Semitic incidents at her high school in Nantes. 1909 Meets Suzanne Malherbe (born 1892) and their close friendship begins. 1912 Earliest extant photographs. 1913–1914 Malherbe publishes fashion journalism in Le Phare de la Loire. Lucie publishes articles, and works on ‘Vues et Visions’ (published 1914 under the name of Claude Courlis) and ‘Les Jeux Uraniens’ (‘finished’ in 1917), early literary works. 1917 Moves in with Suzanne, and by now is using the literary pseudonym Claude Cahun. 1918 Cahun enrols at the University of Paris (Sorbonne) and frequently visits Paris, making contact with literary figures including bookshop owners and publishers Adrienne Monnier and Sylvia Beach. 1920 Claude and Suzanne rent a flat in Paris in Rue de Grenelle. 1922 They move to 70 bis Rue Notre-Dame des Champs, Paris, and spend the summer in Jersey at the St Brelade’s Bay Hotel. This will be the pattern of their lives in the years to come – summer in Jersey, the rest of the year in Paris. 1925 Publication of Cahun’s ‘Héroïnes’, in which the voices of iconic female figures from Western history undermine traditional expectations of femininity. Cahun writes letter in support of homosexual journal Inversions. Contact with ‘Philosophies’ group (Henri Lefebvre, Georges Politzer and Charles-Henri Barbier). Meets the writer Henri Michaux, who becomes one of her closest friends. 1925–1929 Intense period of theatrical and literary activities, as well as photographic work. xv


Claude Cahun 1928 Death of Cahun’s father and completion of her translation into French of ‘La Femme dans la Société 1. L’Hygiène Sociale’ by Havelock Ellis, published the following year. 1929 Acts in radical anti-naturalist plays produced by Pierre Albert-Birot. 1930 Publication of Aveux non Avenus, creative and imaginative ‘autobiographical’ text with photomontage illustrations made by Marcel Moore from Cahun’s designs. Self-portrait published in cultural journal Bifur, no. 5. 1932 Cahun and Malherbe increasingly involved in politics and Cahun joins the AEAR (Association des Ecrivains et Artistes Révolutionnaires). Meets Néoclès Coutouzis (‘Koustou’) and others involved in small left-wing group (‘groupe Brunet’), with whom she works until 1937. Meets André Breton and draws closer to the Surrealists. 1934 Publication of Les Paris sont Ouverts, a polemic in favour of creative revolutionary art and against propaganda literature. By this time very critical of the Stalinised communist parties and sympathetic to Trotskyism. 1935–1936 Meets Georges Bataille and Roger Caillois, becomes a founder member of ‘Contre-Attaque’, a radical cultural and political group which succeeded the AEAR, and exhibits mixed-media objects with the Surrealists in the ‘Exposition surréaliste d’objets’ at the Galerie Charles Ratton (1936). Publishes ‘Prenez Garde aux Objets Domestiques’, as a contribution to discussions of Surrealist objects. Meets Jacques Lacan. Travels to London to help organise the London Surrealist exhibition. 1937 Publication of poems by Lise Deharme, Le Coeur de Pic, illustrated with Cahun’s photographs of her own ‘Surrealist’ objects. 1938 The couple move from Paris to Jersey. 1939 Cahun joins the FIARI (Fédération Internationale de l’Artistes Révolutionnaires Indépendants), of which André Breton, Diego Rivera and Leon Trotsky were founding members. 1940–1945 German troops invade Jersey, setting up prison camps. Malherbe and Cahun undertake anti-fascist and anti-war activities. Arrested in July 1944. Sentenced to death, the couple survive until the liberation of the island in 1945. 1944–1954 Long letters and accounts of her imprisonment and past life. Photographic activity continues but her health worsens, and Cahun dies on 8 December 1954. Buried in St Brelade’s churchyard next to the couple’s house.

A Brief Chronology 1972 Suzanne Malherbe commits suicide and her property is disposed of at auction, where most of Cahun’s books and photographs are bought by local collectors, and thus saved from destruction. The majority are now housed in the museum at St Helier, and catalogued on the Jersey Heritage Trust website.



A striking image indeed (figure 1), even to our postmodern, twenty-firstcentury eyes familiar with tattoos, piercings, extravagant hairstyles and any number of unusual and inventive manipulations of the embodied self: a figure with shaved head stands with her/his back to us, looking sideways to throw into profile that pointed chin, bent nose, tight mouth and elongated jawline meeting the prominent ears. The eyebrows seem to have been shaved off. A simple black singlet (actually the top of a bathing suit) reveals neck and shoulders but little about the gender of this body, though it does expose a tiny and poignant detail, a mole near the left arm. For me, this is an instance of what Roland Barthes has named a punctum – something that touches the subjective viewer of a photographic image beyond the general appeal of the picture’s particular time and place, and pierces the skin of our consciousness, mobilising desire.1 The painted mouth and darkly made-up eyes, sloping down at the corners, further enhance this unusual portrait. This is the self-image – one of many – of Lucy Schwob (1894–1954), woman of many pseudonyms, better known as Claude Cahun: writer, photographer, actor, Surrealist, and collaborator and partner of her stepsister, Suzanne Malherbe (1892–1972, also known by her pseudonym Marcel Moore).2 Yet there is far more to Claude Cahun than at first meets the eye, though what she presents to us is already tantalising. Born into a family of Jewish intellectuals on her father’s side – her mother was Protestant – Cahun lived through, worked in and contributed to some of the major upheavals of the first half of the twentieth century. Two world wars, revolutions (both political and cultural), the rise of fascism and the struggles against it, the increasing visibility of lesbian and gay lifestyles and identities, the appearance of the so-called ‘new woman’, the growing influence of psychoanalysis and the Surrealism inspired by it – they all impinged on her life. At home in cosmopolitan Paris, capital of the modernist avant-garde in art and literature by the early twentieth century (where she moved in 1920 with Suzanne Malherbe from her birthplace, the provincial French town 1

Figure 1: Claude Cahun, Self-portrait, 21 x 12.4 cms, ca. 1920, JHT.

Introduction of Nantes), she was also at ease and full of creative energy by the sea, in Jersey and in coastal France.3 Cahun left a legacy of artistic work in a variety of media including literature and the theatre, as well as her increasingly famous corpus of extant photographic images. This book will focus on Claude Cahun’s photographic work. While all of her creative output – including Surrealist objects, fiction, journalism and translation – is clearly a body of work to be viewed as a totality, it is the photographic images in which I am most interested. I will thus focus on them, while encouraging the reader to bear in mind that Cahun is not solely a photographer, but a creative person who makes/takes photographs in conjunction with other activities. Indeed, her approach to, and use of, photography calls into question widely accepted notions of ‘the photographer’, and photographic genres such as the (self-)portrait. This book is not intended to be a biography of Cahun, or a comprehensive introduction to her work, since these can be found elsewhere.4 I want here to examine in more depth aspects of her photographic work in contexts which, until now, have not been fully explored. While much of Cahun’s writing now appears dated, her photographs continue to engage with contemporary viewers. Cahun was not a technically adventurous photographer compared to some, yet her imaginative staging of scenes for the camera, and her eye for an unusual and striking image, have resulted in a body of photographic work which, although produced mainly between the 1920s and 1940s, seems way ahead of its time. In terms of her published writings, her polemical pieces are sharply critical of opponents, and her literary works at times exceedingly difficult to understand. Her creativity was best expressed not in abstract but in sensual, material ways, related to the embodied self – its feelings, its pleasures and its complex desires and anxieties. In poetry, theatrical productions, her complex and tantalising illustrated ‘autobiography’ Aveux non Avenus and, of course, her numerous self-images in photographs, Cahun’s thought was expressed sensuously, from her early writings on sexual themes to the accounts of her imprisonment by the Nazis in Jersey in the 1940s, the latter obsessively recounted in many typescripts now in various archives.5 Like many Surrealists (with whom she exhibited on several occasions), notably her friend André Breton, Cahun took a sensuous, but very serious, view of politics. Hence the title of this book.




While I want to avoid ‘biographising’ Cahun’s photographs, I am concerned to situate them in the context of her own times. In so doing, I will make use of theoretical and methodological approaches to culture and history developed both before, and since, her death. Appropriately, some of the main theories I use to discuss Cahun’s photographic work – from psychoanalysis, Marxism, women’s studies and lesbian and gay studies – are closely linked to Cahun’s own interests. She was interested in Freud, knew Jacques Lacan, read Marx, Engels and Trotsky, translated writings by Havelock Ellis on women in society, and engaged with gay and lesbian issues both in France and in other parts of Europe.6 Many of the theories best suited to an analysis of her images are suggested by Cahun herself in her own interests, contacts and reading. Writers on art often embrace biography, seeing the life of the artist as a way of understanding the artworks, of reading their meanings as traces of the artist’s experiences embedded/embodied in the images or artefacts. Frida Kahlo’s work, for example, has received such treatment.7 More recently, many cultural critics and historians have become wary of biographising the artwork. The so-called ‘death of the author’, proposed primarily by French critics, shifted attention away from authorial intention to the viewer/reader, who engages playfully with the many possible meanings/readings of the text – understood as both literary and visual.8 I do not want to privilege the author Cahun over the artwork, nor the reader/viewer of her works over Cahun the person, but to explore the complex relationship between author, work and meanings. While Cahun’s life is certainly worthy of interest, and a knowledge of its details can helpfully inform our reading of the photographs, it is also necessary to maintain some space between what we know of her existence and the created images that remain.9 She played the major part in making them, but they are not ‘her’. Her works do not reflect or represent what it is to be, say, a lesbian from a Jewish background in the 1920s, or a French Trotskyist sympathiser in the 1930s. Artworks create meanings, as well as existing in a complex, dialectical relationship with people who produce and consume them, at the time of their production and subsequently. Authors sometimes efface themselves, speaking from a disembodied position of supposed, or hoped-for, neutrality. This is a stance that would be

Introduction difficult to adopt in the case of such an interesting person as Cahun, who lived life to the full, knew some of the major cultural figures of her time and had such a striking appearance and imagination. I am not neutral towards the subject of this book. For me, Cahun is politically, culturally and sexually interesting. Born into a family of Jewish intellectuals on her father’s side, a lesbian, and a supporter of far left political beliefs she sincerely tried to put into practice, Cahun constructed for herself, and inhabited, a number of diverse identities, the relative importance of which shifted in relation to one another, and the production of her photographic work, throughout her life. For me, her life and work testify to a determined but imaginative response to both personal and political challenges. I admire her greatly, and want to contribute to a more rounded picture of her life, work and contribution to photographic culture. Cultural historians usually have a theory (tacitly assumed or explicitly stated) of what makes a person, whether this person is the writer her-/ himself or the subject of her/his book. A self combines both conscious and unconscious factors influenced by class, sexuality, gender, ethnicity, culture, economics, politics, upbringing and so forth. Subjects and selves engage with the contradictions of real material life to create new representations, not just passive reflections, of their experiences, and of their material and psychic existence.10 Cahun is both a fascinating and a difficult subject, however. Her seductive art and literature, her lively mind, her unselfish commitment to social and political justice are aspects of a person who, in both her written and photographic work, explores the complexities of identity and representation; of pain, pleasure and mystery that may never be fully comprehended. In her book Aveux non Avenus (Unavowed Confessions), published in 1930, her writing was accompanied by elaborate photomontaged illustrations, incorporating parts of previous self-portraits and, as it says on the title page, put together by her partner Suzanne Malherbe (Marcel Moore) working from designs by the author. In one illustration (figure 2) a hand holding a mirror is in the centre of the image, and within the mirror is another hand and a partial image of Cahun, who looks out at the viewer, the lower part of her face obscured/veiled. Is she ‘before’ or ‘behind’ the mirror? Perhaps both. A large eye at the bottom of the image reflects in its centre the face of Cahun, upside down, inverted as if in a camera (obscura). Parts of bodies taken from previous photographs of



Claude Cahun Cahun surround the mirror, along with pieces of paper with typewritten words, like the small propaganda tracts distributed much later by Cahun and Malherbe in occupied Jersey.11 Space and bodily cohesion are disrupted and disjointed, self-recognition is linked to processes of visualisation, but without easily negotiable reference points or perspective. The viewer/reader is interpellated in order to engage with issues of seeing, consciousness, positioning, representation, identities and the body. A sheet of glass. Where shall I put the reflective silver? on this side or on the other: in front or behind the pane? Before. I imprison myself. I blind myself. What does it matter to me, Passer-by, to offer myself a mirror in which you recognise yourself, even if it is a deforming mirror and signed by my own hand?… Behind. I am equally enclosed. I will not know anything of outside. At least I will recognise my own face – and maybe it will be sufficient to please me. (Aveux non Avenus, p. 29)12

Aveux non Avenus both displays Cahun and conceals her at the same time, through words and pictorial collages, as autobiographical elements are mixed with poetic fantasy. Indeed, this is what many of her photographs do – simultaneously display and hide the self.13 Like a coated mirror, Cahun’s photographs, many produced in collaboration with her partner Malherbe/Moore, are sensitised surfaces where the location of the subject both ‘before’ and ‘behind’ the camera is interrogated. These precious traces of Cahun’s presence, most of which were never exhibited in her lifetime, have now become endowed with an existence of their own, perused by scholars attracted by how Cahun speaks to their own positions and concerns, fought over by collectors and wouldbe copyright holders, the raw material for film-makers, and the object of a mini research industry of Cahun enthusiasts.


There is nothing wrong in itself with being partisan, or having an axe to grind, but it is helpful to say why you have the axe, what you want to chop and why you are more interested in axes than saws. The reception of

Figure 2: Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore, photomontage frontispiece to chapter 11 of Aveux non Avenus, published 1930, JHT.


Claude Cahun Cahun’s work, then and now, has not been fully rounded but has tended to be viewed from particular positions, some of which are not, in fact, mutually exclusive. For example, some scholars who are interested in Cahun in relation to sexuality and gender issues tend to marginalise her interest in revolutionary politics. In her own time, Cahun published far more writings than photographs. It is not clear whether she did not want to publish and exhibit more photographs, whether she did not have the opportunity to do so or whether she felt that exhibiting photographs on their own separated them from the totality of her interests. A ‘self-portrait’ was published in the journal Bifur, no. 5, in 1930, showing Cahun with a shaved head elongated as if by an ‘anamorphic’ mirror, and her twenty photographs of constructed objects illustrated the book of poems by Lise Deharme, Le Coeur de Pic, first published by José Corti in 1937.14 When her fictional/fantasy ‘autobiography’ Aveux non Avenus was published in 1930 by Editions du Carrefour, some maquettes for the photomontages illustrating the book and other photographic works by Cahun, including a half-length cropped version of the famous self-portrait next to a mirror wearing a distinctive checked coat (see figure 9, page 59) were shown in a bookshop window in Paris.15 It is worth noting that the photographs were displayed in relation to her writing in a bookshop window, not in their own right in an art gallery. (The works she exhibited in 1936 at the Charles Ratton Gallery were not photographs but mixed-media objects.) Cahun later said that her attempts in this work to jolt her contemporaries out of their complacency with ‘black humour and provocation’ merely resulted in her vilification and ostracism.16 This would hardly have encouraged her to make public more of her personal creative work, literary or photographic. The other photographs visible in the public domain were also published in a journal and a book, not a gallery. There is one hand-coloured print signed and dated by Cahun ‘August 1936 Jersey’, from the series of ‘tableaux photographiques’, as she called them, made for Deharme’s book of poems.17 Almost all the extant photographs are small, black and white or sepia, and only occasionally does she attempt to use double negatives, which she splices together with masking tape. Although there is one reference to her enlarging her own prints, it appears that most of the photographs were taken to local chemists and/or photographic shops to be developed and enlarged.18 Many of the negatives and prints were still in the wallets with the chemists’ names and

Introduction addresses when they were auctioned, and these remain with the archive. Cahun and/or Malherbe wrote some basic instructions for the developers and printers, for example occasionally asking for an enlargement or cropping. However, there is nothing like the technical experimentation of, say, the photographer Man Ray, her contemporary.19 Despite the striking nature of many of the photographic images, their actual development and printing was very everyday, very ‘high-street’, and like millions of other ‘family snaps’ of the earlier part of the twentieth century. More of Cahun’s creativity went into inventing and composing scenes for the photographic apparatus than actually making the physical image, and an important part of the constructed material for the photographs was herself and her appearance. Work done on the image after it was captured on film was much less than that done before the photograph was shot, and, when undertaken, resulted more often in montages/collages of prints, rather than work on negatives. Cahun and her work fell into relative obscurity after the 1939–1945 war in Europe. The fact that the material was put up for auction as part of a house clearance after her partner’s death in 1972 suggests that her relatives did not appreciate the significance of her surviving photographic work. Despite the fact that, from the mid-1970s onwards, female (and feminist) art historians were trawling through art history and the canonical movements of twentieth-century art such as Surrealism, rediscovering and reinterrogating works produced by women artists as well as representations of femininity, there was little attention paid to Cahun at first. Given the (temporary and permanent) disappearance of many of her works, and the fact that she was hidden under her gender-ambiguous pseudonym (Claude can be either a man’s or a woman’s name in French), this was perhaps not surprising. At least one female author thought Cahun was a man.20 Things have changed dramatically. It seems we cannot open a book about women and art these days without a mention of Cahun or a chapter on her work.21 Why and how did Cahun’s posthumous career flourish? I first encountered some of Cahun’s small photographic staged selfportraits in 1994.22 The photos were a revelation to visitors, and it seemed incredible that they had been made in the 1920s and 1930s. The catalogue of the show contained an essay by David Bate entitled ‘The Mise en Scène of Desire’ (pp. 5–15), and it set the tone for many of the writings on Cahun that were to follow. Emphasis was placed on performative aspects of the work, the staging of the self and the impossibility of knowing the ‘real’



Claude Cahun Claude Cahun: ‘There is no “original” Claude to be found in her mise en scène.’23 Thereafter came what I am tempted to describe as an ‘explosion’ of interest in Cahun and her photographs. Scholars who have written on her work read like a list of ‘Who’s Who’ of women’s art history (most, but not all, of those interested in her work are women), for example Abigail Solomon-Godeau, Amelia Jones, Rosalind Krauss, Marsha Meskimmon and Whitney Chadwick.24 The rediscovery of Cahun’s photography, from the late 1980s onwards, coincided with an interest in theoretical postmodernism and post-feminism, epitomised by the writings of Judith Butler and Elizabeth Grosz, among others. These theorists argued that there was no essential ‘femininity’; gender was performed; sexuality was not innate but constructed; and reality itself was unknowable directly and always already mediated through discourse (i.e. speaking of, writing about and working on material reality in its various aspects). For example, in her book Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, first published in 1990, Butler uses psychoanalytic writings by Jacques Lacan, Joan Rivière and others to deconstruct identity and denaturalise gender.25 At that time, there was an overlap between people fascinated by the re-emerging Cahun, and those interested in Butler, Grosz and the earlier theorists on which these later feminist writers had based their work. There was also significant interest from art historians and critics in contemporary women’s photography, in particular images by the artist Cindy Sherman, whose work since the later 1970s engaged with the staging of femininity and the ‘making strange’ of media images of women related to films, advertising imagery and fashion photography.26 Put these constituencies together and we can see why Cahun gained near-celebrity status. From the mid-1990s onwards she was generally seen as a precursor of Cindy Sherman and was hailed as a postmodernist and post-feminist avant la lettre – someone whose work stages femininity, performs it, deconstructs individual autonomous subjectivity and problematises sexual categorisation and identity. Cahun’s work was therefore retrospectively read as engaging with late twentieth-century areas of interest, and viewed through the lens of postmodern and post-feminist theories.27 Yet while this is part of Cahun’s legacy, it is not the whole picture. Other aspects of Cahun’s literary and photographic output, as well as her politics, a crucial part of her life and work, should be considered both in their historical context and their significance for us now.

Introduction Similarly, some writers who have approached Cahun and Malherbe from the position of queer theory and lesbian and gay studies have tended to emphasise this particular aspect of their lives and work. This is understandable in many ways, as François Leperlier, Cahun’s main biographer, devotes little attention to Cahun’s sexuality. Solomon-Godeau, for one, argues that it would be wrong to banish lesbianism from a discussion of Cahun and her work, and correctly points to the many facets of Cahun’s life which were/are ignored by a focus on Cahun as a postmodern feminist before her time.28 Solomon-Godeau explicitly states that ‘it requires almost more of an effort to resituate Cahun in her actual time and milieu than it does to consider her work in the context of contemporary theoretical formulations about femininity, identity, and representation’.29 Indeed.


I first wrote on Cahun as part of my book Materializing Art History, published in 1998, when I was still politically active. Over a period of time I carried out more research on her, building up layers of knowledge on foundations permeated by a Marxist understanding of history, culture and subjectivity. I began to understand more of the complexities of a seductive, determined woman and her work. I noticed the traces in her images of how her body began to age, like mine – her energy sapped.30 Yet, at precisely this stage in her life, Cahun undertook her most intense and dangerous antifascist political activity. In Jersey, during the early summer of 2005, I was studying the Cahun/Malherbe archive on the island where the couple spent many summers before moving there in 1938. I visited people who had known them, or whose parents had known them, who generously spent time with me. I also visited the war tunnels, constructed by the brutal exploitation of slave labour, now a museum of the Occupation, where the identity photos of Cahun and Malherbe are displayed along with others belonging to those who resisted the German forces in various ways during the Second World War.31 I sat on the seashore early one evening, reading a small book I had brought with me. Taking advantage of the last rays of sunshine, I found a place to sit in the golden light and opened Victor Burgin’s The



Claude Cahun Remembered Film (2004). This book is a small gem of reverie, imagination and suggestion. On the first page, Burgin recounts how André Breton and his friend Jacques Vaché spent afternoons in Nantes dropping in and out of films in various cinemas, irrespective of the stage of the film or its plot.32 These selfconsciously resistant practices, as Burgin calls them, seemed akin to those of the other inhabitant of Nantes whose work I was investigating, namely Lucy Schwob/Claude Cahun. I read on, becoming colder as the sun went down, and encountered Burgin’s discussion of Barthes and Lacan in relation to the image as a lure, or a trap. Burgin lists the meanings of the word ‘leurre’ in French, including ‘lure’, ‘bait’, ‘trap’, ‘decoy’, ‘enticement’, ‘delusion’ and ‘deceit’. They all seemed to me to describe Cahun’s photographs, in terms of what they offered the potential viewer. Then follows a discussion by Burgin of Lacan’s talk/essay ‘What is a picture?’, 11 March 1964.33 In this seminar, Lacan states that the self is determined by the gaze that is outside it – the self becomes a picture. The gaze embodies light and its object is thus ‘photographed’ (p. 106).34 Lacan, by analogy, links the photographic image to the image of the self in the psyche of the other. This image can never coincide with our own self-perception, whether the self-image is in a (metaphorical) mirror or in a photograph. Lacan argues that this occurs in nature as well, and Burgin reminds us that Lacan refers to Roger Callois’ book Méduse et Cie (1960) concerning the three functions of mimicry in the animal world: travesty, camouflage and intimidation.35 A living thing is split into its being and its semblance, argues Lacan, who continues to discuss how creatures use masks, doubles and sloughed-off skins in threatening and/or sexual situations. The lure is linked to the mediating function of the mask, which allows the poles of masculinity and femininity to encounter one another – according to Lacan the woman assumes a ‘feminine’ mask/appearance of what she is not in order to be acceptable as a woman to the (heterosexual) man. Only humans know ‘how to play with the mask as that beyond which there is the gaze’ (Lacan, p. 107). I began to consider whether Cahun’s famous self-portrait photographs were not just about staging the self, or theatrical tableaux or femininity (as many writers have discussed) but embodiments of something much more fundamental to human beings: the possibility that the image is only a tantalising bait, to trick us – even Cahun – into thinking that we can represent ourselves. Is she attempting to represent herself as beyond gender and sexual identities, not male or

Introduction female but human, and thus her attempts are doomed to repetition and seductive failure? I would argue that Cahun’s work requires us to attend both to theories of subjectivity informed by psychoanalysis (how people become both agents and subjects) and to Marxist theories which enable us to understand how people are not only positioned in society but can change both their consciousness and their world. In The Pleasure of the Text, Barthes writes: ‘What we are seeking to establish in various ways is a theory of the materialist subject.’36 I doubt that Barthes ever provided one, but, importantly, he wants both politics and pleasure in his text. In this book, I argue that there are both politics and pleasure in Cahun’s photographs. Paraphrasing Barthes, I think that ‘there are very few photographers who combat both ideological repression and libidinal repression…’.37 Cahun is one of them.


While I want to situate Cahun and her work in various contexts, this book is not a detailed biography. While the chapters will unfold in roughly chronological order, more attention will be paid to the periods when Cahun was active as a photographer. The chapters will be structured around key images, and my attention will radiate outwards from that focus, like cloth and filling from a quilting point in upholstery or a bedcover. One of Lacan’s occasionally great images is the quilting point. He describes it by using the example of a moment in a play by Racine, the seventeenth-century classical French dramatist, as a kind of node where various possible actions and meanings come together and significance radiates out from this point where things are ‘fastened’. ‘It’s the point of convergence that enables everything that happens in this discourse to be situated retroactively and prospectively.’38 To pursue the quilting analogy further, I also want to construct what Barthes calls a ‘rhapsodic quilt’, a patchwork around the self and work of Cahun, where the key images are the quilting points.39 Focusing on an early self-portrait, in the first chapter I want to examine Cahun’s work in relation to Symbolism, although her own relationship with Symbolist icons of femininity differed in important ways from that of her uncle, the Symbolist writer Marcel Schwob.



Claude Cahun Chapter two will situate photographic works by Cahun not just in relation to the famous essay by Joan Rivière, ‘Womanliness as a Masquerade’ (1929), which has often been referenced in connection with Cahun’s work, but in relation to a wider range of psychoanalytical writings on femininity from the 1920s and 1930s, at a time when women’s position in culture, society and politics was changing. I want also to relate Cahun’s photographs to concepts of masking, travesty, disguise and mimicry. Her avant-garde strategies and images are illuminated, I feel, by relating them not only to avant-garde practices but to mass-culture imagery of women involving make-up, masks and mirrors, all devices which Cahun used in her own work. I will argue that viewing media images of femininity as wholly reactionary in relation to avant-garde imagery could obscure a more useful view, which would place glossy colour photographs of women, mirrors and masks alongside Cahun’s related photographs at different points in a continuum encompassing varying notions of femininity. The following chapter situates Cahun and her photographs in relation to clothing style and lesbian identities in the inter-war period in France. As well as looking at Cahun’s clothing as an act of ‘dressing up’ for the camera in a studio setting, I want also to look at her ‘everyday’ clothing. What was this ‘indeterminate’ style she constructed for herself and its relation to class, gender, sexuality and politics? How does this relate to her photographs of herself? Chapter four will discuss Cahun’s photographic work in relation to Surrealism and to left-wing politics in France in the 1930s, an aspect of Cahun’s work which has been underestimated in comparison to the attention paid to self-staging and the performance of gender identities, despite her polemical text on art and politics Les Paris sont Ouverts (All Bets are Open, 1934), and her short essay ‘Prenez Garde aux Objets Domestiques’ (‘Beware of Domestic Objects’, 1936). Cahun’s work will be situated in the wider context of gender ideologies, commodified domesticity and the politics of objects in the inter-war period. My conclusion will briefly discuss Cahun’s use of the body in the construction of images of femininity and female sexuality as part of a history of ‘women’s’ photography. This is a visually effective way to position and evaluate an important aspect of Cahun’s photographic work. However, her particular contribution to a sensual politics of photography has, in many respects, not yet found its equal.


Medusa and Her Sisters

The hair is spread out like the angry snakes of Medusa’s head; the eyes stare directly at the camera/viewer, fixing us with their gaze; the head is disembodied (figure 3). This 1914 photograph of/by Cahun is a cropped version of a larger image. The larger image shows her, strangely positioned, in what appears to be a chair. Her body is covered and her head rests on a pillow, as if she were sickly or convalescent. Yet the table leg or banister behind seems to suggest that the chair is not upright but perhaps on the floor, and she appears to be resting as if in a bed.1 Whatever the positioning of the furniture and props, Cahun’s disembodied head becomes even more Medusa-like in the cropped version (figure 3), from which we can infer that this effect was intended. Her head takes up almost the whole image, and there is no escaping the fixating, powerful gaze of the woman with her twisted hair.


Hair was important for Cahun. Like almost everything else about her, her hairstyles were difficult to ‘pin down’ – a terrible pun. She dyed her hair, shaved it short, totally removed it, sometimes grew it longer or wore it in a bun. Her hair in this photograph is laid out and displayed like an aura around her head. Studies of hair have noted its boundary nature; both inside and outside the body, both nature and culture. Hair needs to be ‘dressed’ or it is naked. Cahun’s hair is never naked hair. When Cahun 15


Claude Cahun cuts her hair, it usually undermines traditional notions of femininity.2 Hair needs to be kept in place, not just to preserve the boundaries of the body and the self, but also to play its part in fixing socio-cultural categories: the clean, the dirty, the ordered, the disorderly, the constrained, the sexually abandoned.3 Hair was, and is, fetishised and commodified. Peasant women sold their hair to men who made the rounds of villages to collect it. This was considered vastly superior to male hair for wigs and other uses such as jewellery making.4 Both Richard von Krafft-Ebing and Alfred Binet mention male hair fetishists, who gained sexual pleasure from following girls and women with long hair and cutting off locks to take home with them.5 The meanings of long and short hair vary according to gender and historical and social circumstances.6 While long hair tends to connote sensuality and power, and shorn hair celibacy, Cahun’s shaving her head tends, as usual, to confound expectations. While shaving Samson’s head takes away his strength, power and stereotypically masculine attributes, Cahun’s shaved head paradoxicaly makes her appear more powerful, even phallic.7 The norm for middle-class provincial women at the time this photograph was taken would have been long hair, worn arranged and pinned up. The loose

Figure 3: Claude Cahun, Self-portrait, 17.8 x 23.6 cms, 1914, JHT.

Medusa and Her Sisters long hair in Cahun’s Medusa-like image connotes power and the entrapment of the gaze, rather than female modesty.8 In early twentieth-century France, feminine modesty was suggested by downcast eyes and ‘dressed’ hair.


Cahun’s image was produced at a time when Cubism had been developed in Paris by Braque and Picasso, but elements of Symbolism and Art Nouveau still flourished in French art and culture. As a young woman brought up mainly in provincial Nantes, and aware of the Symbolist movement through her uncle, the writer Marcel Schwob, it is not surprising to find Cahun engaging in her early career with Symbolist themes and images. Medusa was one example of the ‘femmes fatales’ of Symbolist imagery. It is perhaps surprising that Cahun did not include her in the series of written pieces she entitled ‘Héroïnes’, on which she worked from the early 1920s, some of which were published in 1925.9 However, Cahun does refer to Medusa in Aveux non Avenus, in the section written between 1919 and 1925.10 Medusa embodies one of the many male fantasies of femininity discussed by Bram Dijkstra in his book on late nineteenth-century art. At once fascinating and repellent, the supposedly castrating head of Medusa, which makes men ‘stiffen’ and turn to stone, was among other dangerous yet enticing mythical women such as Judith and Salome, whose sexuality resulted in the destruction of their male victims.11 The Greek myth of Medusa dealt with one of the three Gorgons, a mortal woman once beautiful, but made ugly by the goddess Athena as a punishment for having sexual relations (whether voluntary or coerced) with the sea god Poseidon in Athena’s temple. Medusa’s horrific gaze thereafter turned men to stone, but she was overcome and killed by Perseus (son of Zeus and Danaë) through his ability to mirror her reflection in his shield while cutting off her head. At the very moment Medusa is killed she sees her own reflection, and is fixed for ever in this last image, a victim of her own representation.12 Medusa’s head tends to be associated with horror, danger, death and castration by male writers, while recent female writers see Medusa as an empowering and beautiful figure. In a classic of feminist theory, Hélène Cixous writes in ‘The Laugh of the Medusa’ (1975) that Medusa is a sympathetic figure who disrupts



Claude Cahun ‘phallologocentrism’ (male-centred language) by her subversive laughter:…women aren’t castrated… You only have to look at the Medusa straight on to see her. And she’s not deadly. She’s beautiful and she’s laughing.’13 Jacques Derrida, on the other hand, writing in 1974, compares Medusa to the Jew: ‘Like the Gorgon, the Jew materializes, petrifies everything he sees and everything that regards him, that raises, for example the eyes, toward him.’14 For Cahun, in the earlier part of the twentieth century, Medusa was an interesting figure probably encountered through Symbolist art and literature as well as Greek myth, though it would be speculation to suggest that the Derridean comparison of the effect of Medusa’s appearance and the effect of Jewish identity had also been made by Cahun herself. However, I would argue that the (cropped) portrait head is a conscious reference to the myth of the snake-haired Gorgon as the hair in Cahun’s image is so deliberately arranged (perhaps this is why the chair may be positioned on its back on the floor), and the head looks decapitated. By this time, Cahun and her stepsister were extremely close, perhaps even a couple, and they moved in together in 1917. This image of Cahun as Medusa may not be about petrifying men but attracting a woman/women. In the Medusa myth, the frontality of the gaze is significant, as is the role of the mirror/shield reflection. According to various writers, the reflected image on the shield means that the myth is not only about the transfer of power from matriarchy to patriarchy, not only about conquering the threat of castration, real or symbolic, but about vision, visibility and image making.15 In a fascinating article, Rainer Mack analyses the myth of Medusa in Greek art, showing how her image is based on a contradiction. Her representation is made to be gazed on, but she cannot, according to the meaning of the legend, be looked at. When she was looked at, she was already defeated and powerless. The image of Medusa is an embodiment of the taking of power, through the objectification of a living being by means of visual representation – i.e. on the mirror-like surface of the shield that allows Perseus to kill her without looking at her. The shield/mirror allows us to reflect not ourselves, but someone else whom we objectify, in order to attempt to preserve our notion of selfhood.16 This is linked to Lacan’s notion of the mirror phase, where the young child, through the mirror image, embarks on the beginning of the construction of an independent self. For Lacan, though, the seductive identification with this mirror image results

Medusa and Her Sisters from a mis-recognition of the self. The individual will never experience plenitude and be at one with her/his self-image, which is always bound up with the gaze of the other. The myth of Medusa and visual representations of the Gorgon thus cut across various notions of visual representation, power, gender and self-(mis)recognition. In the act of fixing the image of Medusa on the special shield/mirror, with its coating of metallic substance, we can also see an analogy with the photographic process, as well as a link to the many writings on photography which link the photographic image with capture and death.17 As we will see, mirrors appear often in Cahun’s work, making references to the nature of vision and the reality of (self-) images. Indeed, it might be argued that she used the camera as a mirroring device, whose materialised images appeared after the delay of development and printing, which only heightened the desire of expectation. The mirror gives a reversed view, whereas the printing process of the photographic negative rewards the wait with a ‘true’ reflection; but how might a Medusa head function as a selfrepresentation for another woman? It is very likely that this photograph was made in collaboration with Suzanne Malherbe, whom Cahun had met in 1909. Whether Suzanne Malherbe actually took many of the photographs that were set up by Cahun is not absolutely clear.18 I do not want to argue at length here about the contribution of both/either to the photographs. Clearly, there is a degree of collaboration, perhaps varying at certain times, or even from image to image. I believe, however, that photographs of/by Cahun exist on a continuum of constructed images by herself and by others, ranging from passport photographs to images of Cahun dressed in theatrical costume as a character in a play. Even when the photographs are of Cahun taken by someone else, Cahun has already constructed herself and posed. The question of how much construction and how much pose is a question of degree, not necessarily of qualitative difference. Even the snapshot-type photographs almost certainly taken by Malherbe (for example of Cahun with her friend Henri Michaux in the ruins of Grosnez Castle in Jersey in 1939) are not taken when the models are unaware. Cahun is always ready for the camera and conscious of it when it arrives; ready for the look.19 This ‘Medusa’ image, however, may be one of Cahun’s early attempts, while still heavily influenced by Symbolism, to re-envision images of women for women, to subvert stereotypes and ways of picturing the feminine and, indeed, to rethink the feminine altogether. Whereas Symbolist



Claude Cahun images of Medusa and other ‘femmes fatales’ mobilised, and then attempted to neutralise, threats of petrification and castration for male viewers, this image of Cahun/Medusa seems to entice, fascinate and interest a potential female other (Malherbe?), or a narcissistic spectator – i.e. Cahun herself. We cannot know this, as there is very little in her copious extant papers specifically about her photography – a strange fact in itself. If the more intimate photographs were primarily for herself and Suzanne, and I would suggest that they were, then there were few reasons why Cahun would exhibit them in public or make written comments about them. She could simply talk to Suzanne Malherbe about the images, and discuss, for example, why some were more interesting or successful than others. In addition, where, in Nantes in 1914, would she have exhibited work like this? One expert has suggested that Cahun’s work in the 1920s and 1930s was dominated by writing, ‘and it would seem that her photography was used as an adjunct to this’.20 If this is indeed the case, and I am not entirely convinced, then the opposite is the case now, for her writing has tended to be read as a means of more fully understanding her contribution to photography.21 Cahun was involved with photography for almost all her life, even during periods when she was actively writing, and the surviving images show a variety of work – self-portraits, private domestic snapshots (of cats, interiors, etc.), ‘Surrealist’ images (photographs of constructed objects), photomontages and more adventurous ‘double negative’ images – without, however, ensuring her a place as a major innovator in photographic techniques.22


Cahun’s uncle, the Symbolist writer Marcel Schwob, had contributed to a luxury volume published in 1896, produced in only 183 copies, and presented to all the members of the group Bibliophiles Contemporains, lovers of literature and fine books. The eight chapters of the book were devoted to ‘woman’, love and beauty, according to the preface. The binding was richly decorated in the Art Nouveau style. There were also eight frontispieces, one for each chapter, by Félicien Rops, engraved and then coloured ‘en taille-douce polychrome, dit à la poupée’.23 The volume was entitled Féminies, from the old word ‘feminie’, ‘domain of woman’. To

Medusa and Her Sisters modern tastes, these essays vary between the embarrassing and the sexist. Contents include an illustration of a woman, naked save for black stockings, being brought perfumes and a bidet by cherubs; essays on the secrets of make-up; love as a sport; the archaeology of love; a picture of a woman with a naked breast who pulls back a curtain and walks towards us – the curtain is inscribed ‘Variétés’. Throughout this volume, itself decorated and ‘feminised’, women are explicitly linked to artifice, disguise and the display of sex (pp. 92–93). There are two essays by Marcel Schwob. For one of these, ‘Les Marionnettes de l’Amour’ (‘The Puppets of Love’), the illustration (figure 4) depicts a woman looking into the back of a puppet theatre (is she the puppeteer?). She is not the one pulling the strings, however, and the joke is on her, for a small boy is pulling down her clothing, exposing her bare behind to the reader of the book. Signs read ‘Performance of puppets of love’ and ‘Opening of female theatrical fantasies’. Beneath the main image are sketches of masks. The spectacle is not what the woman is seeing but what the (male) spectator sees and enjoys at the woman’s expense.24 Marcel Schwob’s essay on ‘The Puppets of Love’ is written in the form of a dialogue between men, who debate the deceitful nature of women, all of whom mimic love and sexual pleasure where there is none. One speaker points out that we all play roles in a theatre; this is where the term ‘person/persona’ comes from. All women, however, don the mask of love. The actor states: ‘This mask becomes their own face, so much so that they end up becoming aware of its expression which they did not even consciously compose.’25 So the real woman and the mask are almost indistinguishable, even to the woman herself. Cahun surely must have known this book, as she admired her uncle and his literary achievements. Both she and Malherbe were referred to by her father Maurice Schwob as ‘passionate about books’.26 In relation to this volume of essays, it is worth noticing the emergence of some themes which we will encounter in Cahun’s own work, both literary and photographic (the theatrical, performance, mimicry, masquerade and masking, eroticism), but the aggressively masculine way in which these themes are dealt with in this luxury volume are very different from the manner in which Cahun will inflect them. Masks, mirrors, multiple selves, double identities, reality and artifice are themes which appear often in Marcel Schwob’s work, for example in his short story of a king who wears a golden mask (1892), surrounded by his


Figure 4: After Félicien Rops, illustration for ‘Les Marionnettes de L’Amour’, by Marcel Schwob (original watercolour 1872–1876) published in O. Uzanne, ed., Féminies, Académie des Beaux Livres, Paris, 1896, courtesy Bibliothèque Nationale de France.

Medusa and Her Sisters courtiers and priests, who all wear their own masks of loyalty, piety and servility. This world is made up of signs of signs; masks are the signs of faces, and words are the signs of things. Under the masks, the women are ugly, the priests are laughing and the king is a leper. He dies, ridding himself of all masks, golden, leprous skin, and flesh.27 In true Symbolist style, Schwob casts doubt on whether there is a real nature behind the signs of images and words. Is the real face any more or less of a sign than a mask is of what’s ‘underneath’? One biographer remarks that Schwob’s work raises the question of whether there can be any relation between self and self, or self and other, without some kind of reference point – a mask, or a mirror.28 Cahun admired her uncle and wrote articles about his work, though perhaps his most useful function for her was as a role model of a writer, and a staging point in moving from Symbolism to avant-garde modernism. Cahun’s literary work Vues et Visions, published in 1914 under the name of Claude Courlis, shows her in the process of doing just this.29 By signalling her interest in, and practice of, photography, she was already moving beyond Symbolism, with its denigration of natural appearances and rejection of ‘copying’ the material world. Cahun’s early staged and performed photographs make use of some of the tropes of Symbolism which coincide with her own projects, and also utilise a cheap and relatively easy method of image making which was later to become aligned with modernity and the modern woman.


Cahun poses sitting at a desk, eyes downwards, looking at a large book, perhaps even Féminies (figure 5). Her mid-length hair is soft and wavy. She wears a sailor top, and by her right hand is a small box camera. The book she is looking at rests on another, whose author and title are intentionally visible: Armand Dayot, Image de la Femme. The photograph is dated and located in Nantes, March 1915. Given this date, Cahun looks a very youthful twenty years old. The sailor suit makes her appear almost childlike. Her suit was worn with trousers, not the usual skirt accompanying sailor tops for girls, as we know from another photograph taken about the same time which shows Cahun standing and holding a sailor-style hat in her hand.30 Sailor suits, according to Alison Lurie, were first introduced in the late eighteenth century in schools which trained boys for the navy. They



Claude Cahun were also worn (with a skirt) by girls, and became very popular with middle-class families. Sailor suits came to convey contradictory meanings: rugged outdoorness or pampered, effete beauty, as in the character Tadzio in Death in Venice.31 Cahun’s attraction to sailor suits may be connected to her love of the coast and seaside, where a significant number of her photographs are posed. By the inter-war period the sailor had become a signifier of sexuality, and of male homosexual attraction in particular. Jean Cocteau and his friend the singer and writer Suzy Solidor were attracted to the sexuality and double entendres of naval lifestyles and clothing, and the Ballets Russes star Serge Lifar appeared at society parties in his sailor costume. The sexual attraction of the (gay) sailor has more recently been exploited in the Jean-Paul Gaultier adverts for his men’s fragrance ‘Le Mâle’ (where a young sailor narcissistically arm-wrestles with a ‘double’ of himself). Since women pirates were known to have cross-dressed, Suzy Solidor’s utilisation of sailor’s dress as an element of lesbian sub-culture was not surprising.32 The figure of the sailor still functions as a romantic figure symbolising freedom and rootlessness. Tattooed, strong and supermasculine, the sailor can also be treated with humour and his attributes parodied. In recent photographic works (2005) by Rhiannon Ross, for example, the artist dresses as a sailor, eating spinach from a can (like Popeye), or smoking a pipe, while sporting obvious signs of femininity such as clip-on Figure 5: Claude Cahun (and Marcel Moore?), earrings, a necklace and red Schwob/Cahun reading with ‘L’Image de la nail varnish (colour plate 1). Femme’, 11 x 8.2 cms, ca. 1915, JHT.

Medusa and Her Sisters Ross stands in front of an obviously painted backdrop of the sea, emphasising the constructed and performed nature of her sailor image. When Cahun posed with Dayot’s book wearing her sailor suit, she clearly intended the title to be visible. Although she is actually reading another book, we can surmise that she was familiar with the contents of Dayot’s volume. Armand Dayot, its author, was a prolific writer who was also Government Inspector of Fine Arts. Published in 1897, his book on images of ‘woman’ was typical of nineteenth-century writings on the topic, announcing itself as a ‘book of pure art and a book of beauty since the image of woman only appears herein as a sparkling mirror, where is reflected the spirit of the ages, the characteristics of races, the aesthetics of schools of painting, the ideal of artists’.33 There are no nudes illustrated, and just a few works by women, mainly by the painters Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun and Angelika Kauffmann. Despite its traditional approach, there are aspects of Dayot’s book that were perhaps interesting to Cahun. Dayot writes, for example, that not all the pictures in the book are of great beauties. Cleopatra, he says, had a distinctive nose. Cahun certainly had. There are lots of images, illustrating interesting clothes and fascinating hairstyles. Dayot points out that the medieval ideal of woman demanded hard little breasts, ‘as white as flowers in a meadow’, and that women shaved their foreheads in the Renaissance.34 He mentions a head of the Medusa in Florence (supposedly) painted by Leonardo, ‘which exerts a kind of fascination… The Gioconda with her smiling sweetness is equally terrifying as the Medusa’ (pp. 71–72). There would have been enough in this rather pedestrian book for a young woman dressed in a sailor trouser suit to read it against the grain of heterosexuality, and ponder on visual images of women with her camera at the ready.


A series of articles regularly published on the back page of Le Phare de la Loire (a newspaper which had been bought by Cahun’s paternal grandfather) from July 1913 to July 1914 shows that Cahun and Moore were interested in fashion trends, and keen to relate dress to their own identities as provincial young women, though in an unorthodox relationship. While Leperlier gives the authorship of these articles, illustrated by Suzanne Malherbe/Marcel Moore, to Cahun, Patrice Allain sees them as primarily the work of



Claude Cahun Malherbe, as does von Oehsen.35 Given that the two young women were by this time inseparable, it is clear that Cahun was aware of these articles and perhaps even contributed ideas. These short pieces on fashion, written explicitly for ‘the stylish provincial woman’, are witty and tongue-in-cheek. The author sometimes pretends to be a man addressing ‘Madame’, with advice on the latest trends from Paris, and how to adapt them to the provinces and to her own sense of style. Some familiar themes emerge. In an article on fur, we are told that women do not look at thermometers but in their mirrors (27.10.1913); sometimes we prefer an ugly woman who knows how never to look it to a great beauty (24.11.1913). In a long loose robe, you can be Cleopatra, Iphegenia, ‘toutes les héroïnes, voire même vous’. In this same article we are told by the imaginary male author: Just imagine, in Paris they are launching pyjamas for women! Are you a feminist? I don’t really care. Wear my pyjamas, smoke my pipe and write my articles. (24.11.1913)

The female author/s pretend/s to be a man writing for women, who are jokingly invited to wear his clothes, smoke, and do his job. Levels of masquerade and humour are used to introduce feminism. For us, knowing that Cahun and Malherbe are behind the articles, the female couple seem to have the last laugh, pretending to be a male writer poking fun at feminism in public and, in private, doing what they like as lesbians. In an article on hats and how to use various trims to ring the changes and ‘metamorphoses’, we are advised to make hats like Mercury or Mephistopheles, but to ‘Beware! don’t make the mistake of fabricating yourself a Medusa’s head!’ (1.12.1913). During the carnival season there are articles on disguises and masks ‘Sous le Masque’ (9.2.1914), where the author says s/he is taking refuge under the mask of a pseudonym; ‘Masques et Visages’ (11.2.1914); on ‘Soupers et Bals Travestis’ (16.3.1914) where young men and women look indistinguishable in terms of gender. In the summer of 1914 the articles suggest suitable clothes for the modern woman holidaying by the sea or in the mountains, emphasising knitted jersey fabrics, skirts and a ‘vareuse de matelot’ (a sailor’s overall top or pilot coat) (20.7.1914). An article on what to wear on the beach, especially

Medusa and Her Sisters when getting out of the water, advises women to wear dark-coloured figure-fitting knitted clothing, as light-coloured and loose fabrics will cling to the body and make them look nude (27.7.1914). A woman in this situation, the author writes, will be the focal point of the Kodaks, and will be embarrassed at crossing a long beach under the gaze of ‘cruel lenses and the insensitive looks of the public’. The author no doubt speaks from experience of swimming, watching women on the beach and either photographing or watching others photograph by the seaside, though the earliest extant image of Cahun in a swimsuit has been dated to 1916.36 By this time, just before the outbreak of the Great War, Cahun and Malherbe had embarked on a personal and creative relationship that was to last for the rest of Cahun’s life. Despite her father’s disapproval, she had entered into a partnership that brought her artistic and personal support, but that would also position her as ‘out of the ordinary’. Already aware of anti-Semitic prejudice (she was sent to school in England in 1907– 1908 to avoid the antipathy to French Jews during the second review of the Dreyfus case), she was made aware that her relationship with Suzanne Malherbe was a ‘problem’. The couple’s move from Nantes to Paris, in the early 1920s, marked Cahun’s break with both Symbolist influence and family ties.37 From this time she became Claude Cahun, until her use of the name Lucie Schwob as a ‘nom de guerre’ in the Second World War.


During this earlier part of her life, Cahun encountered various prejudices which were to influence her views on culture, society and, later, revolutionary politics. As a member of a partly Jewish family, a woman and a lesbian, Cahun was confronted by difficult situations despite her relatively well-off background, and the network of literary contacts she could exploit due to family connections. These literary connections, however, were not without problems. Her father’s Jewish heritage, whether signalled by Schwob or by her adopted name of Cahun (perhaps a form of Cohen, and the family name of her father’s Jewish mother), marked her out at a time when the Dreyfus Affair and the anti-Semitism which instigated it, were still important issues in French political life. Her uncle, Marcel Schwob, had been a victim of



Claude Cahun anti-Semitic comments during the Dreyfus Affair. Schwob wrote an article in the family paper, Le Phare de la Loire, in 1897, and was insulted by some other journalists for defending Dreyfus. Even when some of his literary work was praised, his style was categorised as ‘Jewish’, and some right-wing critics saw him as writing in French but perverting it in a kind of barbarous, devious way. Marcel Schwob, they implied, was a Jewish writer. Mobile, tricky, unable to be pinned down, he was not a ‘true’ French writer.38 Cahun’s own writings could also be described as ‘tricky’, though different from those of her uncle. As a woman born in France in the late nineteenth century, Cahun did not enjoy equal rights with men. Women were not allowed to vote in France until the 1940s, and career opportunities were limited. Although the French National Assembly voted by a large majority to grant women the vote in May 1919, the Senate overturned this in 1922.39 Thus, despite her radical views on culture and politics, Cahun, as a woman, would have been unable to vote until the end of her life. Women had the legal position of minors, though reforms meant that from 1881 a married woman could open a bank account without the assistance of her husband. Single and separated women made a major step forward in 1893, when they were granted full legal capacity. A law of 1907 allowed married women to dispose of their own salaries. Divorce was very complicated, and only available once again from 1884 after having been abolished after the fall of Napoleon in 1815.40 Discrimination against women as women was also compounded by class position. The situation for working-class women was harsh, and their wages were generally insufficient to enable independent living, such as was enjoyed by Cahun and Malherbe. The percentage of economically active women in France was 38.7 in 1911, so the remainder were either kept by men, unpaid homeworkers or farmworkers for their families, or economically well off enough to live independently.41 Cahun and Malherbe, from reasonably well-off backgrounds, were fortunate enough to avoid many of these problems, having embarked on their lesbian relationship together on the basis of equality. Cahun’s father was the owner of the newspaper Le Phare de la Loire, where she published some of her earliest pieces of writing. While the couple were never rich, they were comfortable enough, and were not obliged to work for a living. However, their home in Jersey was ransacked during the Occupation and many of their possessions damaged or destroyed, including artworks and some photographs. After the war

Medusa and Her Sisters they were forced to take out a mortgage on the property to cover dayto-day living expenses, and also made some money by selling flowers.42 As a woman, Cahun was also in an even more difficult situation than most male writers. While she was probably paid for her journalism, it is unlikely that she made much money from her literary work, and she appears never to have sold any photographs, although she may have been paid a fee for the few that were published. Bridget Elliott and Jo-Ann Wallace, in their very useful study of women modernist artists and writers, look at the financial position of some key artistic and literary contemporaries of Cahun. Natalie Barney and Romaine Brooks were both extremely wealthy, and Barney used some of her money to found an Académie des Femmes in 1927 in Paris, in opposition to the official Académie Française, which did not admit women till 1980. Barney’s wealth allowed her to experiment. Brooks’ financial position meant she never had to sell her paintings or have a dealer, and so, as Elliott and Wallace rightly put it, she had financial capital, but not the symbolic capital that comes from success in the cultural marketplace.43 Less wealthy, but still comfortably well-off, Vanessa Bell, Virginia Woolf and Gertrude Stein valued payment for their work because it meant public recognition, respect and proof that their work was taken seriously.44 The Parisian painter Marie Laurencin worked hard to raise herself from a working-class background, though, according to Elliott and Wallace, she did not have the luxury of becoming too avant-garde to sell. A career in the arts was more open to men than women, who were able to attend the state Ecole des Beaux-Arts only from 1900 (in a separate studio), and enter for the prestigious Prix de Rome in 1903.45 Not surprisingly, the authors of this study conclude that the wealthier the woman artist or writer the more control she was able to assert over the ways in which her representations of self and others circulated. This may be one of the reasons why Cahun never really attempted to exhibit the majority of her photographs. Within the private or ‘domestic’ sphere, created in an intimate relationship, many of the photographs display Cahun creating and controlling her own image – a control which is usually threatened once editors, dealers, publishers and critics are invited to participate in the construction of the works’ meanings and consumption. If the photographs were not sold in her lifetime, they were not commodified, and Cahun remained in possession of both the images themselves and the copyright.



Claude Cahun The relatively comfortable lifestyle enjoyed for long periods by Cahun and Malherbe did not prevent them from being concerned about injustice and exploitation, and their political activities in the 1930s and 1940s surely meant that they were aware of earlier socialist struggles in France, and of women such as Madeleine Pelletier (1874–1939). Born into a poor family, Pelletier felt ill at ease in bourgeois feminist organisations (with which Cahun appears to have had no contact), and in the overwhelmingly male milieux of socialist politics. Pelletier, who died in a psychiatric hospital in 1939 after being arrested on a charge of assisting an abortion, was a campaigner for a woman’s right to choose, sexual freedom and political and economic equality for women. She also campaigned for women’s right to dress as they liked, and she herself dressed like a man.46 In the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries women were still viewed as fragile, unstable creatures, prone to hysteria and other debilitating mental and physical conditions.47 The Surrealists were to re-invent hysteria as an empowering and admirably creative anti-bourgeois condition. Their views, however, did not change the situation of the majority of mental patients. Cahun’s relationship with her mother was damaged by the latter’s mental illness and final internment in a Parisian psychiatric clinic, which has given rise to speculations about Cahun’s own psychic development, as well as suspected periods of anorexia.48 Cahun wrote that the men in her family thought that the opinions of women were of no importance.49 However, she felt more drawn to her uncle’s views than those of her father, who disliked communism, Surrealism, pacifism and left-wing politics.50 She described her father as a rationalist, a Cartesian, a supporter of science and clarity against Symbolists, Russian novels and German philosophers; a man who did not understand her and preferred not to know about her literary works. However, she recounts a visit with her father to the Louvre in 1905 or 1906, where they saw works by Leonardo. Her father liked the Mona Lisa but she preferred the sexually ambiguous ‘St John the Baptist (Bacchus)’, as she calls the painting. Her father gave her a colour reproduction of this work, without her even asking; she called it ‘une superbe reproduction en couleurs de l’éphêbe qui m’avait fascinée’.51 He may have suspected why she was drawn to this sexually ambiguous work, or he may have given it to her because he mistook her interest in it as being based entirely on its qualities as a painting.

Medusa and Her Sisters Her attraction to this androgynous image relates to another aspect of Cahun’s life and work which made her vulnerable to prejudice – her relationship with her partner and stepsister. While fashionably interesting in a restricted literary and cultural milieu in the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, male or female homosexuality was not an easily lived identity for many, as the trial and imprisonment of Oscar Wilde demonstrated. Even a background of wealth and culture could not guarantee acceptance and equality for lesbians and gay men. In my understanding of the designation ‘lesbian’, I am in basic agreement with Florence Tamagne, who states that homosexual acts are universal and appear to have existed throughout history. However, these diverse acts should be distinguished from male and female homosexual identities, which are historically specific and contingent.52 There is some debate, however, as to when specifically homosexual male and female identities emerged in modern Europe. James Saslow argues that we should push back the emergence of a consciously elaborated homosexual identity (or identities) to the early modern period in the Renaissance, whereas John D’Emilio links the emergence of gay identities to the development of advanced capitalism, which resulted in increased urbanisation, the gradual erosion of the nuclear, patriarchal family, the increased employment of women and the possibility of more people being able to live independently and/or save money to spend on clothes and leisure activities.53 I will be using the terminology proposed by Francesca Canadé Sautman: The words ‘lesbian’ and ‘lesbianism’ designate social and sexual practices, and the women engaging in them, through which women elect other women exclusively or habitually as the affectional or sexual focus of their lives. Temporary relations with women in a life otherwise centered around men, or those whose extent is uncertain, are termed ‘same-sex’…54

Sautman is also careful not to assume that modern lesbian identities are the same as those in earlier times. The private nature of intimate relationships, and the need to avoid persecution, means that historical evidence is often scarce, especially in the case of working-class lesbians, whose testimonies come to us in the present through the distorting mirror of court or prison records. According to laws passed in France during the Revolution and the Empire period, homosexual acts performed in private were not crimes;



Claude Cahun however, this did not mean that lesbians and gay men were generally socially accepted, especially in the provinces.55 Homosexual men were at risk of blackmail, while lesbians were allegedly linked to prostitution. By the early 1880s lesbians and gay men were viewed not so much as sinners before God but as criminals, perverts and pathological cases.56 Thus lesbians were likely to be thought of as either possible criminals (if lower-class) and possible candidates for analysis and/or internment in psychiatric institutions (any social class). The translation into French of several of Freud’s works in 1922–1923 and the foundation of the Société du Psychanalyse in 1926 heralded something of a breakthrough in the level of sophistication with which female sexuality was analysed and discussed, despite Freud’s famous self-proclaimed puzzlement as to the nature of ‘woman’.57 Richard von Krafft-Ebing, in Psychopathia Sexualis, divided lesbians into four categories, in each case linking lesbian ‘characteristics’ to the rejection of conventional female social roles, cross-dressing and ‘masculine’ traits. ‘Uranism’, as he termed it, could be discerned in women dressing in a mannish way. Cahun clearly knew this terminology, as her writings refer to the term in the title of her text ‘Les Jeux Uraniens’.58 Havelock Ellis, some of whose work Cahun translated, maintained that numbers of lesbians had increased since education for women and campaigning for women’s rights had emboldened many with new-found confidence and self-consciousness. As Carroll Smith-Rosenberg puts it: ‘The connections Ellis drew between what he believed was a rising incidence of middle-class lesbianism and feminist political and educational advances reveal a man troubled by changes he could not in principle oppose.’59 Ellis believed that lesbians were among the most intelligent women, and could therefore influence other women who were susceptible. In an article from 1895 entitled ‘Sexual Inversion in Women’, Ellis wrote: The modern movement of emancipation – the movement to obtain the same rights and duties, the same freedom and responsibility, the same education and the same work, must be regarded as on the whole a wholesome and inevitable movement. But it carries with it certain disadvantages. It has involved an increase in feminine criminality and in feminine insanity, which are being elevated towards the masculine standard. In connection with these, we can scarcely be surprised to find an increase in homosexuality which has always been regarded as belonging to an allied, if not the same, group of phenomena…60

Medusa and Her Sisters While changing economic and social circumstances were important in the increasing visibility of homosexual men and women during Cahun’s lifetime, they do not totally explain consciousness and agency. People make their own choices and act accordingly, although not in circumstances of their own choosing, as Marx famously pointed out. Upper-class lesbians may have found it easier to form lesbian relationships in restricted social circles, and some were able to have their literary work dealing with lesbian themes published privately, but, as we might expect, the politics of Parisian lesbians varied considerably across and within differing class backgrounds, as Shari Benstock has recounted. Gertrude Stein, Natalie Barney, Liane de Pougy and Lucie Delarue-Mardrus were among those who held extremely right-wing political ideas, while others such as Cahun, Malherbe, Adrienne Monnier and expatriates such as Sylvia Beach, Winifred Bryher and Djuna Barnes expressed left-wing sympathies.61 For working-class lesbians, however, things were considerably more difficult. As Sautman has written, their voices have traditionally been ignored, silenced or distorted, because ‘they were at the same time the voices of women, lesbians, and working-class people’.62 Sautman argues that lesbianism was perhaps more acceptable if the lesbians were affluent and refined, but working-class lesbians were ‘painted in the most abject and misogynous colours’ (p. 180) and, as the painter Hélène Azenor put it ‘we were all disgusting’ to the public at large (p. 181). Homophobia was largely unchallenged by the left, and homosexuality was often seen even in Communist Party circles as a luxury only the dissolute rich could afford to engage in. The myth that the working classes were resolutely heterosexual made things very difficult for those who obviously were not that way inclined (p. 186). Lesbians, real or pretended, however, were acceptable when enacting sexual pleasure for male viewers, either in tableaux vivants, photographs, Symbolist painting and literature or, later on, films. Actual lesbians engaging in pleasure on their own account was another matter.63 It is important to remember that, in the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, (straight?) women posing in photographs together in erotic poses constituted probably the largest body of visual material devoted to the representation of ‘lesbians’. Cahun’s photographic representations, therefore, need to be viewed in the context of gendered, sexualised and even, to some extent, ‘racialised’



Claude Cahun identities. These developing identities were not fixed but in process, and contested sites of struggle and desire. This is why it is difficult, and probably doomed to failure, to conceive of Cahun’s ‘self-portrait’ photographs as expressing identities or positions on certain issues or questions. The same can be said of her literary works. However in her private papers written towards the end of her life, she sets down her views on various events and issues in a more direct way.


Cahun’s self-images in this early period around 1914, such as figures 3 and 5, are nodal points which incorporate elements of past culture and future developments. Visually, the ‘Medusa’ photograph references Symbolist images of femmes fatales, whose dangerous, supposedly castrating gaze and physical actions threaten men. In the photograph of Cahun seated reading a book, her clothing and the visible presence of Dayot’s book on images of women make references to later nineteenth-/early twentieth-century culture and dress. However, this young person, earnestly studying a volume supported by the history of female representations in fine art, already seems to have an eye on the future, as her camera sits next to the weighty nineteenth-century tomes. In a few years, Lucy Schwob will decide to become Claude Cahun and create photographic images striking in their modernity, and, according to some, their anticipation of postmodernity. Resistant to categorisation as intended for a lesbian viewer, a bisexual viewer or a heterosexual viewer, her subsequent self-images from the inter-war period invite a sensual rather than a sexualised gaze. While I have mentioned, and will again, the writings of Lacan in relation to Cahun’s photographs of herself, I believe also that Lacanian theories of visuality based on a gaze detached from the body and objectifiying it are insufficient to account for the powerful impact of Cahun’s work. As we shall see, Cahun’s images succeed in eliciting responses from the viewer which are ‘not solely communicated through signs but experienced in the body’.64 Her gaze/look in the ‘Medusa’ photograph (connoting confrontation, otherness, and narcissism), and in figure 5 where she is looking at the book (seeing as knowledge?), is an extremely important aspect of photographs in which she appears, but the look and visuality are means by which sensual responses

Medusa and Her Sisters of other kinds are nurtured in the embodied spectator, and the body is implicated and acknowledged in the act of seeing. The sensuality of her work moves away from Symbolism, where woman is represented as different and other for (primarily) male spectators, to produce powerful visual images where desire and sensuality are visualised and embodied for viewers whose gender and sexuality are not ďŹ xed.



Masks, Masquerades and Mirrors

Masks, masquerades, mirrors, mimicry, mimesis – the themes of Cahun’s photographic self-portraits encourage an overdose of alliteration. Many articles and essays have been written on these key aspects of her work, especially by writers interested in postmodern theory.1 It is worth pausing to question the seemingly obvious reasons why these issues were so attractive to late twentieth-century scholars and critics who encountered Cahun’s rediscovered photographs. The extremes of postmodern theory questioned reality itself, downgrading the material world to the status of representations, without privileged ontological or epistemological status. That is to say, reality (or ‘reality’ as it was often referred to) had no prime importance in terms of its being or its status as knowledge. The work of Cindy Sherman, for example, who made photographic images of herself posing/passing as women who looked as if they were in film stills from B movies which in fact had never existed, was seen as epitomising these concerns.2 Jean Baudrillard, Gilles Deleuze and Jean-François Lyotard questioned the nature of reality, reason and truth, and in the 1980s, at the height of the influence of postmodern theories, artifice, parody and the lack of any reality behind surface appearances were advocated by many scholars and theorists who felt these approaches avoided essentialism. For example, signs/texts representing ‘woman’ were just that: there was, it was argued, no such thing as woman, only her representations.3 Works by feminist postmodern theorists, such as Judith Butler, Rosi Braidotti and Donna Haraway, were intellectually stimulating but they too undermined the notion that material reality could be understood and changed by conscious subjects endowed with political 36

Masks, Masquerades and Mirrors agency.4 Judith Butler’s work was hugely influential in the early and mid1990s, in particular regarding notions of gender identity and subjectivity.5 It was no accident that all this took place in a period of retreat for the left, the virtual disappearance of women’s and Black liberation movements, and the demise of ‘Marxism’ (more accurately Stalinism) in eastern Europe. The basic premises of modernism (i.e. identity, agency, progress, revolution) were crumbling. While a reading of Butler (and other similar work) can provide insights into aspects of Cahun’s photographs, I feel that there are dangers in basing a whole methodology on postmodernist feminist approaches. Claude Cahun (or Lucie Schwob, the name she reverted to during the German Occupation of Jersey) was a conscious agent who intervened directly in the social, cultural and political life of her time. She believed that it was important to engage with political theories and put them into practice in order to change society. An example of this is the anti-Nazi activity undertaken by Cahun and Malherbe in the Channel Islands during the Second World War. Cahun remarked later that they had little in common with the younger, more ‘working-class’ anti-fascists they encountered, but persevered nonetheless.6 Though it is illuminating to use theories of masquerade and the performance of gender identities in order to analyse some of Cahun’s photographic self-portraits, it is always important to remember that Cahun was an actual person who made and wrote about her work, and took decisions (most likely also with Malherbe) about how her images would look. I do not mean by this that I equate the meanings of the works with the artist’s intention. Clearly, the meanings of images are far more complex than that. Even if the works remain unpublished (largely true in Cahun’s case) and therefore relatively closed to alternative readings by viewers in the public sphere, the works may embody additional meanings/readings of which the maker only later becomes aware. Nor am I arguing that artworks ‘reflect’ the times they were made in, or illustrate class and economic relations or any such crude economism.7 The self is not just a conscious agent but is made up of unconscious and repressed desires, motivations and memories that play their own part in a changing and developing subjectivity that exists in relation to others.8 A historically situated subject is individual and at the same time part of a social totality, and consciously and unconsciously engages with a contradictory and changing reality to create new representations, not passive reflections, of her/his material and psychic existence. I approach Cahun as an example



Claude Cahun of such a historically situated subject. Her identities and masks are her own creations, but produced in cultural, economic and political situations not entirely of her own making.


‘Soft as silk’. The (self-)portrait of Cahun sitting naked in front of a quilt and wearing a mask is one of the most striking of many fascinating images in her work (colour plate 3). Dating probably from the later 1920s, the image shows Cahun with her hair cut very short, seated in a symmetrical pose with the quilt behind and beneath her, in plenty of natural light. The print shows a slight shadow, probably of the photographer, on the polished floorboards in front. This is less visible in reproductions, though clearly present in the original. Cahun’s taut and youthful body looks as if it has an almost metallic sheen, or the texture of heavy silk, inviting to the touch and similar to the quilt against which she poses. The shadow of the photographer, almost certainly Malherbe, appears in a number of the photographs made by the couple, and also, of course, in many other photographs by Cahun and others.9 The shadow of the photographer, an indexical trace of the photograph’s making, reminds us that there is an observer, an/other, involved with the making of the photograph, or a viewer who will look at the image once it is made and developed. Cahun herself (or any other model), when looking at the indexical image later, looks on herself as both the same and ‘other’. Cahun’s photographs are almost always for an observer, usually Malherbe, but also herself. Her sexual nakedness in front of the quilt, blindfolded (the mask has no eyeholes), is partly hidden by her arms across her breasts and by the closeness of her knees. The mask hides her eyes and thus they cannot return our gaze. As if unseeing, she surrenders herself to the viewer.10 The power of looking seems to be with the photographer, yet there is a sensual play of revelation and concealment on and across Cahun’s face and body. The curves of her shoulders and legs, the contours of the mask and the patterns on the quilt echo one another, setting up rhythms within the composition. We can imagine how it feels to be sitting with an outspread crotch on the quilt, with its soft silky cover and feathers within. We may feel like touching, but cannot, for this body, and mind, are for

Masks, Masquerades and Mirrors mutual pleasure with someone else, whose shadow ever so slightly suggests the pleasure of a deferred uncovering of the body and mind, and, like most of Cahun’s work, manages to fuse the erotic with the intellectual. Cahun and her quilt (their quilt?) remind me of certain passages in Roland Barthes’ ‘autobiography’ (written in both the first and the third persons), and in particular the section ‘Le Livre de Moi’ – ‘the Book of the Self’– where he tells the reader that ‘[a]ll this must be considered as if spoken by a character in a novel – or rather by several characters’, and calls his book ‘a rhapsodic quilt’.11 The photographic and literary work of Cahun in collaboration with Malherbe similarly mixes the ‘facts’ of the self with ‘fictions’ of the self, mixing ‘I’ (as subject) with ‘She’ (as object), woven together as if in a patchwork quilt. Fact and fiction, reality and representation, are almost painfully fixed together at certain points where a needle pierces the fabric to draw them together, where psychic and material life come together (in the photographic prints and their negatives, for example) in ‘points de capiton’, the quilting points which bedcovers share with upholstery or even quilted petticoats. Cahun and her quilt figure in a magical instance of combining thought and material reality, one of many such nodal images in her work.12 Lacan: Have I thrown some light on your question? J.-A. Miller: Some light and some shadow.13

The shadow of the photographer: on one level, it can be explained by the fact that the photographer wants the subject facing the light. Hence something of the photographer’s presence often appears in the image. However, shadows within the photograph have other, more suggestive, meanings. In their essay on anthropological and ethnographic photographs, Pinney, Wright and Poignant illustrate a photograph entitled The Photographer’s Shadow in Kasai Land, 1907–1909, and describe how photography was linked to anthropology almost from its inception, only to lose its hold on the anthropological imagination during the later nineteenth and earlier twentieth centuries.14 This was because professional fieldwork, where the anthropologist is personally present among the subjects under scrutiny, became more important than assembling a photographic archive. The authors suggest that, during fieldwork, the anthropologist becomes analogous to the sensitised photographic plate or film. S/he was ‘exposed’



Claude Cahun to the society under investigation during fieldwork, just like a negative. A shadow is also an indexical sign, like the photograph, in that it has a physical link with what it signifies. When the shadow of the photographer intrudes into the image, it can have an unsettling effect on the viewer. The photographer has visibly come between us and the image and is now part of it, though not ‘in’ it – absent but present. The photographer’s shadow is a sign within a sign, signalling the constructed, not natural, status of the photograph. Victor Stoichita, studying the shadow in visual art, argues that the relationship of the self to a mirror reflection is a recognition of the self as ‘sameness’, while the recognition of one’s shadow is a perception of the self as ‘other’, since shadows are often in profile.15 While the shadow of the photographer is seldom in profile, its presence certainly mobilises the intrusion, or perhaps the invitation, of an ‘other’ into the constructed space of the photographic image. The shadow of Malherbe in photographs of Cahun is ambiguous because it is the shadow of the ‘other’, who is also the ‘same’ – the loved person who is not different but similar. Malherbe also becomes the sensitised surface, like the film and the photographic paper, on which the memories were imprinted to survive, along with the photographs, after Cahun’s death, but she also remains a shadowy figure beside Cahun. This is not the only photograph which shows Cahun’s interest in masks.16 There are a number of self-portraits of Cahun wearing a mask along with a cloak to which other masks are attached (see, for example, figure 6), and a fine photograph of her wearing a sort of skullcap, necklace and metal bracelet on her upper arm, while a mask hangs down on the upper left as if suspended from the edge of the photographic space (figure 7). Masks are also used in the photographs of two ‘people’ made up of objects planted in the sand in ‘Entre nous’, of 1926.17 Another photograph, taken in June or July 1936, when Cahun and Malherbe visited London for the opening of the Surrealist exhibition, shows her head just visible, peeping out from behind a display of masks, a crystal skull and other objects in the British Museum (figure 8). The notion of masking the self was used by other female artists at the time. For example there is a series of photographs by Gertrud Arndt, from 1930, in which she strikes poses for the camera wearing different hats, veils (sometimes several at one time) and theatrical-looking clothing.18 Frida Kahlo was another artist who used a mask in a self-portrait, in 1945, where she obliterates her face completely with an unpleasant purple-red mask of

Masks, Masquerades and Mirrors the contorted face of La Malinche, a maligned figure from Mexican history who had been the conquistador Cortes’ mistress and mother of their mixedrace son.19 As well as a number of visual artists, the fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli was interested in masks, mirroring and masquerades, with her famous ‘Surrealist’ designs of the 1930s, such as the black velvet jacket she designed with upside-down hand-mirrors descending from the neckline so that the viewer saw her-/himself reflected in the real mirrors situated over the wearer’s breasts.20 The linking of masks, masquerades and women also occurs in mainstream cinema of the period, for example in Josef von Sternberg’s The Devil is a Woman (1935), starring Marlene Dietrich. Early in the film, Dietrich is seen at the carnival wearing both a mask and a veil, her stunning but semi-concealed appearance teasing the spectator. Cahun’s short essay ‘Carnaval en Chambre’, published in 1926, discusses masks in relation to wider issues of identity, the self, society and knowledge. Ending with a call for a never-ending state of carnival, Cahun writes of the attraction of masks for those who do not want to live with their intentions clearly legible on their faces. Masks are made of various materials, she adds: cardboard, velvet, flesh and the Word. The latter two are her favourites, and are masks for all seasons, not just for carnival. She adds that the game of masking soon leads to a situation where you cannot cause hurt, or perhaps cannot even live properly, as you are absent, detached Figure 6: Claude Cahun, Self-portrait with from existence, a coin that Masks on Cloak, 12 x 9.4 cms, ca. 1928, JHT.


Figure 7: Claude Cahun, Self-portrait with Mask, 10 x 7.6 cms, ca. 1928, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nantes, photo RMN copyright Gérard Blot.

Masks, Masquerades and Mirrors has been taken out of circulation which no longer has any social value. In front of the mirror one day, you put on your mask a little too enthusiastically and it bites your skin. After the festival you lift up a little corner of it to look; you discover to your horror that the flesh and its concealment have become inseparable. With a bit of saliva, you stick it down again. Similarly with make-up. When you try to rub it off, you remove your skin too. Why try to take off the mask of nature to penetrate her mysteries? It is too late to repair our bodies and souls, writes Cahun. Like the ‘Joconde’ (Mona Lisa) it is a trompe-l’oeil painting with an impenetrable surface. When we dismantle everything to see how it works it loses its power to astonish, but when we put its make-up on again we regain our dreams, our desires and our delusions.21 The mask disguises our alienation. Cahun’s text returns to certain aspects of Symbolism (nature conceals her mysteries with a mask): the interpenetration of artifice and reality; the pleasures and pains of disguise and make-up; and, perhaps most potently, she alludes to the energising link between masks/make-up and desire/longing. The masks in the photographs taken in the later 1920s, probably soon after this text was published, may function as metaphors for the way in which the photographs themselves draw attention to material reality but cannot penetrate it; they are, after all, surfaces. Many of the masks do not reveal Cahun’s eyes, emphasising this tension between looking (traditionally equated with knowledge) and appearance (only one aspect of meaning). In the photograph with cloak and masks (figure 6) almost Figure 8: Claude Cahun (and Marcel Moore?), everything in the image is Têtes de Cristal, British Museum, London, 10.8 decorated, camouflaged or x 8.2 cms, June–July 1936, JHT.



Claude Cahun masked. To paraphrase Cahun writing about the Mona Lisa, it is a trompel’oeil photograph with an impenetrable surface. We know that Cahun was interested in masks as objects as well as in their potential for disguise, revelation and theatricality related to her photographic work. In her address book in the Jersey Archives are the names and addresses of shops in Paris that sold masks. Entered under ‘M’ we find references to a shop at 35 Rue de Turbigo which sold masks, one which she noted for its Japanese masks in Rue Dauphine, another at 40 Rue Dauphine which had ‘objets de Madagascar et peaux de mouton’, and one in Rue Mayet which had masks of wolves. While some meanings of masks remain fairly constant, others are modulated by changing cultural and/or political circumstances. Nowadays the mask or the balaclava connotes terrorism, fanaticism and/or criminality; witness the recent furore in the UK over the wearing of hooded tops which shadow the face and hinder identification, and the face veils of some Muslim women. A mask can be a fetish, a disguise, a symbol of ancestors, an aid to ‘beautifying’ the skin, a part of a ritual ceremony, a means of recording features (life and death masks), a theatrical prop or even heavy make-up. Masks can also be necessary for certain jobs and sports where protection is required.22 It is important to remember that masks should not be viewed as isolated objects. Usually masks function as part of a whole costume in particular situations, and when we see a mask on its own it is really a ‘dead’ object, not a live one. Whether in the theatre, at work, at a carnival or at Halloween, the mask is part of creating social and cultural meanings between people. As an isolated object, the mask can be fetishised, whether sexually, anthropologically, or as a commodity. When the mask is taken off, it becomes an inert object, like a doll or a puppet, confusing the boundaries between the living and the dead. It thus relates to Freud’s instances of ‘the uncanny’, described in his essay of 1919, where the unhomely and the unfamiliar seem to be ‘doubles’ of things, disturbing us with their mobilisation of repressed memories and traumas. Freud refers to Otto Rank’s work on the ‘double’ (1914) in which Rank mentions the connection of the ‘double’ with mirrors, shadows, guardian spirits and so on.23 We could also add the mask to this list, as it appears in plate 7, for example, as a ‘doubling’ of Cahun’s face. In a fascinating book on masquerade, identities and gender, Efrat Tseëlon describes how masks are associated with transition, processes of change

Masks, Masquerades and Mirrors and liminal/boundary states.24 Referring to David Napier’s classic book Masks, Transformation and Paradox, Tseëlon sees masks as rooted in a ‘metaphysics of ambivalence’ (p. 34), a concept which seems ideally suited to much of Cahun’s work. She argues that there is an overlap between disguise, masks and masquerades, with masking as an extension of the notion of a performance (p. 9). This is helpful in understanding Cahun’s life and work, allowing us to see her strategies of self-representation, the selfaware photographs of her by others, her self-composed staged photographs, and her performances in the theatre as overlapping areas on a spectrum where agency always provides the impetus. This is different from a view of Cahun’s activities and images as performances of femininity in a postmodern sense, always constructed by a pre-existing discourse.25 Cahun’s own terminology for her staged photographs of the later 1920s is worth noting, as is the connection of some of them with the theatre. In the Jersey Museum archives, there are a number of photographic wallets in which the negatives and prints were returned from the chemist’s/ photography shops, and many of these have annotations identifying dates, places and the subjects of the images. For example, there is a Kodak wallet with ‘Travestis’ written on it (cat. no. E3 15y 2x). Another wallet from the same period is inscribed ‘Giverny July 1929, Bal de Thaon Paris 1929, Paris Travestis 1929 Les Meilleurs’ (wallet E27). At least some of the prints that were in this wallet originally (there are none in it now, so we do not know exactly which ones they were) seem to have been associated with a fancy dress ball. Travesti (older French transvesti, dressed across/cross-dressed) means ‘to be disguised’, or ‘to be crossdressed’, and can refer to an actor who is wearing a costume, especially one playing a woman. In the nineteenth century a ‘bal travesti’ meant a masked or fancy dress ball. ‘Un travesti’ also means the actual costume: a disguise for a masked ball or masquerade. The word is linked to the English ‘travesty’, which also carries the meaning of parody or mockery; hence we are talking about something which can be playful, amusing and fun, but also with a critical edge. The mask participates in a dialectical play of revelation and concealment, and in this sense is akin to the veil, signifying a relationship between inside and outside, behind and in front (as mirrors also functioned for Cahun).26 While there is no photograph of Cahun wearing a veil, it is clear that she was interested in using other devices to mimic the veil, for example in the



Claude Cahun photographs taken from the garden in their house in Jersey which show her seated behind a latticed window. Another taken in the garden with a cat is probably from a negative which has either been intentionally scratched or had a piece of very loose woven cloth placed over it, so that the print looks as if Cahun has a white veil of threads over her face.27 The photograph with Cahun wearing a cloak decorated with masks is thought to date from the period when she was involved in experimental theatre productions in Paris during the later 1920s.28 Pierre Albert-Birot, the director of ‘Le Plateau’ theatre group, with whom she was working, was a keen student of Chinese and Japanese theatre, and instructed his players to paint their faces into expressionless masks. Indeed, Cahun’s face in many of her photographs expresses no easily readable emotion. However, the photograph of Cahun with cloak and masks (figure 6) does not appear to be part of a theatre production but perhaps ‘staged’ at home. Cahun stands in front of a textile backdrop with an elaborate pattern of illusionistic motifs of vases, leaves and flowers, all enclosed in a decorative border. It is worth asking why this cloth was used, as at first sight it seems messy and distracting. It may be that the illusionistic backdrop is chosen precisely because it is not plain and self-effacing, but presents a mixing of illusion and reality, flatness and depth, which complements the ambiguity of illusion and reality in the masked figure. Cahun appears to be wearing a wig as well as a mask – again, a kind of disturbance of boundaries between the real and the artificial. The masks on the face and the costume indicate that we should not take this figure at ‘face value’.29 This person (from the Latin persona, meaning ‘mask’) remains a mystery, despite the various options for performing identities which she displays.30 As well as deriving from the Latin persona, an identity which could not be bestowed on slaves, the word ‘mask’ also relates to the Arabic for masquerade, mashkara (from the verb skhr, ‘to laugh’, ‘scoff’ and ‘ridicule’). Thus the multiple derivations behind masks and masquerade link the self with make-up and artifice, for men as well as women. Actors were often shown with a mask, to allude to their profession and theatrical skills.31 The fundamentally dialectical function of the mask, revealing and concealing at the same time, unsettling notions of fixed meaning, is noted by Tseëlon, and is exploited also by Cahun in her unclassifiable fantasy/ autobiography/confessional Aveux non Avenus, published in 1930. Several of the photomontages created for this publication by Suzanne Malherbe, using Cahun’s images and designs, endow the (self-)portrait

Masks, Masquerades and Mirrors images of Cahun over the years with the status of masks, identities acted out at various transitional ‘moments’ captured throughout her life. Using a strategy that prefigures the techniques now used by artists working with computers and using digital photographic compositions, she reutilises and recontextualises images, using her own previous work along with other photographic images (figure 2). The oft-quoted passages concerning masks and how she ‘will never be finished taking them all off’ testify to the centrality of the symbol of the mask in relation to her identity and the impossibility of ‘getting to the bottom of it’. On the photomontaged image which is the frontispiece to section IX of Aveux non Avenus, she wrote: ‘Sous ce masque un autre masque. Je n’en finirai pas de soulever tous ces visages’ (‘Under this mask another mask. I will never be done taking off/lifting up all these faces’). The notion of the mask as disguise is also important in terms of sexual identity, at a time when, despite legal ‘toleration’ of homosexuality in private, public identities were often subject to self-censorship to avoid antagonisms or even violence. As late as the 1980s a French gay magazine called itself Masques (published 1979–1986). In her own life, Cahun was sometimes obliged to wear a mask of femininity. While she was still living at home Cahun was visited by a young man, whom she managed to convince, privately, that she was not the marrying kind, despite having to put on a pretence for her own family and that of Susanne Malherbe.32


In the photograph taken at the British Museum in 1936 (figure 8), we see Cahun positioning herself to connect her own face and head to the disembodied masks and skulls in the display cabinet.33 Her eyes look like black holes, similar to the mask-like head immediately to her left in the image. Like the objects displayed in the glass case, she is displaced and out of context, like a mask which is not being used in a social situation. In a suggestive essay, the anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss discusses the social and cultural functions of masks, face and body decorations, and systems of visual representation.34 He discusses so-called ‘primitive’ art, comparing examples from the north-west coast of America (the Haida and the Kwakiutl – painted sculptures), Brazil (the Caduveo Indians – face painting) and the Maori of New Zealand (face tattoos and carvings of



Claude Cahun tattooed faces).35 This vast geographical range inevitably decontexualises and departicularises the works and cultures under analysis, and, indeed, Lévi-Strauss’ aim was to construct a generalising theory of visual representation in certain geographically diverse mask societies. He studies how three-dimensional objects, such as painted sculptures and masks, or designs on three-dimensional structures, e.g. faces, are flattened out when they are transposed to two-dimensional surfaces. He calls this process ‘split representation’, occurring, for example, when one of the Caduveo women face painters translates the three-dimensional face designs onto a piece of paper to record them for the anthropologist. In this case the designs she draws are not symmetrical, although flat, whereas in other instances the decorated three-dimensional form, such as a painted sculpture of a shark, or a Maori facial tattoo (moko), is represented flattened out in a symmetrical design, for example in two joined profiles. He concludes that ‘[d]islocation and splitting are thus functionally related’ (p. 255). Split representation of the face, considered as a graphic device, thus expresses a deeper and more fundamental splitting, namely that between the ‘dumb’ biological individual [the person who is not painted and decorated and thus not inscribed in the language of society and culture – GD] and the social person whom he must embody. We already foresee that split representation can be explained as a function of a sociological theory of the splitting of the personality. (p. 259)

Thus the biological individual and the cultural person are not the same, and the process of becoming a cultural subject is actually recorded on the face as it is tattooed. Lévi-Strauss continues a few pages later: Decoration is actually created for the face, but in another sense the face is predestined to be decorated, since it is only by means of decoration that the face receives its social dignity and mystical significance. Decoration is conceived for the face, but the face itself exists only through decoration. In the final analysis, the dualism is that of the actor and the role, and the concept of mask gives us the key to its interpretation. (p. 261)

The three-dimensional surface par excellence, argues Lévi-Strauss, is the human face, ‘where decoration and form cannot be dissociated either physically or socially’ (p. 262). (I am reminded of Cahun’s ‘Carnival’ essay quoted above, where the mask becomes fused to the wearer’s face.) By analogy, we can see how frontal photographs of individuals

Masks, Masquerades and Mirrors flatten out their three-dimensional visual appearance in reality, somehow extracting them from the richness of their social, cultural and sensual milieux, while at the same time displaying them as a visual image of a different, more decorative kind. The surface of the person is, as it were, torn off like a skin and made into an image through the sensitised skin of the coated film and the photographic paper. We sometimes see masks represented in this way, for example in the film The Mask (dir. Chuck Russell, 1994), where the actor Jim Carrey has to rip the mask forcefully from his character Stanley Ipkiss’ face as he becomes fused with it, or in a recent television advertisement for a skin care product, where the whole top layer of a woman’s face is discarded, falls to the ground and is hoovered up by an industrial floor-cleaning machine equipped with brushes. It is interesting that Lévi-Strauss links the mask and split representation in the visual arts to the notion of split representation in a social and cultural sense, referring to dualism (the split between mind and body) in so doing. During the inter-war period in France, cultural debates on splitting and identity were more usually encountered in the increasingly influential field of psychoanalysis and its analysis of the human psyche. Splits were primarily located, by Freud and others, not between inside and outside, the self and society, but within the psyche itself. In terms of Cahun’s photographic work, this leads me to what has now become an almost compulsory discussion of the Freudian analyst Joan Rivière’s famous essay on ‘Womanliness as a Masquerade’ (1929).


Like Claude Cahun, Rivière and her work experienced periods of relative obscurity, but now the two are stars in the firmament of women’s art and cultural theory, and seemingly inextricably linked. At exactly the same time as the publication of Rivière’s most famous paper, Cahun was experimenting with masks and masquerade, both in the studio and on the stage. Published in the International Journal of Psychoanalysis in 1929, Rivière’s article was rediscovered shortly before Cahun’s work, and was used by film theorists to analyse women’s relationship to representations of femininity in the cinema before being eagerly read by afficionados of works by Cindy Sherman and Cahun.36 The famous quotation from the essay which



Claude Cahun has proved most crucial for postmodern and post-feminist theorists, such as Judith Butler, is this passage: Womanliness therefore could be assumed and worn as a mask, both to hide the possession of masculinity and to avert the reprisals expected if she was found to possess it… The reader may now ask how I define womanliness or where I draw the line between genuine womanliness and the ‘masquerade’. My suggestion is not, however, that there is any such difference; whether radical or superficial, they are the same thing.37

This (partly unconscious) performance of femininity, therefore, did not conceal an essential womanliness; both were pretences or masks. Judith Butler developed this idea in Bodies that Matter, to argue that a performance of gender identity was not a one-off conscious occurrence, but that performativity was the norm – i.e. a reiterative acting out of gender roles and identities which kept sexual stereotypes in place.38 For Butler, writing at the height of postmodernism, there was no real, conscious female agent behind this performance and performativity. It should be pointed out here that both Rivière and Butler are vague on the relationship of unconscious and conscious factors in these ‘masquerades’ of womanliness, and this is already a significant difference with regard to any comparison with Cahun’s self-portrait work – or, indeed, Cindy Sherman’s, for whom the photographs or ‘performances’ of femininity are consciously constructed. Rivière was by no means the first to link a performance of femininity with the definition of woman. Emily Apter quotes the Goncourt brothers, writing in the late nineteenth century about eighteenth-century women, who can say: ‘That’s how nature made me. What she will leave visible, as if by negligence or oversight, will have the irritating charm of a modest, veiled copy of the original; and the veil that she preserves is so light, so transparent, that it hardly creates a barrier to the male imagination.’ Apter comments that in this view the woman’s ‘essentialism is only a more invisible form of the mask’.39 Nietzsche, cited often by postmodern theorists, is also mentioned in connection with Rivière. He argues more clearly that there is no reality to be discovered behind the mask; there is nothing behind the veil of women’s pretence and artifice ‘even when they take off everything’ and give themselves.40 This rather depressing scenario is built on an unresolvable contradiction. The woman has to perform ‘womanliness’ constantly to be recognised as a woman, so woman as such does not exist, and the ‘other’

Masks, Masquerades and Mirrors misrecognises the performance as the ‘truth’ which preserves the fantasy of his (or even her) desire, so no one’s desire or identity is ever based on relative truth, honesty or openness, whatever type of society we live in. Joan Rivière (1883–1962) is known mainly for her translations of Freud’s work and for this key paper. She underwent troubled consultations with Ernest Jones, and seems to have fallen in love with him. He referred her to Freud to complete her analysis and training. Jones, Freud’s British collaborator, found it difficult to relate to intelligent, strong women such as Rivière. Freud could see that Jones’ view of his patient was biased, and wrote to him that she was not ‘half as black as you had painted her… In my experience you have not to scratch too deeply the skin of a so-called masculine woman to bring her femininity to the light. I am very glad you had no sexual relations with her…’41 Rivière’s sharp mind and perfectionism was associated with an arrogance which did not endear her to some, but she was acknowledged as an impressive figure, both personally and intellectually. James Strachey, Freud’s other major English translator, remembered her in her youth, standing out at a social gathering ‘I still have the visual picture of her standing by the fireplace at an evening party, tall, strikingly handsome, distinguished-looking, and somehow impressive’.42 She was said to be a good hostess, used lots of cosmetics, and had good taste in clothes having previously worked as a professional dressmaker to the court with the firm of Nettleship.43 In her own lifestyle she may have utilised some of the more obvious accessories of the feminine masquerade, yet from the above comments we can see that male contemporaries nevertheless referred to her ‘masculine’ qualities and her ‘handsome’ appearance. Her article appeared in the context of a debate between various analysts in the 1920s on sexual difference and female sexuality. In the view of Adria Schwartz, Rivière was on the verge of acknowledging the inadequacy of psychoanalytic theories of masculinity and femininity available to her at the time.44 These approaches grapple with the Freudian view that female psychic and sexual identity is based on lack, and that it is reluctantly negotiated rather than positively welcomed. Lacan believed that even men did not really possess the phallus (social and sexual plenitude and power), though society treats them as if they do, and they too must engage in a masquerade of sexuality, which by its very nature of artifice Lacan calls feminine.45 Rivière starts her paper by referring to an essay by Ernest Jones, ‘The Early Development of Female Sexuality’, in which he divides women into



Claude Cahun heterosexual and homosexual, with a number of intermediate types. It is one of these latter which interests her – those who wish for masculinity (and the status that comes with it) and put on a mask of womanliness to avert the retribution of men for threatening their privileged position (p. 35). She describes this type as being quite ‘feminine’, capable housewives, goodlooking, wives, mothers and lovers, and yet they fulfil the duties of their profession ‘at least as well as the average man. It really is a puzzle to know how to classify this type psychologically’ (p. 36). A woman who has to look after a home and children and can do her job as well as any man hardly seems an oddity to us now in the early twenty-first century. If women enjoyed state-funded childcare, genuine equal opportunities and a number of other measures designed to combat social oppression and sexism, many women, both in Rivière’s day, and now, could be both domestic heroines and accomplished professionals. Psychically, however, things are more complex. Rivière refers to various cases she has studied, perhaps even to her own experiences, mentioning, for example, an American woman who gave public lectures in a male-dominated field in an extremely competent manner, who afterwards flirted with men ‘in a more or less veiled manner’(p. 36). Some of this woman’s fantasies had involved sexual activities with black men, where she would act in a feminine way ‘if they came to attack her’. A few pages later Rivière returns to this woman, who did not willingly want to take on a female social and sexual role (which would amount to being sexually, socially and economically ‘castrated’). Rivière does not mention the ‘racial’ aspects of this case, nor indeed discuss how class factors might enter into the ‘masquerade’ of womanliness. Another of Rivière’s patients, ‘a university lecturer in an abstruse subject which seldom attracts women’, dressed in particularly ‘feminine’ clothes and would become flippant and joking, impelled to ‘treat the situation of displaying her masculinity to men as a “game”, as something not real, as a “joke”’ (p. 39). Finally, Rivière states that both the heterosexual and homosexual woman ‘desire the father’s penis and rebel against frustration (or castration)’, but that there is a degree of difference as regards sadism in the way the homosexual woman reacts by denying the mother and making the father acknowledge his ‘defeat’ by giving her the penis (Rivière’s term for the Freudian phallus) – power, respect, acknowledgement for what she is as a person, rather than as a woman. For Rivière, the difference between homosexuality and heterosexuality is only one of degree.46

Masks, Masquerades and Mirrors While the idea of womanliness as a masquerade has proved fruitful for cultural and feminist analysis, scholars who have utilised this text have frequently failed to take enough account of its historical context. Women’s position in society in the USA and in Europe was changing dramatically, despite hindrances to women’s equality, such as lower pay, lack of political rights and access to better-paid professions, absence of free childcare facilities and few opportunities for safe abortions and contraception. Clearly, analysts were dealing with female patients who, whether middle-class professionals or not, suffered psychic damage in their attempts to survive and progress in an unequal society. A real-life example of what Rivière talks about can be seen in the case of the photographer Mme Yevonde, whose public lectures and ‘performances’ were carefully calculated to defuse any threat she posed as a female in a largely male profession, whose members were sometimes antagonistic and patronising.47 The construction of a professional ‘self’ for women in largely male professions at this time often required a degree of acting, artifice, humour and perhaps even selfmockery in order to deflect the antagonism of men keen to protect ‘their patch’ from interlopers, be it women or refugees from central and eastern Europe who took up photography. It was not Cahun’s aim to earn a living as a professional photographer, so she did not have to engage in manoeuvres to deflect the envy and mistrust of fellow male professionals, though she was very disappointed by the reception of Aveux non Avenus. As a woman, a lesbian and partly Jewish, Cahun did encounter prejudice. She very probably devised strategies to deal with this. However, we do not know whether her photographic self-representations were part of these strategies or not. Her book, on the other hand, was an intentionally public intervention, where masquerade is not linked to the issue of femininity alone.


How useful is Rivière’s psychoanalytical article in understanding Cahun’s photographs? We know that Cahun was often unhappy and difficult to live with. A letter to Malherbe from the couple’s friends Robin and Lalla King after Lucy’s death says that Robin has been working: ‘But it’s been rather tough “going”, since his arrival in October as he was in such a “mental” upset, that I thought he might go like Lucy. No one knows better than you



Claude Cahun what I mean.’48 Cahun did not try to act like a man as far as we know (the only photographs we have of her pretending to be a man show her acting in a play), nor does she show herself as enacting a masquerade of femininity. The personae she fabricates are unclassifiable. She mimics, mimes, stages, performs and parodies, but it is always Claude Cahun posing as this or that. She does not appear to be performing an exaggerated femininity in order to deflect threats by men, heterosexuality to deflect threats from ‘straights’, nor even Frenchness or Catholicism in order to deflect threats from anti-Semites. So is it valid to see her work as performing gender and/or sexuality? I suspect not. The photographs of her do not seem to form part of a ‘discourse’ in the way that Sherman’s enact a discourse of femininity, consciously and unconsciously. Cahun is not positioning her work in relation to any supposed original, whereas Sherman’s could be classed as akin to simulacra in that they look like copies (of, for example, non-existent B movies or ‘old master’ paintings) but they are not. For example, this mask ‘selfportrait’ by Sherman, Untitled no. 198, 1989, in her ‘Old Masters’ series, mimics famous paintings but ‘not quite’ (colour plate 2). Sherman stands in front of an elaborately patterned cloth draped like a curtain, as Cahun does in her photograph. (figure 6). Her red nose and the false nipples on the rubber/plastic breasts (masking/doubling the ‘signs’ of feminine sexuality in addition to the masking of the face) are a travesty of elegant eighteenth-century Venetian paintings, while the blue feathers covering her face make her look like some exotic and yet tacky bird – not bird of paradise plumes but dyed chicken feathers. On the other hand, Cahun’s photographs do not even look like copies or references to anything else. They are enactments and stagings but they are not positioning themselves to reference any other image genre (e.g. old master paintings, erotic prints, advertising images). So Cahun’s work tends to pose questions about what the images mean as images in themselves; what are they, why do they exist – whereas Sherman’s tend to pose questions about their parodic relationship to other images whether from art history or popular culture.


We know that Cahun was interested in Freud, but so far I have not come across references to other psychoanalysts in her writings.49 Among the issues

Masks, Masquerades and Mirrors of contention among psychoanalysts was whether young girls experienced a phallic phase of active sexuality which then had to be transformed at puberty into a passive female sexuality, focused on the vagina as the route to childbearing. Freud believed that everyone was basically bisexual, and that ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ were conventional terms which were not biological.50 This debate took place in post-First World War Europe, when the very nature of ‘womanliness’ was called into question not only by psychoanalysts but by many women themselves. About 1.5 million Frenchmen had been killed in the 1914–1918 war, and thus an adult life spent as primarily a homemaker, wife and mother was not an option for large numbers of women who might previously have taken this route. More women needed to work.51 At the same time, pro-natalist politicians were concerned to focus women’s attention on marriage and childbearing, and penalties for abortion and publicising birth control were stipulated in 1920 and 1923.52 More women entered white-collar and professional occupations, though usually in the lower grades. There was a powerful incentive for poorer married women to work, as they could not claim unemployment benefit.53 Campaigns for women’s political and economic rights continued. Thus there were material reasons why this debate in psychoanalytical circles took place when it did. By the mid-1930s the debate was less intense, at a time when views on sexuality became less liberal, in many countries women’s access to abortion and birth control was severely restricted and homosexuals were being persecuted. Though the topics debated included penis envy, the Oedipus complex in girls and early vaginal sensations, the title of Karen Horney’s contribution rather gives the game away: ‘The Flight from Womanhood: The Masculinity Complex in Women as Viewed by Men and by Women’(1925).54 Horney points out that women’s position in society means that they are unable to fully sublimate any frustrated desires through professional development as men hold most of the good jobs, ‘and so it appeared that there was a basis in fact for their inferiority’ (p. 19). In his 1925 paper ‘Some Physical Consequences of the Anatomical Distinction Between the Sexes’, Freud discusses the differences in experiencing the Oedipus complex for girls and boys, and criticises feminists who ‘are anxious to force us to regard the two sexes as completely equal in position and worth’.55 In an earlier paper of 1920, discussing a case of female homosexuality, Freud finds his young patient displaying ‘masculine’ traits



Claude Cahun (though he states we are all bisexual and oscillate between ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ behaviour at various points) and penis envy, and ‘was in fact a feminist; she felt it to be unjust that girls should not enjoy the same freedom as boys, and rebelled against the lot of women in general’.56 Several other analysts alluded to the general social and cultural situation of women, which had implications for their psychic development. Ernest Jones had no sympathy for feminists, in particular those who were homosexuals and wanted to be accepted by men as equals. These feminists were ‘the familiar type of women who ceaselessly complain of the unfairness of women’s lot and their unjust ill-treatment by men’.57 These positions confuse social, political, cultural, biological and psychic causes and effects, and manifest concern that so many ‘modern’ post-war women seem unhappy and/or dissatisfied with what they are being offered as women. No wonder traditional ‘femininity’ appears like a mask to Rivière! As far as homosexual women were concerned, at least Freud would have no truck with attempts by families to ‘cure’ them, nor did he believe there was such a thing as a ‘third sex’, since everyone was more or less bisexual.58 For him, female homosexuals remained in the phallic phase of sexual development and did not accept the psychic castration entailed in ‘mature’ femininity. Jones, like many others, tends to collapse sexual orientation into gender identity (‘masculine’ lesbians), and so femininity is always collapsed into heterosexuality.59 In some ways, we can see in Cahun’s images and self-styling a desire to avoid gender classification and a reduction to either homosexuality or heterosexuality, along with, perhaps, the hope of inhabiting a neutral sexual identity unrecognised by both contemporary psychoanalytical theory and by the dominant ideologies of French society and culture.


The view of women as naturally concerned with cultivating their appearance had became a commonplace in European cultural ideology by the time Cahun was born. In 1889, for example, Mrs E. Lynn Linton, moral adviser to her readers, wrote in Modern Women that ‘[w]oman, we suspect, lives always before her glass, and makes a mirror of existence’. The selfconsciousness of women, she added, was ‘of a particular feminine sort – a consciousness not of themselves in themselves, but of the reflection of

Masks, Masquerades and Mirrors themselves in others’.60 Reflections in mirrors, glass and water, as well as in the returning gaze of the other, apparently confirmed women as narcissistic, lacking in autonomy, agency and independence. In many cases, of course, this trope was itself a ‘reflection’ of the position of most women in society. The mirror can be a threat to the older woman, or the woman who does not conform to current ideals of beauty, offering a reflection which disappoints her sense of who she is. The mirror is a metaphor for, as well as a physical testament to, the process of perceiving a split between self and self-image. Also, as Sabine Melchior-Bonnet has written: ‘The mirror acts more or less as a theatrical stage on which each person creates himself [sic] from an imaginary projection, from social and aesthetic models and from an appearance that all reciprocally sustain each other.’61 The mirror has long been associated with artists, and with women artists in particular. When a woman artist looks in a mirror, however, she encounters not just a technical aid to making a self-image (as a male artist does) but a tradition which invites her to see herself as an object. John Berger famously drew attention to this tradition, which equated women with vanity and self-objectification, legitimising the dominating gaze of the male viewer.62 However, it could be argued that, for women artists and photographers, the construction of a self-image ensures that agency is involved in a dialectic with ideological representations of the feminine. Even women who select their clothes, make up their faces and ‘do’ their hair, actively negotiate a relationship with dominant codes of beauty and femininity. This relationship may not be particularly radical or progressive, but it nevertheless demonstrates agency and consciousness. The mirror is a tool for the woman image-maker, and, in itself, neither objectifying nor empowering for the subject’s consciousness. It is the human and (often gendered) cultural relations in which it functions that are important. The mirror is linked to images that are flat and static, like paintings or photographs. We are restricted and cannot move too much or too far, or we will lose sight of our mirror image as we walk beyond its frame. The silvered surface of the mirror emphasises its lack of depth, its surface skin. When this is damaged, a gap or hole seems to puncture our image of ourselves. (Cahun will refer to an experimental ‘hole’ in the mirror in her text ‘Beware of Domestic Objects’, 1936.) The mirror is linked to photography, both by the fact that mirrors are inserted within cameras to reflect the selected view onto the film, and by the



Claude Cahun fact that the surfaces of films and other photographic image supports were coated with sensitive substances in similar ways to the mirror. The first photographs were etched with light on mirrors – silver plates treated with mercury vapour – by the Frenchmen Niepce and Daguerre.63 The mirror is also a material object, not just a seductive metaphor for the image/lure of subjectivity and selfhood, now probably inescapably linked to Lacan’s notion of the mirror phase/stage and the formation of the ego. Cahun and Malherbe took photographs of themselves in about 1928 posing with a mirror (figures 9 and 10). There are several versions of the Cahun image, cropped in different ways.64 Cahun poses in her striking ‘chessboard coat’, worn in a ‘masculine’ way with turned-up collar. The piping on the coat seems to outline it against the background. In contrast, the mirror portrait of Malherbe shows a softer self-image,leaning forward to touch the wall gently with her hands as she looks with a smile into the mirror and, obliquely, towards the photographer. She is attractively dressed, with a matching jersey and hat (she looks slightly androgynous, as it hides her hair), but her clothes do not have the sartorial ‘edge’ to them that Cahun’s have. These matching self-portraits show us the closeness of the partners, the nature of their collaborative practice, but also their own individual ‘take’ on these practices and self-constructions. Mirrors and reflections appear often in Cahun’s photographs and writings: the famous photomontage in Aveux non Avenus with the hand holding the mirror (figure 2); Cahun’s head (reflected?) on a glass bell jar; her image in a shop window.65 In Les Jeux Uraniens, Cahun uses the mirror to express ideas about self and other, being, representation and identification.66 Here are the thoughts I had yesterday, looking close up at my eyes in an oval mirror… You came up behind me, you bent over my shoulder; suddenly, the blur of your breath condensed on the dulled mirror, and when this round cloud evaporated, your image had replaced mine.67

Inside/outside, self/other, presence/absence are conceptualised through the mediating surface of the mirror, tantalising in its impermanent and depthless reflections. Cahun mentions that she was allowed to have a mirror in her cell during her imprisonment by the Germans, but was never left alone with ‘this dangerous object’. The mirror could literally be transformed into a weapon for self-harm.68 The mirror, though, was

Masks, Masquerades and Mirrors something that fixed, that rendered static, and, strangely for a photographer, Cahun disliked this. In Aveux, she ponders the plight of Narcissus and the discontinuity and insufficiency of his gaze, proclaiming: ‘“Miroir”, “fixer”, voilà des mots qui n’ont rien à faire ici’ (‘“Mirror”, “fix”, such words have nothing to contribute here’) (p. 38). The fascination with one’s ‘double’ in the mirror is a limiting experience.


Cahun moved in the same circles as Jacques Lacan, who frequented Adrienne Monnier’s bookshop and also knew Lise Deharme, a friend and collaborator of Cahun.69 Through his interest in paranoia, Lacan became a kind of Surrealist fellow traveller, and was even hailed by some on the left as pioneer of a materialist theory of mental illness.70 He attended at least one meeting of the AEAR (Association des Ecrivains et des Artistes Révolutionnaires), and the earliest meetings of the ‘Contre-Attaque’ group were held at his flat. Apparently, he said very little.71 Cahun was a member of both these groups. In 1936 Lacan put forward his idea of the mirror stage or phase, which he elaborated from an idea by Henri Wallon (characteristically, he did not acknowledge this).72 As formulated later, his theory asserts that the mirror stage/phase is narcissistic and its function is to stave off the fragmentation of one’s self-image and subjectivity while separating the child from the surrounding world and the mother. There is a Figure 9: Claude Cahun, Self-portrait with Mirror, difference between the I 10.7 x 8.2 cms, 1928, JHT.



Claude Cahun (position of the self in reality) and the ego (the imaginary site of all resistances). The ego is a site of misrecognition, however, and in perceiving what it takes to be a unified or unitary self-image, probably in the mirror, but perhaps in the loving gaze of the mother, the child begins to separate a concept of her/his self from the contingent world. This mistaken sense of wholeness and coherent identity links the ego to the mirror image, which is a kind of trap for the subject, paralleling the trap that the picture sets for the subject’s gaze, according to Lacan. From this early stage, the human subject perceives its identity as other. This so-called mirror phase also links this illusory identification with a coherent self-image to narcissism – desire for the self. As Elizabeth Cowie explains: ‘We love and desire, in so far as we place the object of our love in the same position as our ideal ego. Thus desire emerges in identification which figures it as fundamentally narcissistic.’73 Freud believed that lesbians and gay men based their choices of love objects on themselves, and thus they did not progress through a transference of desire to the ‘opposite’ sex, away from same-sex models.74 For Freud and Lacan, the narcissistic ego can take itself or part of its lived body as one of its libidinal objects – this ego is not self-contained but depends on the subject’s relations with the other. Instead of being dominated by the demands of reality (as in Freud’s more common model of the realist ego), the narcissistic ego ‘is governed by fantasy and modes of identification and introjection, which make it amenable to the desire of the other’.75 It is tempting to read the pair of ‘mirror’ photographs (figures 9 and 10) as representations of the narcissistic ego for the couple, and to interpret them Figure 10: Claude Cahun, Marcel Moore as momentary realisations of and Mirror, 10.7 x 8.2 cms, 1928, JHT.

Masks, Masquerades and Mirrors this desire, and (illusory) recognition. Cahun turns from the mirror, where illusory self-recognition lies, and towards the photographer, probably Malherbe, who in turn receives recognition from the narcissistic look. While the mirror is within the photographic image, another ‘mirror’ is in the returned gaze of the photographer. The gaze in the two images is different, as Cahun’s mirror image does not meet the eyes of the photographer/ viewer, whereas Malherbe’s address the viewer via the mirror, which shows us a virtual, not a real image like the photograph. Cahun’s selfportrait (figure 9) can be read as a refusal of traditional pictures of female vanity as she turns away from the mirror, and its confirmation of her appearance. Her ‘masculine’ coat, hair and pose, and her serious expression, do not invite the gaze of the other with a welcoming smile, and the returning look of the other is indeterminate in gender – i.e. Cahun’s pose and demeanour do not address ‘the male spectator’. She looks away and relegates the mirror reflection to the status of object, while she remains the subject. This image troubles notions of masculinity and the privileged position of ‘male’ spectatorship (whether deployed by an actual man or a woman) and also the conflation of feminine appearance with the mirrored image. Taken together, the two photographs (9 and 10) embody oscillating and ambiguous meanings around the self and the gendered gaze, self and other, self and desire, and self-identity. In another mirror photograph, a mirror is shown virtually face-on, with an almost empty room reflected in it. There is a large window with daylight streaming through it at the far end. It is as if the room’s depth has been folded in on itself from outside/in front of the mirror, to ‘inside’/behind the mirror plane.76 In the couple’s mirror portraits, however, the space seems folded along the same plane to show us a flattening out of the split subjects. This ‘folding’ of images and space in photography has been discussed in an article by Craig Owens. Analysing a Brassaï photograph of a group of friends in a café, reflected in a mirror behind them, Owens detects in this double image ‘an act of internal duplication, a literal folding back of the photograph upon itself’.77 He links this to the photographic process itself, but I feel it relates to printmaking of all kinds. He links this doubling to the notion of the photograph as mirror image, the doubling as carrying on to infinity, into an abyss. Owens also argues that this is linked to the splitting of the self. While I do not agree entirely with all Owens’ arguments here (his article is imbued with a sense of postmodern nostalgia for a ‘reality’ that never was, which the



Claude Cahun photograph as well as the doubled image in the mirror cannot capture), it did make me think further about the use of mirrors, photographic images and the self. If the photograph of a person and her/his reflection in the mirror is like an image opening out, or even folding back on itself, then this would also appear to be linked to a form of visual representation mentioned earlier – that is, Lévi-Strauss’ notion of ‘split representation’ in the art of native peoples, and found in masks, face decorations and tattoos. This visual and manual projection of three-dimensions onto a two-dimensional surface is also accomplished by photography, and enhanced when the photographed subject’s mirrored image is included in the photograph. This flattening out and opening up the subject into two halves can be seen in figures 9 and 10 in each photograph, and in the pair, where the separate images of Cahun and Malherbe can be read as splits of the one entity – i.e. the women as a couple. Whereas Lévi-Strauss focuses mainly on the split between self and society, here we have split representations through mirroring and doubling which represent splits between self and other, and self and self. In addition, while Cahun’s photography of herself and Malherbe functioned in part as a reflecting and mirroring device, her creative writing also in part functioned as material traces of what Silverman refers to as an acoustic mirror (imagine Cahun speaking her own written words), where the subject is called to, and is enticed to recognise herself in the voice of the mother and other love objects.78


As previously mentioned, Cahun had Lacan’s contact details in her address book, and also the address of Roger Caillois, to whose work on Medusa and masks, Méduse et Cie (1960), Lacan refers in his 1964 discussion of mimicry, masks and the gaze.79 Caillois’ book develops his earlier ideas, some of which were published in the Surrealist journal Minotaure in 1934 and 1935. Cahun had copies of this journal, most of which were destroyed when the Germans looted the couple’s home in Jersey.80 In an interesting passage in the second article, Caillois, discussing mimicry and camouflage in the world of insects and animals, writes: ‘Morphological mimicry could then be, after the fashion of chromatic mimicry, genuine photography, but photography of shape and relief, a photography on the level of the object and not on that of the image, a reproduction in three-dimensional space with volume and

Masks, Masquerades and Mirrors depth: a sculpture-photography or better yet teleplasty.’81 Creatures ‘take pictures’, as it were, of other living things in nature, in order to create a kind of three-dimensional photograph which they perform. He locates a ‘tendency to imitate’ in the ‘primitive’ which survives in ‘civilised man’ – a tendency associated with empowering magic. ‘Mimicry could thus be accurately defined as an incantation frozen at its high point and that has caught the sorcerer in his own trap.’82 Thus Caillois links mimicry, photography and performance in the production of images and forms which have aims over and above the utilitarian. For Caillois, the merging with surrounding space is ‘at the expense of the individual’ and blurs the distinction between animate and inanimate, and the creative act of bringing something into being threatens the identity of the self (the sorcerer caught in her/his own trap). In Caillois’ later book The Mask of Medusa he develops his theories, arguing that mimicry in nature is often not functional, but is aesthetic, and thus related to mimicry in human behaviour. He sees fashion, for example, as a form of behaviour based on mimicry. In nature, as in human society, he continues, the reason for mimicry is a fascination with the other. Concentrating on the aesthetic and on mimicry, Caillois distinguishes three types of the latter: disguise, camouflage and intimidation (which usually involves masking). The myths of metamorphosis and the love of disguise speak for mimicry: the legends of the cap or cloak of invisibility for camouflage: the fear of the evil eye and of the Medusa stare, the use man makes of masks, mainly, through not exclusively, in the so-called primitive societies, compare with the intimidation produced by the ocelli on insect wings and completed by the frightening appearance or mimicry of certain insects.83

In the case of camouflage, for example, the creature mimics its surroundings, loses its appearance as a distinct individual and melts into the background, associated with inertia and immobility. Both males and females do this, claims Caillois.84 Camouflage involves taking on the colour and shapes of the background, breaking up the distinct shape of the animal, along with imitation and hypnotic appearance of forms, enhanced by the stillness and inertia of the creature. I am tempted to see parallels between Caillois’ investigation of mimicry and a photograph by Cahun, ca. 1939 (figure 11). Cahun, wearing a shortsleeved jersey shirt with a soft collar, is lying with her eyes closed under a



Claude Cahun clump of irises in full bloom. Other flowering plants crowd into the image, and a flower in front of her partly obscures her wrist. She is among the flowers, not just in front of them. The shadow of the photographer (very probably Malherbe) is, once again, prominent. Cahun’s mouth is slightly open, and she pretends to be asleep or in some kind of a trance, immobile and part of the surrounding vegetation. This photograph is part of a group which shows Cahun posing on the ground with flowers, grapes and a leopard’s skin, in the guise of Bacchus.85 Spector links Caillois’ two Minotaure articles to the objects made by André Breton and Jacqueline Lamba for the exhibition entitled ‘Surrealist Objects’ in 1936, in which Cahun also participated. A special issue of Cahiers d’Art was devoted to the topic, with texts on Surrealism and the Object.86 Cahun’s text referred to the objects made by Breton and Lamba, the ‘Great Paranoiac’ and the ‘Petit Mimétique’, remarking: ‘In our present society we are not all of us always able to make ourselves ductile, good conductors of liberating forces, and sometimes we are surprised that we have a closer resemblance to the petit mimétique than to the great paranoiac.’87 The difference between the mimetic and the paranoiac is that the paranoiac attempts to dominate the real world by the force of his/her delirious and exaggerated ego, forcing external reality to conform to his/her delusions, moulding it to his/her desires. The mimetic, on the other hand, imitates reality. Cahun sympathises with the political and liberatory potential of a desire to transform society, but recognises that it is more likely that we will ‘blend in’ and conform to the colours and shapes of the everyday life that surrounds us. In her photograph, Cahun seems to play with concepts of mimicry and camouflage, blurring the difference between the aesthetic in the human and natural world. The image is ambiguous, not only in its formal fusion of human and plant life but also in terms of the meanings of mimicry. Is Cahun there to lure us into danger, or to hide from a predator? Or is it, as Caillois suggests, behaviour which is designed to create attractive forms and shapes, to perform aesthetic behaviour in three-dimensional photography (teleplasty), which is then further photographed by Malherbe? Perhaps we could argue that all Cahun’s ‘performances’ are linked in some sense to this ‘photographic’ behaviour? Cahun is not, I feel, offering us a straightforward take on the traditional comparison of woman and flower. She herself used this metaphor in a letter of 1946 describing the way that people tried to domesticate her, and to make her behaviour conform to accepted social norms.

Figure 11: Claude Cahun, Self-portrait in Flowers, 10.3 x 7.8 cms, ca. 1939, private collection.


Claude Cahun People who loved me by mistake thought they could cultivate in me a nice little plant for their own gardens. That would make nice mint, or a sweet-smelling mignonette, Faith and others said to themselves, my father being the first to do so. Mignonette, orchids that eat flies or are delicate, that changes nothing. They could not bear to see me free without feeling disgust. Sometimes it’s a cucumber flower growing on a heap of dung, a stupid thistle; sometimes it’s a bizarre cactus, whose pride only seems to be a vain, monstrous egoism of the spirit. But what do they do to get rid of hot-houses and heaps of dung? – they only disapprove of the good things that come from them; fruits and flowers… What have you done to extend to me the welcoming meadow where I am, along with you, the multicoloured grass? Where the wind drops a seed a plant lives or dies…if its character and its unusual presence irritate you, and you call it a provocation, you (need to) become a human society which dares to speak its name.88

A small photograph from about 1939 can be related to the above passage (figure 12). Cahun is naked, arms outstretched, in a field of poppies. Her pale hair grows out from her head like the blooms of the surrounding flowers. She seems to be growing with them, emerging from the ground. Like a flower on a dung heap, her unusual but beautiful presence ‘dares to speak its name’. At first she is hard to spot, however, camouflaged in the poppy field, taking on the appearance of her surroundings like the little mimic, not the bravura collision with reality of the great pananoiac. Cahun’s images with the irises and poppy field link mimicry, artistic creativity and sensuality. They also question the truth of our perceptions and the reality of what we see, through the use of mimesis within the image and the photographic medium itself.


The use of these devices in avant-garde culture to interrogate identity, femininity and reality suggests a radical critique of dominant ideologies of gender and representation, such as those found in fashion and beauty magazines. A closer investigation, however, reveals that masks, mirrors and masquerades in mass media images of women do not simply express a conservative ideology of womanliness. It seems to be the case that the

Masks, Masquerades and Mirrors employment of these devices by Cahun, and their appearance in women’s magazines, are positions on a spectrum rather than binary oppositions (where mass media imagery equals retrogressive, and Cahun/avant-garde equals progressive). The meanings of Cahun’s images and mass media photographs both involve tensions and contradictions. It is necessary to bear in mind the material differences between Cahun’s photographs and photographic images from magazines at the time. Most of Cahun’s photographs, apart from the occasional enlarged print, are very small (the majority are around 10 x 8 cms, some 18 x 12 cms, some 20 x 15 cms). Some of the original prints exist only in very small contact strips, and the vast majority are in black and white or occasionally sepia. For some images, we have only the negatives. In contrast, images of women in magazine photographs had a mass circulation in many cases (though Vogue in France had a smallish print run), and by the early 1930s many beauty and fashion magazines were using colour. The first photographic cover of French Vogue was in 1932 and in colour.89 The contrast in the originals between the small, monochrome prints of Cahun and the stunning, large colour images in illustrated magazines is striking. Despite Cahun’s decision not to pursue a more public role as a photographer, this was a route which many other women took, a large number of whom had been trained as artists. Commercial photography, as a relatively new profession, was open to women, though many of the jobs in the industry were semi-skilled and low-paid, for example in photographic or film laboratories.90 Women could either be trained by a photographer or take a college course. In Berlin in the early 1930s there were 430 photographic studios, 30 per cent of which were run by women.91 In France also, photography was a career option for women, whose opportunities were usually restricted to the service industry, jobs in administration, office work, nursing, teaching and the garment trade. It was only in 1924 that young women were able to sit the same baccalaureate examination as males on leaving high school.92 As the political situation in Germany worsened, many moved to Paris to resume photographic careers there, or to take up photography for the first time. For example, Gisèle Freund, a young Jewish woman who had been a sociology student in Frankfurt, made a name for herself as a photographer in Paris thanks to the friendship of Adrienne Monnier, the bookshop owner, who introduced her to Parisian intellectuals.93 However, photography was still a risky business and not entirely approved of as a profession. Freund



Claude Cahun pointed out that, when she started out on her career, her teachers in Germany rated photography on the same level as serving in a café.94 At the top of the profession, however, there was both financial and cultural capital to be enjoyed. The leading woman photographer in France at this time was probably Laure Albin-Guillot. A well-known professional and society figure, her work included portraits; so-called ‘micrographic photographs’ – large decorative images of enlarged natural forms; nudes; and advertising photographs. Her work was mostly exquisitely produced art photography, exhibited in galleries and signed and dated like paintings, sometimes involving complex colour printing (e.g. the Fresson process) and craft-made papers, or large-scale (e.g. 40 x 50 cms and larger).95 This contrasts almost completely with the photography produced by Cahun: small, monochrome, unframed, and usually developed at a local shop. Albin-Guillot was made head of the Photographic Archive Service of the Fine Arts Department in 1932 (seen as a triumph for feminism), and in 1933 she organised the National Film Theatre and became its director. In 1934 she founded the annual Salon des Artistes Photographes.96 Part of the aristocracy of photography and institutional lensbased culture in France, she was a society hostess and was dressed by the couturiers whose work she publicised in her fashion and advertising photographs, particularly Jean Patou and Hermès.97 She was at the pinnacle of photographic culture in France, whereas Cahun was somewhere near the bottom in terms of public and institutional Figure 12: Claude Cahun, Self-portrait in Poppy recognition, and both were Field, 9.9 x 8.0 cms, ca. 1939, JHT.

Masks, Masquerades and Mirrors better positioned than the women who worked for the companies, both large and small, who developed and printed photographs for the public. The main impetus behind many of these women’s photographic activities was lack of money, which Cahun did not experience until later in life. Thus there were women photographers producing mass media images for a greatly increased number of illustrated magazines in the inter-war period, and many of these images dealt with traditional tropes of femininity, display and construction. Among such images were masks, mirrors, fetishisation of whole bodies or body parts, disguises, veils and many of the other signifiers of womanliness mentioned previously. Although we do not know whether Cahun used mass media images of women in any of her work which has not survived, we know that she did use mass media images for her anti-Nazi images made with Malherbe in Jersey, referred to in her accounts of her trial and imprisonment. She used, among other publications, copies of the anarchist journal Le Crapouillot (though this was not a large-circulation publication and rather expensive) and photo magazines published by the Nazis themselves, and there is a copy of the inter-war photo magazine Vu in a box of her material currently housed at the Jersey Museum.98 As well as photographic images from the press, Cahun, like most people of her time, was familiar with lens-based images of femininity from the cinema, and mentions on one occasion going to see Marlene Dietrich in The Blue Angel, which she greatly enjoyed.99 Unlike Hannah Höch (German artist and photomontagist), Cahun and Malherbe appear to have left no works which use photomontage to deconstruct and interrogate media images of the feminine.100 Photography was not only a way for women to earn a living in the inter-war period; it was marketed to women as part of a pleasurable and leisurely lifestyle, as a means of recalling good times on holiday, days out or their children. Photographic wallets used by Cahun, now in the archive in Jersey and dating from the 1920s and 1930s, show women taking photographs by the seaside (of sailing boats or of children playing – e.g. (figure 13), enjoying themselves on the beach in the company of other young women and men, or with camera at the ready while watching young single women and mothers frolicking in the water. Inside the wallet with men and women playing on the beach we read ‘Pouvez-vous rêver mieux pour orner votre “home” qu’un agrandissement de Bébé se roulant au soleil ou d’un groupe des nouveaux amis, ou encore de votre arrivée au sommet d’un pic



Claude Cahun fameux’ (‘Can you dream of anything better to decorate your “home” than an enlargement of Baby rolling in the sun or a group of new friends, or even your arrival at the top of a famous summit’). Despite the inter-war pro-natalist discourse of motherhood, children and home, the needs of commerce were rather more complex. Women were invited to spend their money on photography as part of a lifestyle which indeed involved children, but not exclusively. Friends and an active lifestyle were visualised as equally important in this publicity in the later 1920s and early 1930s. By 1939 women taking photographs were seen as completely normal, even if they were aristocrats following the example of the British Victorian photographer Julia Margaret Cameron. In an article in Vogue (UK) in August 1939, ‘Woman’s Place is in the Dark Room’, there are illustrations of photographs taken by Lady Stanley of Alderley, Mrs Alan Dower, Lady Joan Verney, Lady Broughton and Lady Malcolm DouglasHamilton. These include foreign travels, big game hunts, ‘urchins’ in Trafalgar Square and mountain climbing. A photograph of Lady Stanley ‘looking like a distillation of amateur photography’ shows her casually dressed wearing trousers, and absorbed in her photography.101 If we compare these later wallets with another used by Cahun which contained photographs of her friend, artist and writer Henri Michaux, we notice a significant difference (figure 14). This looks like a much earlier wallet, used later. A woman seated in an interior wearing a long flowing gown in a much more ‘pictorialist’ style reproduced from an image by a painter, delicately holds a camera, and does not look anything like the ‘new women’ we see in the illustrations on the other wallets. This woman is more decorative and genteel, demure and slightly old-fashioned. None of these women, however, look like Claude Cahun. Many avant-garde and modernist photographers worked for illustrated magazines in inter-war France. For example, Man Ray, Lee Miller, Edward Steichen, Laure Albin-Guillot, Horst, Hoyningen-Huene and Kertész worked for French fashion magazines. Vogue started its French edition in 1920 aiming at an elite bourgeois clientele, and by the early 1930s it had developed into a pole of attraction for high-quality photographers. From 1929 it covered contemporary art, including works by Picasso and films by Man Ray. In other illustrated magazines, too, there were genuine crossovers between, for example, Surrealism and mass culture.102 The American Edward Steichen also had work published in French Vogue.103

Masks, Masquerades and Mirrors My research indicates that there were many interfaces between the avant-garde, modernism and mass culture in photography. Boundaries were fluid, and the same photographers’ works were published and exhibited in all three categories. Most of the people who crossed over between these categories did so to earn a living, but that is not the only reason. There is the pleasure of having your work seen by a larger viewing public, and also the opportunity to push the boundaries of the format and surprise the expectations of your readers/viewers. However, while playing with the tropes of femininity present in mass media images, the photographers often display an ambiguous attitude to it, making it even more seductive and appealing. There has been much debate as to whether in fact the radicalism of Surrealist art by men actually challenged accepted notions of femininity and sexuality prevalent in the mass media. I would argue that there is a spectrum of photographic imagery of women and femininity which encompasses avant-garde, modernist and mass media imagery, and that similar themes and tropes can be discerned in these three areas and analysed using the same kinds of theories. Like Cahun’s photographic work, all these types of imagery appeared at a time when women’s sexual, social and cultural identity was being discussed and debated, when psychoanalysis was becoming more widely known in cultural spheres and when politics became increasingly linked to issues of dress and appearance in France.

Figure 13: Photographic wallet from Cahun/Malherbe archive, JHT.



Claude Cahun I do not therefore agree with Theodor Adorno’s scathing critiques of ‘the culture industry’. Nor am I particularly convinced of such approaches as the ‘trickle down’ theory, which seeks to explain developments in fashion (and, indeed, any original and novel cultural development) as a process whereby a cultural elite of patrons and designers create innovations which then trickle down to mass diffusion in the ‘high street’ or mass media. These hierarchical models privileging haute couture and high art do not actually correspond to the reality of inter-war photographic culture, which is more horizontal, as ideas, practices and practitioners cross over, or inhabit more than one domain at the same time, rather than move upwards or downwards into qualitatively different spheres. In terms of Cahun’s use of masks, mirrors and masquerades, therefore, I would suggest that her use of these tropes is linked to past Symbolist art and literature, but also to contemporary avant-garde work by groups such as the Surrealists, modernist photography created for exhibition by contemporary photographers, and also to mass culture images of femininity in the illustrated press and the cinema. However, she herself did not publish her work outside avant-garde circles, until she and Malherbe dramatically went public with their handmade, craft-based anti-Nazi propaganda during the occupation of Jersey. Ironically,

Figure 14: Photographic wallet from Cahun/Malherbe archive, JHT.

Masks, Masquerades and Mirrors or course, these tracts and images were both anonymous and authored (by ‘the soldier without a name’). I want to look now at three mass media photographic images dealing with masks, mirrors and femininity, in order to compare them with, and situate them in relation to, previous discussions about Cahun’s photographs and representations of femininity. While some of Cahun’s photographs relate to masks, mirrors and masquerade, her own appearance did not conform to conventional notions of beauty. She used make-up, hairstyling and other ‘beauty’ procedures, such as plucking her eyebrows, to create not ‘a’ personal style, but one which, as I have already suggested, defied categorisation, and often changed. How did masks, mirrors and masquerades relate to concepts of beauty and desire in photographic images for a large number of female readers of women’s magazines? The first photograph I want to look at is an image that appeared in Vogue by Toni Frissell, from February 1941 (colour plate 4). A woman in a bright orange dress leans forward close up to a mirror on top of a mantelpiece or shelf, and appears to be addressed by her own reflection, who points a finger at her. The ‘real’ woman rests her right hand on the mirror and its frame, while her left hand falls backwards in a somewhat camp gesture, which also frames her face. She seems to be almost performing the actions described by French philosopher Louis Althusser in 1969 in his famous illustration of his concept of ‘interpellation’, where the human subject is addressed, positioned and recognises her-/himself as constituted ideologically within given social practices and beliefs.104 In this way we are ‘called to’ and recognise ourselves as a particular sort of person in a particular kind of social, economic and political context. We recognise our own subjection (i.e. what makes us a ‘self’ in a social context, subject to the dominant values of that society). American photographer Toni Frissell (1907–1988) worked as a fashion and society photographer, publishing work in journals such as Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. Like Cahun, she decided to become active during the war, and to use her photographic skills for what she felt were more meaningful ends, volunteering for the American Red Cross in 1941.105 Thus this photograph was produced at a crucial juncture in her career, when she was thinking seriously about her own role as a photographer in society, women’s role in wartime, as well as representations of women in different types of photographic imagery. In Frissell’s photograph, a porcelain vase decorated with roses



Claude Cahun sits on the mantelpiece, partially reflected in the mirror, mobilising the familiar comparison of femininity and flowers, blossoming nature and the ephemeral nature of beauty and fertility. By this time the processes of colour photography were much more reliable, and more common in magazines than in the later 1920s and early 1930s.106 Colour film was available from 1935, though various means of colouring photographs had been available before then. Women were judged to be more susceptible to colour, which, allegedly, acted on a ‘primitive’ level associated with nature rather than culture. Cahun appears never to have used colour photography, and the only coloured image by her is painted with gouache.107 A Condé Nast in-house publication stated: ‘Women are notorious for thinking in terms of colour first, line next – and wearing quality a long way down.’108 In the 1930s the number of colour photographs, particularly advertising images, rose significantly, directed mostly at female consumers. Frissell’s image is also knowingly and playfully narcissistic, as the woman not only looks at her own reflection but seems to endow it with agency, as if she were like Pygmalion bringing an inanimate sculpture to life in order for it/her to return the creator’s love. Or is it the other way around? Does the reflection, the alter ego, bring the ‘real’ woman around to her way of thinking, advising her to take care of her skin, study it and follow the correct advice in order to be desired by herself and others? The splitting of the subject is given visual form by two female images spread out across the photograph, and also mobilises the well-worn trope of woman objectifying herself by looking at her reflection in the mirror. Here, however, the reflection is not passive. ‘She’ is an active agent. However, there is a third ‘subject’ involved here: the female viewer. She is given commands, ‘interpellated’ by the caption, and the woman in the mirror: ‘STUDY YOUR SKIN’. In the accompanying article the reader is given advice about ‘Your Skin’; but the skin is fetishised, almost separate from her body: ‘A lovely skin must have four kinds of care…’ The skin has its needs and demands, perhaps not identical with those of the person.109 The article starts: ‘Your skin is your autobiography…’ Skin should be protected from the weather by make-up (‘[o]ur grandmothers…went out inches deep in veils’), and improved by ‘a masque treatment, with one of these cool, clean masques which feel like an iced whip’ (I think this means whipped cream rather than leather!).110

Masks, Masquerades and Mirrors In her excellent discussion of the female reader/viewer of US photographer Edward Steichen’s advertising photographs published in women’s magazines, Patricia Johnston points out that, by the late 1920s, advertisers were already taking note of psychoanalytic theories in order to construct images that appealed to the female consumer, who, supposedly, functioned on a more ‘unconscious’ level than did males.111 Johnston also argues that women spectators were not taken in by the apparently more credible photographic reality of these images but recognised them as fantasies, and viewed them in similar ways to their engagement with fiction and melodrama. The female viewer is aware that ‘she is seeing a socially determined image, and yet she makes a decision to engage with the fiction as if reading a novel’ (p. 209). It appears that the colour photographs in women’s magazines are sites where conflicting conscious and unconscious desires meet, and where meanings are both performed and visually constructed, rather than passively consumed. Johnston makes useful points relating to female consumers and photographic advertisements in the mid-twentieth century, and they can be related to what Mary Anne Doane writes about women’s film in the 1940s. Doane states that mass culture represents to the female spectator gestures and desires which are purportedly her own. However, what she is ‘sold back’ is not exactly the same as what was taken (compare the difference between the two [split representation] images in the Frissell photograph). A kind of mimicry of femininity takes place (a parodic performance enacted by a model, which is the same but not quite). This ‘respeaking’ of femininity to the female reader/viewer is a process Doane calls ‘double mimesis’, and we can see this in films in which, for example, Marlene Dietrich or Barbara Stanwyck perform and/or mime ideological feminine roles and stereotypes, which expose a slippage between what is represented and what women are supposed to be. ‘In the woman’s film, the process of remirroring reduces the mirror effect of the cinema, it demonstrates that these are poses, postures, tropes – in short that we are being subjected to a discourse on femininity.’112 This is rather different from the implications of arguments which draw upon Lacan’s ‘mirror phase’ theory, in which the misrecognition of the subject is a condition of subjectivity and selfhood persisting into adulthood, inescapable and fundamentally alienating. Here the gap between self and image can be enabling. Doane suggests that the woman can view from a position of consciousness and agency, escaping the permanent condition of



Claude Cahun misrecognition of the self in the supposedly mirroring images of mass cultural discourse. The humour in Frissell’s image is ambiguous, but not necessarily at the woman’s expense, if read ‘against the grain’. The projection (super ego?) in the mirror reflection, telling her what to do, can be viewed from a detached position in order to ‘get the joke’, whereas the written words and the accompanying article are much less open to alternative readings which reject the ideological content. Masks, make-up and deception are linked, according to Theodor Adorno, a determined critic of mass culture. In his essay on ‘The Schema of Mass Culture’, he states that ‘[m]ass culture is unadorned make-up’, like the face of an actress painstakingly made up but so closely and pitilessly photographed that the magic her cosmeticisation is intended to work is heightened by the lack of mystery and illusion with which it is portrayed.113 In popular film, the speaking images are only masks, horrifying us that a human face can be so fixed and lacking in humanity. This reification of the human in mass culture is linked to the dominant ideology of capitalism. ‘The masks of the film are so many emblems of authority. Their horror grows to the extent that these masks are able to move and speak, although this does nothing to alter their inexorability: everything that lives is captured in such masks’ (pp. 94–95). These masks captivate consumers, who work the same magic on themselves. Here commodity and anthropological fetishism come together, as the ‘masks of false happiness’ (p. 33) are spoken of as if they were ‘primitive’ masks – power objects which can control human destinies. While I would agree with the need to understand culture in relation to ideology and economics, I find Adorno’s view of mass culture rather undialectical, and one-sidedly negative. Certainly, women are often commodified within mass culture, but, as previously noted, consumers of mass culture are not simply passive victims. Adorno’s references to make-up and masks typically align mass culture with the feminine, and even to some extent with notions of ‘the primitive’; she/it is unknowable, deceitful and artificial. Viewed in a wider context, Cahun’s interest in masks, make-up and mirrors is one particular aspect of a larger cultural field, where traditional tropes of femininity are inflected in relation to modernity, mass media and commodification (on the one hand) and more active roles of women, both as producers and consumers of still and moving imagery (on the other).

Masks, Masquerades and Mirrors However, the images Cahun constructs are her own inflection of a trope, subverting masks of beauty and femininity into a neutral mode, which is intentionally, I would argue, resistant to gender classification, as well as removing the image from commodification and consumption into the private sphere. This means, however, that Cahun’s images of masks, mirrors and masquerades had little resonance or influence at the time of their production, and we have no records of any comments on them, thereby facilitating their reading as ‘postmodern’ at a later stage when they were rediscovered. A sumptuous photograph published in Vogue, August 1940, demonstrates both how sophisticated some mass media images were and also how such images can be, at the same time, both similar and different from Cahun’s ‘mask’ photographs (colour plate 5). This photograph by Horst shows the Hollywood actress Gene Tierney (wearing very noticeable make-up, with red lips and fingernails) in a pensive pose as she gently touches three masks of herself (made by Lillian Bettinger). The three masks, interestingly, have rather different skin tones/make-up, alluding to different roles, or could even possibly be read as open invitations to potential readers/customers of differing ethnic backgrounds. A pink and a red lily add a distinctly sexual note to the image, as in some of Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings, as well as linking the woman to the flower. Tierney was married to the fashion designer Oleg Cassini, so was a perfect model for Vogue, bringing together the worlds of glamour, cinema and fashion. These masks identify Tierney as both woman and actress.114 The caption below the image reads ‘FACE NOT MASK. Holding, symbolically, masks of the faces she wore in leisured times’ (Vogue code for before the Second World War), a ‘pallid face, enamelled face, shiny face’. However, her ‘choice’ of face today, ‘fresh as a flower’, is courtesy of Helena Rubinstein’s Rose Pink make-up. The article on the opposite page advises the readers that in these times beauty must be ‘natural’, not ‘ceremonious’ or ‘artificial’. Beauty can be yours if you want to make the effort – ‘And Heaven help you if you don’t.’115 The photograph and its caption partake of the pin-up, the advertising photograph and the fashion/beauty feature, but somehow are not reducible to any of these three categories. There is a magical quality about the image, encouraging the kind of fantasies we have seen several writers refer to in relation to images of women in mass culture, yet the doubling (quadrupling, even) of the face and the masks suggests the uncanny and its associated processes of repression. Tierney’s lovely, ‘feminine’ face is traditionally beautiful, but, in



Claude Cahun presenting her to us, the photograph clearly foregrounds the masquerade, and a constructed nature of femininity, which, once again, can be read in a far more ambiguous way than the accompanying article. As Doane suggests, such mass media images of femininity allow the viewer to be aware of the distance between ‘what has been taken from her and what is being sold back to her’. The female viewer can experience the distance between the image and herself as a feeling of inferiority, or of knowledge and awareness – i.e. that what she is being offered is not a reality but a performance of a socially and culturally approved ideal of womanliness. I would argue that Rivière’s point about the masquerade of womanliness could be more usefully related to this image than to Cahun’s self-portraits, but the (repressed) threat the masquerade is unconsciously deflecting here may be that of death rather than male retribution. These are not isolated examples, as can be seen from the cover of Votre Beauté, a French magazine devoted to health and beauty, November 1935 (colour plate 6). The colour-tinted photographic image (from a print by Joffé) shows a woman peeling a mask from her face, as if sloughing off her skin. The lighting of the image imbues it with an air of mystery, or even threat, while at the same time making her look oddly like a surgeon (cf. figure 7), as if by ‘treating’ her own skin she is carrying out a medical procedure but without recourse to actual surgery. (The Christmas 1936 issue, p. 125, has a beauty mask advert that explicitly mentions the avoidance of surgery as a benefit for users of the product.) Her nails are the usual dangerous red tint. The wording at the bottom commands us to ‘Stop the years’ and mentions the ‘Hollywood beauty masque’ as a means to accomplish this. Votre Beauté is an interesting magazine from the 1930s. There are many references to eyes, mirrors and masks, fashion trends and exercise regimes. An article on eyebrows asks whether to pluck or not (March 1933, pp. 22–23). The illustrations of ‘undesirable’ eyebrows resemble those of Frida Kahlo, who resolutely represented her facial hair. Many issues have adverts for face masks to improve the skin (supposedly), and some have names explicitly linking them to the cinema industry and glamour – e.g. the ‘Los Angeles’ masque (May 1936, p. 92). The January 1936 issue, p. 62, has an advert for a beauty mask which women apply hot, allow to dry and lift off in one piece; and in March 1936 (p. 22) an advert for the Hollywood masque claims: ‘You will never be an old woman…’ In the Christmas 1936 issue a perfume advert for ‘Mascarade’ informs us that perfume is like a mask; it changes you, but

Masks, Masquerades and Mirrors not totally – recognisable and yet unrecognisable. The magazine published Man Ray’s work, but the photographers it used most were Joffé and Meerson. In the beauty masque images (see also the June 1933 Votre Beauté, p. 36) youth and beauty are promised, and the ‘true’ beauty ‘inside’ or ‘underneath’ is revealed as the surface mask is pulled off. The discarded, dead surface is removed so that the woman’s face becomes renewed. At the same time, though, she is the same ‘old’ woman, the woman whose nature is masked, artificial and unknowable. She will never grow old, indeed, because she embodies the unchanging nature of woman. These masks are also indexical signs, like life masks, death masks and photographs. That is, they are signs constructed using some means of physical contact – e.g. the photograph is linked with the subject through light, the death/life mask through contact with the flesh. So Cahun’s photographs with masks may also contain (unconscious?) references to the indexical nature of the photographic process. Like the photographic ‘skin’ on the film or the photographic paper, the image is imprinted on a surface as the mask is like a second skin on the face.116 The masks in the Gene Tierney photograph, with their closed eyes, relate to this uncanny aspect of the mask, confusing the dead with the living, suggesting repressed anxieties, perhaps of castration, which the fetishised masks ward off and mobilise at the same time. Images showing women’s face masks in the 1930s involved plaster and bandages, and even covering the face with a black substance, ‘Pomade Noir’. The resulting connotations of these pictures included the damaged faces of First World War invalids in hospitals, African masks and ‘racial’ identities, and Egyptian mummies.117


Cahun’s use of mirrors, masks and masquerade in her self-portrait photographic images are linked, whether consciously or not, to contemporary developments in the representation of women in the wider cultural sphere. Psychoanalysis, political and social changes, the development of photography for advertising, mass culture for leisure consumption, changes in ideals of beauty and fashion all relate to the production and consumption of images of femininity. However, while many of Cahun’s images are related to these developments, and sometimes use similar props and poses, Cahun’s



Claude Cahun self-presentations function in a different context from these more mainstream images. Like the psychoanalytical discussions and debates about women and their sexuality, Cahun’s images resist conclusions and categorisation. However, this is not to say that Cahun’s images have multiple meanings whereas the media images of women are simple and onedimensional. Almost all images can be read as ambiguous and complex, in terms of their relationship to their material contexts. Cahun’s images, however, are physically different, in that their lack of colour, small size and private nature mean that they had a very different cultural resonance from images produced in the women’s press, for example. Ironically, Cahun made little, if any, money from her photography in her lifetime, whereas now the prices argued over by dealers and publishers for the prints, reproduction fees and copies of Aveux non Avenus, would earn her a decent living. Photography was an ideal medium to embody the interest in mirrors, masks and masquerade evident in Cahun’s work, both visual and literary. With its sensitive skin, the capturing of poses, its nature as indexical sign, the use of mirrors, narcissism, fetishistic qualities and metaphorical capturing of the ‘I’/eye, what medium could be more appropriate?


Love, Politics and What She Wore1

Cahun stands with hand on hip, holding what seems to be a cigarette, awkwardly positioned, like some kind of decorative accessory, between the third and little fingers of her right hand (figure 15).2 Her other hand is by her side, her fist clenched. A white scarf and pocket handkerchief contrast with the darkness of the velvet trousers and jacket worn by this youthful, androgynous-looking individual. Cahun is part of a deceptively simple arrangement which includes as backdrop a piece of dark cloth pinned to the lighter-coloured wall, like Malevich’s famous Black Suprematist Square painting of 1915. Cahun, her face pale, her mouth tight-lipped, addresses us with her usual intense but strangely expressionless face. Her hair has been cut extremely short. As usual, her image is difficult to pin down, neither securely gendered nor fitting easily into a particular photographic genre. Is it a portrait, a formal artistic arrangement, a private ‘fashion’ shoot, none of these, or all of them? Cahun always seems to be ready for the camera; she is always dressed for the look of Malherbe, of her own camera, of the camera of passport and identification photographs, of other photographers. Cahun’s registration card has two photographs of her, one taken in 1922 and the other in 1941 (figure 16). The latter is the same one used on her identity card issued by the Germans on 27 January 1941. The earlier photograph shows Cahun in a coat or jacket with wide lapels, with a scarf loosely knotted at her neck like a cravat. Her curly hair is unruly as she looks, expressionless, at the camera. The later photograph has the same elements of dress – wide-lapelled coat and soft scarf – but their inflection is different. Cahun 81

Figure 15: Claude Cahun, Self-portrait, 10.9 x 8.2 cms, ca. 1921, courtesy Richard and Ronay Menschel.

L o v e , P o l i t i c s a n d W h a t S h e Wo r e

Figure 16: Registration card of Lucie Schwob, issued 1922, Jersey Archives.

has taken on the guise of a polite and demure older woman. She was interrogated by the German authorities before she and Suzanne Malherbe were actually arrested for their anti-fascist propaganda activities. She went to meet her interrogators ‘disguised’ as Lucy Schwob, to play the part of herself and the official identity on her passport: ‘I went there unrecognisable as Lucy Schwob. I lived just as usual, under my appearance of Claude Cahun. The bureaucrats apologised to the old lady in black who looked so ill.’3 Before the identity photograph, Cahun had already constructed and assumed a persona for herself which was a political and strategic disguise. Similarly, in an earlier (ca. 1936) passport-type photograph not taken by herself or Malherbe, Cahun presents a carefully constructed image (figure 17). The work of fabrication, construction and making is being done on herself before the photograph is ever taken. As I suggested previously, her creative work is on a spectrum, a continuum, of various appearances – in everyday life, in the theatre, in posed photographs.4 Her day-to-day clothing, hairstyling, make-up and poses are also part of her creative activity. The early articles of fashion journalism which appeared in Le Phare de la Loire, written by Malherbe, but no doubt discussed with Cahun, testify to the couple’s knowledge of fashion, and also to their interest in playfully and ironically manipulating contemporary trends. Cahun’s appearance could


Figure 17: ‘Passport’ photo of Claude Cahun, private collection, UK.

L o v e , P o l i t i c s a n d W h a t S h e Wo r e be described as a variety of the picturesque, or the ‘photoesque’, since her appearance is being fabricated with a photograph rather than a painting in mind. Her photographs, like her, are unclassifiable, neither snapshots, studio photographs, conventional self-portraits, fine art photography nor objects of mass reproducible culture. Photography was a young medium, more open to creative questioning of genres, and to collaboration and intervention by women than older, more established art forms. Clothing was important to Schwob/Cahun, and details of her outfits are sometimes mentioned in her autobiographical writings. We can also see from photographs what items of clothes she wore, both in the (makeshift) studio locations and in everyday life. However, I am not sure if we can describe a Claude Cahun ‘style’. (We have already seen that sometimes a particular Lucy Schwob ‘style’ was constructed.) There were many styles, at different times of her life, for different circumstances, different levels of performance. What tends to unify them is their success in eluding categorisation: neither male nor female, old/young, butch/femme. In one document, Cahun writes that at the age of twenty she looked about fifteen at the most, which increased the provincial scandal of the clothes I wore. They were not really suitable for my age or even in fashion…especially when they were ahead of fashion…they were the wrong sort…[t]his was what Jean Paulthan pointed out, a few years later, when he refused my manuscripts with all the courtesy of the N.R.F. [Nouvelle Revue Française] saying they were of ‘an indeterminate kind.’5

The example of the sailor suit Cahun wears in two early photographs bears this out (see figure 5). The sailor suit was not for young women but for children, for whom it became really popular in the 1920s, whereas Schwob/Cahun was wearing her version with trousers in 1915 in provincial Nantes.6 What were the possible meanings of Cahun’s appearance(s), and why was it so difficult to pin down her image in everyday life and in photography?7 To answer these questions, I want to look at Cahun’s own comments on her appearance, photographs of her, contemporary women’s clothing and lesbian dress, as well as situating her clothing in relation to avant-garde, modernist and left politics. It might be argued that, since clothing is crucial to Cahun’s self-images, photographs of her body unclothed might reveal her ‘true’ self, or perhaps a body that is not gendered or marked by sexuality. The naked body is not,



Claude Cahun however, natural, but already cultural, especially when it is mediated by visual representation.8 Cahun’s hair styling, poses and the positioning of her body do not represent a body outside culture. In fact, the photographs which show her unclothed, or partly unclothed, do not focus on her body in isolation, as in the modernist nudes of Tina Modotti by Edward Weston, for example, but always in a setting. She floats languidly in the water, or lies on the sand with tendrils of seaweed wound around her; she crouches in a rock pool with a bathing cap on her head, she sits on a quilt with a mask, and poses in the deep snow with a flower.9 None of her extant photographs show her completely naked. This is always a cultured body which is presented to us, and it will be doubly cultured once a photograph is taken of it.


In Cahun’s account of her arrest, attempted suicide and imprisonment by the German army in June 1944, she is careful to mention what clothes she was wearing. Obviously, these were traumatic events that no one would ever forget, but the attention she pays to her clothes even when in grave danger show how much dress mattered to her. For example, when she returned from hospital to prison she was wearing ‘my blue corduroy trousers, my striped jersey, my blue jacket’.10 She is wearing similar clothes in a photograph where she is standing at the door of the house in Jersey (figure 18). These are her normal everyday clothes: casual trousers with flies cut like a man’s, a striped, V-necked knitted top with a soft collar, and a cardigan. Her hair is worn back off her face. This apparently ordinary image is made strange by the little skull Cahun holds in her hand. While in prison, Cahun’s shoes were taken from her cell and she had to use her beige coat as a blanket.11 In prison she also had a ‘very pretty’ white and blue angora scarf (p. 26). The couple were brought more of their clothes, including Cahun’s beige corduroy jodhpurs (the ‘less good’ pair of two she had p. 29). Her dress during the Occupation usually consisted of beige jodhpurs, no hat, wellington boots, a linen shirt or woollen jumper and a ‘semi-masculine jacket’. This Occupation ‘persona’ varied according to the weather. Sometimes she wore a Burberry raincoat which had ‘useful pockets for propaganda leaflets’, a scarf on her head (various brightly coloured ones), woollen gloves in winter and a rucksack (as an alibi for their walks to distribute the leaflets).12 While the

L o v e , P o l i t i c s a n d W h a t S h e Wo r e couple were in prison their jewels and fur coats disappeared. Later, they found them in the possession of some local women who had become mistresses of German officers, and the couple made them ‘cough up’ their possessions.13 On their arrival in Jersey, the couple had decided to keep themselves to themselves and live as quiet ‘bourgeoises’ in order not to attract attention. Despite their best intentions, the couple were perceived as eccentrics who regularly wore trousers, smoked and looked generally out of the ordinary.14 From her early years, Cahun was fond of trousers and her address book has an entry for ‘Mlle Richeux, tailleuse pour homme, 12 Rue de Pilleux, Nantes’.15 Jersey in the 1930s was a tourist venue but locals themselves tended not to dress in the height of fashion. One woman I interviewed who visited Jersey before and after the war with her mother, pointed out to me that her mother stood out as very fashionable, because she normally lived, and bought her clothes, in France. Clothes could be bought in Jersey either by visiting the shops in person, or else customers could phone up and ask to see a selection of items, delivered by van, from which they would choose at home. 16 Cahun’s strategy during the war was to look like a typical bourgeois resident of a quiet village, not like a lesbian from a Jewish background with Trotskyist political sympathies, for understandable reasons. According to people I interviewed, it was possible to imagine two men having a relationship in Jersey at that time, but lesbians were just inconceivable and not described as such, even when they were present.17 Joe Mière, who was in prison with them as a young man Figure 18: Claude Cahun (and Marcel and who became their friend, Moore?), Self-portrait at Door, 8.0 x 5.5 remembered Cahun as a demure, cms, ca. 1937, JHT.



Claude Cahun nun-like figure, with her hair in a bun, her head lowered and her hands clasped. (He knew her as Lucy, further proof that, despite the unusual name of Schwob, Cahun had decided that her public persona, her ‘nom de guerre’, during the Occupation would be that of Lucie Schwob, and that Claude Cahun would remain hidden and private.) He recalled her wearing a cardigan embroidered with flowers or similar little motifs, a black jumper and a dark skirt.18 He was amazed much later to see their more private photographs, of which he was unaware at the time. In earlier periods of Cahun’s life her self-styling was varied and eclectic. Photographs show her wearing items including turban hats, a sailor suit, a coat with a fur collar, shorts (both brief and longer), trousers, a man’s jacket (or else one made like a man’s for her), a woollen jumper with a large collar tied under the neck with a ribbon with (wooden?) acorns on the ends, the famous chessboard coat in the mirror photograph, a sailor-style hat, an old dressing gown, swimsuits, short divided skirts with button sailor-style flap in front, large sunglasses, various masks, dungarees, wellingtons, casual cardigans, jodhpurs and an outfit designed to make her look like a little girl. In the photographs documenting the launch of Aveux in 1930 she is wearing a beret, a casual knitted cardigan with contrasting bands on the pockets, sleeves and front edges, and a brightly patterned scarf. Her eyebrows are heavily plucked and redrawn with a pencil. This is far from an exhaustive list, but, together with the variety of hairstyles, hair colourings and hats, we can see that her images were mutable and resisted classification. Her changing appearances did not depend on the presence of a mask, and this list of clothing items and styling does not even include the images taken in costume or of theatrical productions. I would suggest that this is not simply a result of changes in fashion, as Cahun tended to fashion herself, rather than ‘buy into’ an image constructed by professional designers as ‘fashionable’.


Cahun’s ‘indeterminate sort’ of appearance in provincial Nantes was probably greeted with less surprise in Paris, which she visited frequently before moving there with Suzanne in 1920. Even before the war ended in 1918, women’s dress and hairstyling in France had begun to change.

L o v e , P o l i t i c s a n d W h a t S h e Wo r e Commercial exploitation of these innovations increased in the inter-war period, and more face powders, lipsticks and perfumes were available, as were face masks and other beauty products. Hair colouring and permanent waves became more common. Alongside this, a larger number of fashion and beauty magazines were produced, and by the 1930s these used colour photography more frequently.19 The more relaxed and casual look of women and their clothes in the 1920s and 1930s was epitomised by the designs of Coco Chanel, whose success, as Valerie Steele puts it, ‘was not that her clothes were simple or even comfortable, but that they made the rich look young and casual’ (p. 247). Chanel was a self-made woman, whose relations with a series of high society men helped her finances and networking. The height of popularity for her casual-looking but ‘cool’ and elegant designs came in the mid- to late 1920s. The story of how she was offered a large stock of natural-coloured knitted jersey fabric by Rodier in 1917 when other fabrics were difficult to come by, and made this into revolutionary women’s clothing, is well known. She transformed a rather homely fabric, associated with underwear, fisherman’s jerseys, hosiery and sportswear, into chic apparel for the rich. From 1917 she designed jersey suits, which were still popular well into the 1920s, worn with casual cardigans, similar to the one worn by Cahun in the photograph taken outside the window display for Aveux in 1930.20 However, despite the modernity of Chanel’s designs and the impression of freedom that they gave (for those who could afford them), Mary Louise Roberts has questioned whether these new fashions so popular after the First World War enfranchised women as much as has been supposed: ‘Thinking about the new fashions as producing the illusion of freedom, rather then freedom itself, can help us to determine their political importance.’21 Though clearly the shorter skirts and less constricting foundation garments were a welcome improvement for many women, it has been suggested that they also locked women into exercise regimes, health treatments and a consumerist lifestyle which fed the profits of the burgeoning beauty industries. However, one feminist writer claimed in 1919 that the new fashions marked a significant departure, because these were not designed by men to impose their ideals of desirability on women, but designed by women themselves.22 Chanel’s radical tendencies did not extend to much else in her life, however, and she treated the demands of her women workers with disdain, railed against the pernicious influence



Claude Cahun which ‘pederasts’ and ‘queers’ exercised on women in the world of fashion, took a Nazi lover and availed herself of anti-Semitic legislation under the German occupation of Paris in order to avoid fulfilling contractual obligations to Wertheimers, the perfume manufacturers.23 Chanel and others developed designs centred around the clientele and lifestyle associated with leisure resorts at beaches and mountains in France. There more casual garments could be worn, and social norms of appropriate clothing were more relaxed. However, the seaside resorts that Cahun and Malherbe frequented were not the high society ones we see mentioned in connection with Chanel. Chanel is pictured in the 1920s and 1930s with male and female companions wearing striped jerseys and loose, comfortable trousers, and her hair cut short.24 Casual stylishness suited Cahun well, but we do not know where she bought her clothes in Paris, or whether she even bought designer clothes. These women’s fashions developed alongside social and cultural changes, and the concerns around the so-called ‘new woman’s’ lack of enthusiasm for childbearing. In 1922 Victor Margueritte’s infamous novel La Garçonne, a huge best-seller, recounted the tale of Monique Lerbier, who rejects a ‘society’ marriage with a man who already has a mistress in favour of experimenting with drugs, sexual encounters with women and setting up her own business. However, she eventually finds ‘the man’ and decides to settle down. Despite this ‘return to order’ in the concluding section of the novel, the work caused a scandal, and its author was ostracised by the French literary establishment.25 However, Cahun’s clothing and hairstyles were not constructed to convey the same meanings as those of Monique Lerbier (who dabbles in lesbian sex only to return to the heterosexual fold), or those of the majority of Cahun’s real-life contemporaries. It was one thing to wear casual slacks, beach pyjamas and jerseys at sporting and leisure venues. It was another to wear casual clothes in town, and trousers were definitely not acceptable wear for women in cities until much later in the twentieth century. Cahun and her partner shared with fashionable women a desire to wear more casual clothing and enjoy the seaside and outdoor life, but they also lived more bohemian lifestyles, in which clothing was often more inventive, imaginative and less governed by conventions of class and gender.26 Artists, writers and artists’ models, as well as some feminists and lesbians in other walks of life, experimented with clothing which transgressed social and gender boundaries. For example, a

L o v e , P o l i t i c s a n d W h a t S h e Wo r e photograph of the model Kiki taken in a courtyard in Montparnasse in 1926 shows her laughingly washing clothes in her bare feet, sporting casual, close-fitting trousers, a short-sleeved top and bobbed hair.27 In the previous year, Jules Pascin was photographed in a house in Saint Tropez with three models (Rolla, Julie and Lucy) wearing outfits they had devised themselves, consisting of white sailor trousers and white blouses. Their hair is cut short and they are all smoking. Their unusual attire and the fact that one of the models is black suggests an environment free of constraints and prejudices.28 There were many overlapping and contradictory meanings of women with trousers, short hair and cigarettes in the 1920s, encompassing bohemian and artistic lifestyles, refusal of gender roles, feminism, political radicalism and upper-class chic. Rather like Cahun’s clothes and styling, these elements of women’s dress were resistant to fixed meanings, and varied according to class, sexuality and other factors. It is instructive to compare Cahun’s self-construction using clothes and hairstyling to that of the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, an iconic figure with whom she has many similarities, but also significant differences, not least in politics. After flirting (and more) with Trotsky and Trotskyism, Kahlo returned to the Stalinised Communist Party, a political milieu which by the mid-1930s had become anathema to Cahun. Taken in 1941 in Mexico by Emmy Lou Packard, in the yard of a house in Coyoacán, this photograph of Kahlo shows her appearance as a complex construction of nationality, sexuality and class (figure 19). The jeans are apparently a sign of identification with workers, though they look quite neat and scarcely worn. They are clearly not women’s, as they need a belt to fasten them round her waist and the turn-ups are deep. She wears women’s shoes, simple but quite petite, with bars over the instep. Slouched against the wall, she has one hand in the deep pocket of the jeans, and the other holds a lit cigarette which she seems to have rolled herself. A white blouse which looks quite demure is tucked into the waist of the jeans, and a jacket is slung, nonchalantly, over her shoulder. In another photograph taken at this time, of Kahlo with Packard, we can see that the jacket is a boy’s bomber jacket with a plaid design. Also in figure 19, we see the large rings on Kahlo’s fingers, her earrings and her elaborate hairdo, with a band of cloth woven into her hair and a large flower. What kind of woman is this? Pretty much of a ‘genre indeterminé’ like Cahun. However, Kahlo’s context is a different one, mixing elements of national pride and ‘Mexicanness’ with American



Claude Cahun jeans/workwear, jewellery, decorated hair and ‘femininity’ with signs of toughness, bohemia and the proletariat.29 On occasion, Cahun could appear at the cutting edge of fashion, a female dandy, as in the photograph with the mirror and the ‘chessboard’ coat with the collar turned up (figure 9). Here the bright, striking geometric designs (unfortunately, we do not know what colours these were) are very similar to the art deco coats designed by artist Sonia Delaunay and modelled in the newly constructed Rue Mallet-Stevens, featured in a fashion spread in La Revue de la Femme, 1 May 1928.30 However, all these models wear cloche hats, and some carry handbags, which gives the coats a very different look

Figure 19: Emmy Lou Packard, Frida Kahlo leaning against a wall holding a cigarette, 19 x 19 cms, gelatin silver print, 1941, courtesy of Throckmorton Fine Art, New York.

L o v e , P o l i t i c s a n d W h a t S h e Wo r e from that achieved when combined with Cahun’s dyed, severely cut hair, which is almost ‘skinhead’ in appearance. Cahun manages, as usual, to be unclassifiable and ‘indeterminate’. Without ever conforming to any particular identity, her constructed self-image crosses over between discourses of the fashionable, the avant-garde, the bohemian, the androgynous, the lesbian and the revolutionary. (In some photographs she prominently displays a five-pointed star brooch, for example in the ‘passport’ photograph in figure 17, and in the photograph of the group of Surrealists photographed in London in 1936, where she is wearing a demure, ‘feminine’ dress, with a long skirt, and what appears to be the same brooch with another similar one.)31 Diana Crane discusses women’s clothing behaviour as a form of nonverbal resistance which affects people both consciously and unconsciously.32 Cahun’s dress and appearance could be viewed as a form of such nonverbal creativity as well as resistance to norms of feminine dress and selfpresentation. Her appearance has been referred to as androgynous, masculine or lesbian. However, I feel that the resistance extends to a refusal of categorisation. I do not wish by saying this to play down Cahun’s lesbian sexuality, which was clearly an important aspect of her life. Some authors have discussed the question of lesbian identity in relation to Cahun’s work, as they (correctly in my view) feel it has been marginalised. The main emphasis of these writers has focused on Cahun’s photographic practices and the way in which Cahun produced her photographs with and for her female partner.33 It is instructive to discuss Cahun’s self-construction in relation to lesbian identities in inter-war Paris, as this will enable us to see whether her working practices and her self-construction (which I would argue constitutes part of her working practice) do indeed refuse the category of lesbian, as they refuse many others.


In her essay ‘Looking Like a Lesbian’, Tirza True Latimer discusses not only Cahun’s collaborative photographic practice with her partner but also her clothing and its role in identity construction. One of the other artists she compares Cahun to is Romaine Brooks, whose dandyish self-portraits consistently construct representations of a more upper-class aesthete than we see in images of Cahun.34 Claudie Lesselier argues:



Claude Cahun In fact the economical and political crisis of the thirties, followed by the war, is the deathknell of an aesthetic and a social space which has been a ground for a particular lesbian culture, even if the actors of this culture are still alive in the sixties and seventies and publish poems or memoirs, like Nathalie Barney or Lucie Delarue-Mardrus…35

Much of the work on lesbian lifestyles, dress and self-identities in France in the inter-war period has concentrated on expatriates living in Paris and not on actual French women. Few of these expatriate women came from working- or lower-class backgrounds.36 Radclyffe Hall’s famous novel The Well of Loneliness, 1928, was eagerly read in France by lesbians and others. As Laura Doan points out, lesbian identities and style were fluid and ambiguous in the early 1920s, and it was only after the 1928 obscenity trial that the dress of Hall and her heroine became identified with the category of ‘mannish lesbian’. Before that, Hall’s upper-class dandified look was interpreted as ‘modern’, fashionable and ‘exquisitely tailor-made’.37 Doan argues that the fluidity of women’s fashion in England in the 1920s encompassed categories such as the female boy, woman of fashion in the masculine mode, lesbian boy, mannish lesbian, female cross-dresser, new woman, etc. (p. 99). She illustrates a newspaper article on ‘The Boyette: Seaside Girls who Dress like Boys’ (the young women have short nonpermed hair, dress like boys and sometimes wear sports jackets; Daily Mail, 1927). As in France, the coast appears to be a location where certain conventions of dress and behaviour can be flouted.38 Mannish dress was also associated with spinsters, feminists, intellectual women, Englishness and upper-class identities (p. 101). Doan counsels us to beware of being reductive in relation to ‘a rich terrain of sartorial and sexual possibilities’ available in the 1920s (p. 125). Cahun’s dress in her earlier photographs appears to take advantage of a similar situation in France, and contributes to it, by constructing a whole range of meanings through clothing and other embodied strategies. Florence Tamagne asserts that, even more than those of gay men, lesbian identities were in construction in the inter-war period.39 While some women were alert to the empowering possibilities of using items of traditionally male apparel to construct identities which mimicked masculinity but were ‘not quite the same thing’, the writer Colette was dismissive of women who looked like men and dressed in men’s clothing.40 One major problem, as Lesselier points out, is that the researcher of lesbian history is confronted with a ‘rarity of sources’. ‘The destruction of

L o v e , P o l i t i c s a n d W h a t S h e Wo r e documents (diaries, letters), the compulsory autocensorship (for example in autobiographies), and more fundamentally the exclusion of lesbianism from the public field, make it a reality difficult to probe by classical historical methods.’41 Lesselier is a shrewd and perceptive scholar, well aware of the difficulties in researching ‘lesbian identities’. Lesbians at this period had to utilise the terms devised by the sexologists who had categorised them (for example, as inverts, or members of a third sex) simply in order to claim a presence, an existence. Thus, argues Lesselier, a contradiction lies at the heart of lesbian identities, consciousness and politics. At the same time as affirming agency and presence, lesbians place themselves within/against the categories of a dominant society, so this is a process of self-positioning which involves refusal and affirmation at the same time (p. 106). We can see this in Cahun’s contribution to a discussion in the magazine Inversions, the first gay magazine in France, which came out in November 1924. This publication was short-lived, due to state persecution of the editors. It was banned after four issues and then changed its name to Amitié, but that too was closed down. The magazine did not contain much on lesbians, though it had one letter by a rather prejudiced author denigrating female homosexuality in issue no. 2, after which the editors had to issue a disclaimer.42 When the editors were threatened with court action they appealed for support, asking whether people felt the magazine really had ‘outraged public morals’. Cahun wrote in to say that her morals, good or bad, had not been outraged, and that it was necessary to stand up for freedom of thought and freedom of the press. However, she felt obliged to point out that Inversions was not quite the journal she hoped it would become. She did not approve of the title (she was unhappy with the description of lesbians and gays as ‘inverts’, not because of any question of morality).43 The title was to be changed to Urania from issue no. 3 onwards, but this did not happen due to the legal persecution of the journal.44 However, Cahun felt that at least the title made it clear to prospective readers what the magazine was about. What was immoral, she added, was to sell something pretending to be what it was not. She wrote, ‘My opinion on homosexuality and homosexuals is exactly the same as my opinion on heterosexuality and heterosexuals; it all depends on individuals and circumstances.’45 Perhaps not surprisingly, even the left did not come out in favour of the journal, and the only wholehearted support from this direction was from a minority tendency in the anarchist movement,



Claude Cahun who denied the right of the state to interfere in the private life of the individual.46 Various interviewees in Barbedette and Carassou’s invaluable source book give illuminating reminiscences of gay and lesbian life in Paris in the inter-war period. A recurrent theme is that of the mask, imposed by a hypocritical society on those who cannot be themselves (e.g. pp.17, 19, 60).47 Their book includes less material on lesbian lives, but the significant exception is the testimony of the artist Hélène Azenor.48


Azenor, born in 1910, was younger than Cahun and came from a less wealthy and cultured background (her petit bourgeois mother worked in the fashion industry and eventually managed to open her own milliner’s shop). However, there were several interesting points of contact between them, as they attempted to lead independent lives as women who were attracted to women, without compromising their principles and sense of self. Fortunately, Azenor wrote a two-volume autobiography, and a documentary film was made about her life in 1987, so this material is an exceptional source.49 Since this material is not easily available, I will discuss what Azenor has to say about clothes, sexuality and self-image, and her experiences as a lesbian in far left politics. These are interesting in themselves, and also help to give us more context for an understanding of Cahun and her work. As a child Azenor would dress as a boy, for example wearing a sailor top with shorts, while her older sister would wear the same with a skirt. She wore pyjamas while her sister wore a nightdress.50 As a youngster she loved the seaside, as did Cahun, which gave her a sense of freedom, since she was able to wear casual leisure clothes which were not heavily gendered for swimming and shrimping (p. 36).51 She loved cycling, and aged fourteen or fifteen went to the boy’s department of Galeries Lafayette to buy herself cycling trousers and a cap, as there were no trousers for women available there (p. 129). Wearing trousers was still officially against the law for women in France. Azenor hated dresses but loved dressing up (as did Cahun as a child), either at home, with old curtains, or in various school plays (she particularly enjoyed acting in the costume of a sans-culotte; p. 97). During a visit to the Louvre she saw Ingres’ La Source, which made her realise she

L o v e , P o l i t i c s a n d W h a t S h e Wo r e liked pictures of women (p. 116). Like Cahun, she was drawn to Leonardo, and read Freud’s essay on him, though as a teenager at this time she did not know who Freud was. She enjoyed The Well of Loneliness, and found it an interesting exploration of female homosexuality.52 She was content to be called a lesbian, because it meant an acceptance of who she was and a refusal of pretence. It was more of a descriptive term than other pejorative terms used to describe lesbians, such as ‘gousse’ or ‘gouine’ (gousse is a pod, shell or husk, and gouine is a prostitute).53 Her mother threw her out when she was nineteen years old, as she did not want her daughter to be known as a lesbian in their neighbourhood. Azenor had to work to keep herself while she studied art at evening classes, and, while the art studio was a place she felt free to be herself among other ‘bohemians’, her work during the day was not without problems, not least because she often was the only woman working in her small workplaces and was paid far less than her male colleagues.54 In the later 1920s she joined the Association des Amis de l’URSS, a Communist Front organisation which organised political and cultural propaganda in support of the USSR by showing films, and encouraging reading groups and discussions. Like Cahun, she became eager to discover more about left politics at this time, and she read all she could about the Russian Revolution, Lenin and Trotsky, though she was not convinced that the latter’s theory of permanent revolution was a realistic proposition.55 She seems, therefore, to have encountered the same political ideas as Cahun, though by a slightly different route. In 1936 she joined the Comité Mondial des Femmes, another organisation dominated by the French Communist Party (CP), and left when they objected to her buying a book by André Gide to put in a people’s library she had been asked to set up. This was because Gide was disapproved of by the CP as gay, and also because he had gone public with criticisms of the Stalinist regime in the Soviet Union, including its persecution of homosexuals. Like Cahun, Azenor discovered that it was not easy to work with the Communist Party at this time and be a lesbian who believed in political democracy and sexual liberation.56 Given the paucity of information on Cahun’s experiences as a lesbian working with communist-dominated cultural movements, it is useful to read of Azenor’s experiences, which most likely were typical. In 1938 Azenor visited the Surrealist exhibition and was impressed by the mannequins there, though her own paintings have



Claude Cahun nothing in common with this type of work. In 1938 Cahun and Malherbe left Paris to live in Jersey, though they may have visited the show. Azenor’s clothing became a means of self-expression. She describes how lesbians at this time recognised one another by wearing a shirt, a ribbon tie, a jacket with something in the pocket, and straight short hair slicked back. (The closest Cahun’s hair came to this is, interestingly, when she was acting the part of a male character in a play in 1929.)57 Perms were for the heterosexual ‘garçonne’. Ties or cravats were fairly usual (Cahun tended to wear scarves), and, for evening wear, suits, dinner suits and monocles were popular. Azenor describes herself as looking like a waiter. This was the popular dress in lesbian clubs, though she found the atmosphere at Solidor’s club ‘très snob’.58 For everyday wear Azenor wore a beret, a skirt, jacket and shirt or a casual knitted shirt. Ties were particularly important to her. When she was young ties were worn by straight women as well, but, for her, they were more than a sartorial detail; they were a way of satisfying a secret desire – a symbol, a kind of challenge thrown down to society. While the skirt that she was obliged to wear placed her in a world that was not hers, the tie she wore helped her to express and impose on passers-by her real personality. The first thing she did when she moved into her own lodgings was hang up the ties on a cord on the inside of the wardrobe door. She knew that men did this, ‘ce qui me causait lorsque je les choisissais une joie troublante’.59 At this time, she entered into the fluid and unclassifiable existence of the ‘drame homosexuel. Ni fille, ni garçon, ni homme, ni femme.’ She states, however, that her clothes did not make her a homosexual: ‘[Y]ou have to suppose I was that already before being born. Women who wear trousers and children, now that it’s fashionable, do not become homosexuals just because of that’ (pp. 44–45). Lesbians in France could, at the same time, remain camouflaged and disguised by the style of clothing adopted by the ‘new woman’, but also inflect it to affirm their identities rather than to hide them. Thus identities hinge on consciousness and awareness, not only on the trappings of masquerade or disguise whether these are literally masks, or everyday items of clothing transposed to a different context and another kind of wearer. An example of this combination of conscious decontextualisation can be seen in a photograph of Cahun taken outside the home she and Suzanne Malherbe shared in Jersey (figure 20). This is one of several photographs taken in the later 1930s in which Cahun poses outdoors, rather than in a

L o v e , P o l i t i c s a n d W h a t S h e Wo r e makeshift studio space in an interior. Other photographs from this period show her dressed as a cowboy; one from March 1938 in which she wears a short wrap-over kimono; another in peasant-style costume. Unlike the Parisian masquerade photographs made indoors, these look more like ‘dressing up’ images, put together from what happens to be lying around the house. In this photograph (figure 20) from the same period, Cahun wears an elegant velvet evening dress with cutaway sleeves, exposing her arms; it looks just like another disguise of many, not the costume of a woman dressed for an evening outing. In the evening dress she looks incongruous in daylight, outside, beside some plants which look like red-hot pokers – perhaps another one of the plants she liked to compare herself to – this time vigorous, even phallic. Women in photographs wearing evening gowns at this time were usually photographed in artificial light in the studio, glamorised and exquisitely ‘feminised’ by the photographic process. Cahun in her evening dress looks odd and out of place, constructing an image which combines a supercilious expression with signs of elegant femininity, which make us question exactly what this woman and this dress are doing, especially since it is taken outside in daylight. This creative clash of connotations – daylight/evening gown, long velvet dress/garden, elements of studio posing/snapshot-like quality – works to make the photograph almost indecipherable as a representation of femininity, of photographic genre and even of class.


Cahun’s casual clothes in figure 18, possibly taken in 1937, are unobtrusive, though discreetly nonconformist. Jersey was an island, their house was in a small village near the beach, so perhaps wearing trousers and a jumper was not unusual, though the fact that they fastened like a man’s no doubt was. The contestatory and ambiguous meanings of women wearing trousers resulted in long-running debates.60 In 1920 the fashion columnist in the Figaro newspaper insisted that trousers for women were ‘not at all subversive but rather deliciously feminine’.61 However, Florence Tamagne, historian of lesbian and gay cultures, states that, while women’s fashions became much more ‘feminine’ in the 1930s, generally ‘trousers remained strongly associated with female homosexuality’.62 Trousers for women were



Claude Cahun rarely worn by fashionable middle- and upper-class women in city streets, and in the inter-war period items of ‘masculine’ clothing were feminised with scarves and other accessories. (Notice Cahun’s scarves in her ‘passport’/ ID photographs, figure 16, and her photograph outside the bookshop window display.)63 In addition, by the 1930s men’s fashions had become ‘hyper-masculine’, with padded shoulders which further differentiated men’s and women’s clothing. 64 We need to take into account men’s Figure 20: Claude Cahun (and Marcel Moore?), clothing as well as Self-portrait in Velvet Evening Gown, 10.2 x 7.3 cms, women’s to decode some ca. 1939, JHT. of the meanings of trousers at this period, and pay attention to cut and fabric, as Stewart argues (p. 107). Cahun’s corduroy trousers and knitted tops, perhaps partly chosen to ‘blend in’ (or act the little mimic?) in rural Jersey, were not particularly feminine in fabric or cut. During the 1920s and 1930s trousers appeared frequently in Vogue, for example as fashionable wide-legged pyjama styles for sports, beachwear and evening wear at home, and as jodhpurs worn by upperclass society women for outdoor leisure pursuits (compare Cahun’s wearing of them in Jersey; again, mimicking a certain social type but with discreet subversion). However, by 1942 in France, under the German Occupation and Vichy Government, there were examples of various fashion and beauty trendsetters condemning trousers as inappropriate to the natural charm and elegance of Frenchwomen. The film star Arletty, mistress of a German

L o v e , P o l i t i c s a n d W h a t S h e Wo r e officer, declared that trousers were only for the poor, who could not afford anything better. Rich women wearing trousers merely lacked dignity and displayed their bad taste.65 Clearly, trousers for women had now become political once more. Only a few years previously, in the 1930s and again in 1940, Marlene Dietrich had been the talk of Paris when she arrived wearing a tailored masculine suit in heavy woven cloth with fly fronts and turnups, large round sun-glasses, a shirt and tie, and an overcoat slung nonchalantly across her shoulders.66 The journalist Janet Flanner reported for The New Yorker on one of Dietrich’s visits to Paris in 1933, recounting how the star was asked to leave town by the Prefect of Police, as, according to a law passed under Napoleon in 1800, women required a special permit to ‘dress as a man’.67 Flanner makes a point of mentioning Dietrich’s apparently innocuous family life, pointing out that she is travelling with her husband, mother and child (in that order). The police at Versailles do not seem to mind if she wears slacks, but when she comes into town she has to wear anything but: ‘[c]ollar, tie, boy’s jacket from the young-girls’ department of Lucien Lelong, man’s hat from the matron’s rayon at Rose Ducat.’68 The star (and the journalist) mix ages, genders and fashion vocabularies. The common denominator in various meanings of bifurcated garments for women was a questioning of traditional bourgeois notions of femininity. It was thus no accident that Cahun often wore trousers. They may have been practical and warm, but she was undoubtedly aware of the wider cultural and social issues involved in her choice of clothes. Fashion and design historians, as well as researchers in lesbian history, have interviewed women who wore trousers in the 1930s and later. Filmstars were important as role-models, and Dietrich in particular was mentioned.69 Judith Schuyf interviewed Dutch lesbians about their dress in the earlier part of the twentieth century, and remarked that at this period lesbian dress was worn not as ‘the result of an inexorable need to be masculine, but rather as a comment on gender roles in society’.70 According to Schuyf, lesbians had to order privately made tailored trousers, as none were available in department stores. The trousers could either be worn with fly fronts (more controversial), or sometimes women would sew up the fronts and insert a side zip. In the Netherlands, as in France, women were forbidden by law to wear trousers (p. 466). As the twentieth century progressed it became harder to distinguish lesbians by their dress, as clothing for women became more masculinised and unisex, and also



Claude Cahun increasingly bohemian, according to both Schuyf and Elizabeth Wilson.71 In his book on gay men’s clothing, Shaun Cole quotes one of his sources as saying that homosexual dress is ‘neither masculine nor feminine, but specifically and peculiarly homosexual’.72 This is why one item of clothing can never really be a ‘sign’ of identity, as it changes when worn/seen as part of a totality, and also in different contexts. The village of St Brelade in conservative Jersey, where Cahun is shown wearing (men’s?) trousers, is not Paris, or St Tropez, so her clothes would have a different meaning there. As previously noted, Cahun’s clothing can, at times, be viewed as an example of Caillois’ notions of mimicry and/or camouflage, where aesthetically and culturally she blends in, seemingly ‘a little mimic’, but secretly more of ‘a great paranoiac’.


Cahun was active in various left-wing organisations linked to the French Communist Party in the early 1930s, as the Surrealists attempted to collaborate with the far left. Unfortunately, at this time the Soviet CP was becoming increasingly undemocratic under the leadership of Stalin and his supporters, and the French CP followed directives from Moscow. Cahun, along with various others on the cultural left, became much more sympathetic to Trotskyism and the politics of the left opposition to Stalin, although she never joined any political party. We have already seen that in the mid-1920s she was ready to defend, in print, the right to freedom of the press and freedom of sexual orientation, and it is reasonable to assume that, before her political activity became more serious in the 1930s and 1940s, she was positioning herself on the far left, no doubt due to her own personal experiences, but also through her reading of political and sociological texts on women and other topics. How did Cahun’s self-construction and fabricated appearance relate to a wider context of socialist politics in France? After the 1917 revolution in Russia, many artists and designers attempted to incorporate principles of freedom and egalitarianism in their clothing designs. Women (and men) were envisaged as liberated from constricting foundation garments, and tailored outerwear, which hampered their movements. Clothing was designed for workers so that it would be cheap

L o v e , P o l i t i c s a n d W h a t S h e Wo r e and efficient but also attractive and comfortable to wear. Fashion, an extravagance of the bourgeoisie, was to be replaced by well-designed and attractive clothing (with strikingly designed printed textiles for women), fit for everyday work and leisure activities. However, due to the shortages of materials and lack of industrial capacity in the aftermath of the Great War and the ensuing Civil War and the occupation of the fledgling USSR, many of these innovative and attractive designs were never put into mass production.73 Politically, there was some confusion over what a revolutionary attitude to women’s appearance should be. The most radical and forwardlooking positions were based on the view that oppressive socially constructed gender differences would gradually disappear as society became more socialist; for example, Russian and early Soviet science fiction books and films often had people wearing unisex clothing and bearing genderless names (rather like the chosen names of Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore, in fact).74 The women’s papers, such as Rabotnitsa (for workers in the cities) and Krest’yanka (for rural workers), attempted to negotiate uncertainties about women’s appearance and notions of attractiveness in relation to a postcapitalist society and economy. In the early 1920s debates and disagreements were present in the articles published in these papers, but as Stalinism became increasingly dominant a more traditional view of femininity was promoted, ironically when more women were working. Stakhanovite shock-worker women and wives of party bureaucrats had more money to spend on furs and feathers, and one Stakhanovite journal had adverts for French fashions in the 1930s.75 In the early 1920s, when Lenin and the Bolsheviks were forced to introduce a degree of free-market development under the New Economic Policy (NEP), businesses producing fashions and cosmetics were revived, aimed primarily at the wives and the girlfriends of the new entrepreneurs. However, Bolsheviks were not against people trying to look their best. Lenin’s wife Krupskaya (who herself always looks worn out and dishevelled in her photographs) pointed out that it was possible to be fashionable and communist.76 Many articles attempted to link ideas of beauty to work, however, rather than appearance, and some writers condemned make-up, fashionable clothes and jewellery. Under Stalin in the 1930s women were increasingly working harder, but they were also denied abortion rights and contraception in order to boost the birth rate, so attempts were made to keep women ‘feminine’ by performing a balancing act between



Claude Cahun traditional notions of attractiveness and the exhausting physical work of labour and childrearing demanded of women at this period. By 1935, while the better-paid shock workers wanted more fashionable goods to spend their money on, an article in Rabotnitsa advocated modest demeanour, not ‘painted lips, plucked eyebrows, permed hair, manicured nails, a flared dress and a beret worn at a tilt!’.77 Radical avant-garde solutions to gender and clothing had largely disappeared by the 1930s, along with most genuine revolutionary politics in the USSR. Cahun’s appearance, which did not readily fit into gendered and classed categories, also did not conform to the dominant communist ethos in the 1930s of what a revolutionary woman should look like. By then, fashion was frowned on as bourgeois, petit bourgeois and exploitative of working-class women as both producers and consumers. For example, the designer Charlotte Perriand was made aware of what was appropriate dress for political educational meetings. She had a favourite necklace made in the late 1920s of metal balls chromed to look like ball bearings (compare the one worn by Cahun in figure 7), but wrote that, when (as a fellow traveller lukewarm towards Stalinism) she went to classes at the Workers’ University in the 19e arrondissement of Paris, ‘I left my ball-bearing necklace in Montparnasse and dressed in dull black’.78 Two publications associated with the French Communist Party, founded in 1920, provide information on far left views on dress and femininity. In the early years of the party there were more open debates on women, gender roles and society, and many of the women who joined in the early years were feminists. Gradually, as the party became less democratic and more Stalinised, clamping down on internal dissent whether from feminists and/or Trotskyists, revolutionary attitudes to gender and sexuality largely disappeared from party life and public propaganda. By 1936, when abortion was banned under Stalin in the Soviet Union, the French CP leadership followed its Soviet masters in promoting a traditional view of feminine attractiveness, heterosexual relationships and motherhood. L’Ouvrière was the official Communist Party paper for women, founded in November 1922, and originally edited by the Women’s Secretariat. Early on, it was more sympathetic to feminism and issues traditionally raised by feminists. However, its evolution followed that of the party, and as the 1920s progressed it praised only the working class and working-class values as progressive. When most of the feminist-leaning women comrades

L o v e , P o l i t i c s a n d W h a t S h e Wo r e left, men were more involved in the paper, which appeared intermittently, disappeared in 1927 for a few years then reappeared for a while in the 1930s.79 The Communist Party in France failed to recruit many proletarian women, and in 1936 closed down its women’s sections, claiming that women’s issues did not really merit specific attention. The early part of the 1920s had been different in both France and the USSR, with far more openness in discussing new forms of sexual life and gender identities. Many of the teachers who joined the French CP in the early years were both feminists and nonconformist in their behaviour, which eventually would bring them into conflict with the leadership of the CP. For example, Maria Rabaté made public her refusal to marry, and dressed in ‘provocative’ clothing, including a black cape lined with red. In its early years the French communist youth movement also attracted young women who were very ‘liberated’, walking around wearing red scarves ‘looking a bit like a tomboy. This wasn’t the typical look of young girls at the time.’80 L’Ouvrière covered international politics and workers’ history as well as topics specifically of interest to women, such as abortion, motherhood, health and political rights, and included some articles dealing with fashion and femininity. For example, on 24 June 1922, on page 1, an article entitled ‘La Mode’ condemned longer skirts as a ploy enabling textile merchants to make money, and said therefore they were to be avoided by socialist and working women. Short skirts were more hygienic, and serious, active women were better off leaving long cumbersome skirts and dresses to the bourgeoises. The leisured rich pay attention to fashion, we are told, and real socialists should not concern themselves with such issues. The refrain of fashion being for the idle rich is one which becomes more insistent in CP journalism in the 1920s and 1930s. Another article on ‘La Mode’ (31.3.1923, p. 2) advises women to wear what styles they like, short or long sleeves – it does not matter whether you follow fashion or not. The paper was more interested in the plight of women workers in the fashion industry, and this too was to be a continuing theme. An article by Dr Madeleine Pelletier (27.3.1924, p. 2) argues that capitalist society has not given us the right to dress as we like, and has enslaved women. Women’s dress should be simplified, without corsets, and wearing too many clothes is bad for the health. She suggests a shirt, closed trousers in jersey (‘pantalon fermé en jersey’), a skirt suit or a dress, and a coat. Luckily, Pelletier adds, short hair is



Claude Cahun now more fashionable. She herself has had short hair since her youth, she writes, and has been heavily criticised for this very fact. Long hair, argues Pelletier, is simply troublesome and a burden. She puts her case for comfortable and simplified clothing and hairstyles for women by pointing out that women could spend more time on politics if they had to devote less time to complicated fashion trends.81 By 1925 the paper was being published directly by the CP, not the women’s committee, since many of them had resigned. From then on the tone became much more workerist, for example scornfully condemning elaborate recipes in mainstream women’s magazines (1.1.1926, p. 2). In 1930 (issue for 1–15 October) there was a diagram for knitting a dress which would have been extremely difficult from the very basic instructions provided, and some other patterns followed in later issues. By the time the paper closed down it had become a mouthpiece for the crudest sort of Stalinist politics, featuring Soviet sports heroes rather than French ones, and showing how to decorate plain blouses with Russian peasant-style embroidery taken from a Soviet women’s paper (1–15 January 1934). This was a far cry from the sort of fashion journalism Malherbe, perhaps in discussion with Cahun, had been producing as a young woman for Le Phare de la Loire, and clearly by this period in the 1930s the CP would have been inimical to Cahun (and probably Malherbe) in terms of both politics and its views on femininity, sexuality, dress and appearance. In the milieu of the CP, Cahun would have stuck out like a sore thumb, if we are to take at face value the model of womanhood promoted by L’Ouvrière in the later part of its existence. However, it is worth noting that what the CP promoted in its papers may not have been what real women actually did. Also, it is important to remember that some of the issues that the journalists of L’Ouvrière wrote about in their party hack manner were actually important – e.g. the exploitation of women workers, the pay and conditions in the fashion industry and pregnant women miscarrying at work. The other magazine to promote communist politics in a more popular/ populist way, published by fellow travellers, was the mass-market illustrated photo journal Regards. The magazine was launched as a monthly in January 1932, and became a weekly from 2 February 1934.82 By 1932 radical debate about sexuality and gender in revolutionary politics had significantly decreased, though the magazine had adverts for works by Wilhelm Reich or the occasional reference to Magnus Hirschfeld.83 A virile

L o v e , P o l i t i c s a n d W h a t S h e Wo r e image of communist man was promoted, and gay communist Daniel Guérin hid his homosexuality behind articles advocating nudism.84 Sexuality in Regards was resolutely heterosexual, and when (suspected) homosexuality was mentioned it was disparagingly referred to (an article on the crossdressing racing driver Violet Morris on 6 January 1938 described her as ‘un spécimen fort curieux d’hermaphrodite’).85 In 1933 the journal published an article defending a woman’s right to choose, and also a piece signed by the AEAR (the revolutionary artists’ and writers’ organisation founded by the CP in 1931, of which Cahun was a member). Elsa Triolet, the Surrealist Louis Aragon’s partner, contributed articles in early 1934 on the bad conditions for women working in the fashion industry. Cahun was shortly to attack Aragon in public (in her political tract Les Paris sont Ouverts, 1934) for his crude approach to art as propaganda, as he became increasingly estranged from the views of his old Surrealist colleagues, and, eventually, a Stalinist. Knitting patterns in the earlier period of the magazine’s life attempted to look attractive without aping the extravagances of bourgeois fashion. Occasionally an older female model was used (6.12.1934), and the emphasis was on looking good, saving money and being comfortable rather than ostentatious. Like the patterns in L’Ouvrière, the instructions were very basic, and women would have had to be very skilled to execute and make up the designs. By 1935, alongside articles on women workers at the Renault motor plant, we begin to see adverts for products to give you ‘ravishingly beautiful legs with sex appeal’ (24.1.35, p. 15). By mid-1935 the last page of each issue becomes ‘La Femme, l’Enfant, le Foyer’ (‘Woman, Child, Home’), indicating that, by the time of the Popular Front, the CP had almost abandoned any revolutionary politics on women to become virtually indistinguishable from other ‘bourgeois’ parties. By this time, Cahun’s views on art and politics were critical of Stalinism, and it is highly likely that her self-fabrication and appearance would not have made her feel comfortable in this political milieu. Even at a time when the styling of femininity was fluid and the meanings of items of clothing were hard to pin down, modulated by sexuality, class and politics, she would have attracted attention. By positioning her image(s) and appearance(s) in the wider social and political context of women and their clothing in this period, we can enhance our understanding and appreciation of her creativity, not only in her photography but in the work



Claude Cahun that she carried out beforehand on her bodily appearance. Figure 21 is one of a series of photographs taken around 1947 next to the cemetery in St Brelade in Jersey, near the couple’s home and where Cahun is now buried. Cahun stands on a ramp, marked ‘Private Property’, in front of flowering shrubs which partially obscure the gravestones of German soldiers. With a supercilious look on her face, she looks down her nose at the camera, a cigarette in her hand and one of her cats sitting between her feet. A small Figure 21: Claude Cahun (and Marcel skull can be seen in the lower Moore?), Self-portrait at Cemetery, 7.9 x right of the image. Various 5.6 cms, ca. 1947, JHT. meanings could be read into this image concerning the war, death, the couple’s regaining their property and (some) of their possessions after the Occupation and their imprisonment and escape from the death sentence passed on them. What I want to to comment on here, though, is what Cahun is wearing. This is yet another of the many and varied costumes of Cahun. She wears wellington boots, what look like men’s work trousers with fly fronts, and a jacket with the emblem of Jersey on the pocket. It seems to imply that she has as much right to belong in Jersey as anyone. She now has a cat and the tobacco that was so hard to come by in the war.86 Somehow she manages to make these ordinary items of clothing, associated with workwear, a stylish ensemble worn by a dandy with the panache and wit of Oscar Wilde. Her dress and appearance have many connotations: worker, lesbian, Occupation resistor, death-defying survivor (despite her smoking habit), mimic of big game hunter. Cahun is not just a performer or creator of femininity. In fact, it is arguable that she never was engaged in a masquerade of just that, but an agent of more multidimensional engagements with gender, society and politics.


Politics and Its Objects

Poupée 1 (Doll 1) (figure 22), made in September 1936, is one of a series of photographs of a mannequin constructed from pages of the French Communist Party newspaper L’Humanité. Wearing what appears to be a postman’s hat (or a military hat?), the figure opens a mouth of false teeth. He (?) balances a sharpened stick against his right arm and rests it on his foot. Some cocktail sticks are pushed into his shoulders. The figure, and the image, were made at the same time as Cahun was working on illustrations for Lise Deharme’s book Le Coeur de Pic, published in 1937. Cahun referred to Deharme’s book, which was among the items taken by the Nazis from the couple’s house after their arrest, along with artworks by Man Ray, Benjamin Peret, René Crevel, Dali, Cocteau and Aragon (from his Surrealist period): ‘Aussi un exemplaire tout a fait innocent de nursery rhymes français, de Lise Deharme – illustré de photographies, par Suzanne et moi.’1 Poupée 1, despite being related to the Deharme illustrations, was not at all ‘innocent’. In fact, it was a piece of political art, and the photograph of the mannequin can be considered a political image in the sense advocated by Cahun in her polemical essay of 1934, Les Paris sont Ouverts (All Bets are Open). Before further discussion of Cahun and political art, it is necessary to outline the political and economic situation in France in the later 1920s and early part of the 1930s, in particular as regards the Surrealist movement and its associates, since it was to the Surrealists that Cahun was increasingly drawn in the 1930s. Despite Cahun’s use of the Communist Party’s newspaper, she was not a supporter of its politics in 1936 when she worked on Poupée 1. 109


Claude Cahun Surrealism was a complex movement, which involved writers, film-makers, painters and photographers. The major Surrealist (or Surrealist-dominated) publications – La Révolution Surréaliste (first appeared 1924 ), Le Surréalisme au Service de la Révolution (1930–1933, edited by André Breton) and later Minotaure (1933–1938) – sought to apply Surrealist theories to a wide range of cultural activities. Influenced by psychoanalysis, the Surrealists wanted to undermine bourgeois notions of art and reality by setting free repressed creative urges from the unconscious. There were important Figure 22: Claude Cahun, Poupeé 1, 10.8 female Surrealists, but it was men x 8.2 cms, September 1936, JHT. who tended to play the leading roles. Their political ideas varied according to individual members; some were more anarchist than Marxist, and Dali eventually expressed some admiration for fascism. Internal relations within the Surrealist movement were certainly conducive to creativity, but often bitter and domineering, especially on the part of the ‘leader’ André Breton, who, with his wife Jacqueline Lamba, became a close friend of Malherbe and Cahun, despite his professed dislike of lesbians.2 Between 1933 and 1935 Cahun attended public lectures on psychology at hospitals in Paris, an interest which members of the Surrealist movement shared. As Cahun’s involvement with both politics and Surrealism increased so her work featured her own body less, and she produced more photographs of objects, authored written polemics and exhibited Surrealist objects. In 1936 she participated in two Surrealist exhibitions, in Paris and in London.3 Although Cahun became more involved in Surrealist political activities in the early part of the 1930s, and was introduced to Breton in 1932, the Surrealists had attempted various rapprochements with the French Communist Party somewhat earlier, during the period 1927 to 1931. After

Politics and Its Objects that date they became more aligned to the left opposition to Stalinism, led by the exiled Leon Trotsky, who had arrived in France in the summer of 1933. Trotsky decided to work towards the building of a new Communist International, convinced that the Third Communist International was now dead for revolution after the role played by its disastrous tactics in Germany, which facilitated the rise to power of the Nazis. In June 1935 Trotsky had to leave France for Norway, and then he took refuge in Mexico, where he was finally killed by a Stalinist assassin in 1940.4 Cahun and Malherbe had joined the AEAR in January 1932 along with many of the other Surrealists, hoping they could argue for a revolutionary, anti-bourgeois art, and also align themselves with French workers. Unfortunately, the Communist Party at this time was becoming more bureaucratic and had developed a rigid party line on art, castigating the avant-garde as bourgeois, and moving towards what was soon to become known as Soviet socialist realism. This was far from the relative openness towards the avant-garde in the years immediately after the revolution of 1917, when Trotsky and Anatoly Lunacharsky had argued that the party should have no ‘line’ on art.5 It was clear that the Surrealists would not be allowed to participate for very long in this milieu, and Breton was expelled in June 1933. Cahun, Malherbe and others followed, including the ‘groupe Brunet’, a small Marxist group of which Cahun was a member. In late 1930 Surrealist writer Louis Aragon had attended a Soviet writers’ conference in Kharkov, mandated to argue the Surrealist position on revolutionary art. Instead, he and his fellow Surrealist Georges Sadoul signed a letter denouncing idealism, Freudianism and Trotskyism and sent it to the CP’s International Writers’ Union. Part of Cahun’s essay Les Paris sont Ouverts is an attack on Aragon for his turn to Stalinism and desertion of the principles of Surrealism and the Trotskyist left opposition.6 Cahun became even more disgusted with the attitude of the French CP when, in June 1935, Surrealists were prevented from intervening in the Congress of Writers for the Defence of Culture, and René Crevel committed suicide, partly as a protest, and no doubt in despair.7 As an openly gay man, Crevel probably had problems with both the CP and sections of the Surrealist movement.8 In May 1933 the last issue of Le Surréalisme au Service de la Révolution was published, and the Surrealists thereafter published in the up-market periodical Minotaure, of which Cahun had a collection (mostly burnt by the Nazis in Jersey).9 However, many of the Surrealists, including



Claude Cahun Cahun, attempted to continue propagandising for anti-capitalist, antiimperialist and pro-working-class politics in a variety of organisations, all of which, alas, were short-lived. Despite a period of relative prosperity from 1926 to 1929, France entered a political and economic crisis in the mid-1930s. By February 1934 there were street battles against the right-wing paramilitary groups, a large gathering of whom rioted not far from the French parliament, the Chamber of Deputies. In the 1920s there had been examples of anti-Semitism in France, but these increased dramatically in the 1930s, in response to the upsurge of Jewish immigration from eastern Europe and fascist Germany. Romy Golan, in a brilliant book on French art in the inter-war period, shows how critics and cultural commentators (sometimes themselves Jewish) wrote polemical articles denigrating both indigenous and incoming Jews and their culture, and complained about ‘swarming’ Jewish artists who were ‘taking over’ the French art scene.10 Anti-Jewish prejudice turned increasingly ugly in the later 1920s, and Montparnasse, near the couple’s flat, was scorned as a decadent, alien and Jewish area. By 1933 the number of antiJewish publications had risen dramatically, and by 1938 legal measures against Jews included the requirement to produce identification papers on demand.11 It was already dangerous when Cahun and Malherbe left for Jersey in 1938. As Cahun became more politically active her photographic work changed, as far as we can tell from the surviving works. By the mid-1930s, we find an increasing number of photographs of constructed objects, rather than constructed selves.12 In this period of political crisis in France and Europe there were parallel developments in Cahun’s work, related to the two main concerns of politically active Surrealists. Firstly, there was the issue of artistic creativity, and, secondly, there was the question of the making of political art. The two came together in a successful fusion in Poupée 1, and in some of the other objects that she made and photographed.


It must be said that the style of Les Paris sont Ouverts (All Bets are Open), 1934, is not exactly accessible to a mass audience. The first section was based on a report prepared by Cahun for the literature section of the AEAR. The title

Politics and Its Objects refers to two antagonistic conceptions of revolutionary art, and the politics which subtend them. The Surrealists wanted to undermine notions of reality and the ‘natural’ order of things. Their artworks and interventions were intended to free human beings from repression, both psychic and political. On the other hand, in the late summer of 1934 Andrei Zhdanov, Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party and director of culture, publicly called for artists to ‘depict reality in its revolutionary development’. Artists had to become ‘engineers of the human soul’.13 Clearly, the focus on ‘reality’ and the formation and manipulation of ‘human souls’ was incompatible with Surrealist aims. The first part of Cahun’s tract looks at the antagonisms between these two conceptions of political art. The result of this struggle is, as yet, uncertain – hence the statement/title ‘All Bets are Open’. The opening dedication is to Trotsky, explains Cahun, because even in the direct political crisis of Soviet and world revolution he did not ignore the plight of the writer Mayakovsky, driven to suicide by the state of his personal and artistic life under Stalinism.14 However, Cahun later in her life pointed out that, although she sympathised with Trotsky’s politics, and his plight as ‘a wandering Jew’, the dedication had in fact been suggested to her by one of the leading members of the small political discussion group she belonged to.15 On the page following the dedication is a quotation from Marx’s book The Poverty of Philosophy, his critique of the political ideas of the French philosopher Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. This extract from Marx emphasises dialectics as a means of understanding contradictions, change, and ways in which struggles move on to a higher level. Given Cahun’s own commitment to dialectical thought, it is likely that she approved of the choice of this passage from Marx, whether she actually selected it herself or not.16 Cahun states in the first part of Les Paris sont Ouverts that the creation of poetry is an inherent human need, doubtless linked to sexual desire. However, there is no recipe for writing revolutionary poetry or literature. Sometimes the poet can express something unintentionally and unconsciously. This instant of expression can be like an attack on the conscious person, occurring without any premeditation. Manifest political content, says Cahun, can only be revolutionary in a fugitive way, since circumstances and social movements will change. Thus Cahun feels satirists and journalists are the most suitable sort of political writers. Ideological constrictions, however, are not favourable to poetry, and manifest political content only



Claude Cahun encourages trickery and deceit. Beneath the manifest content of the poem can often be discovered the unconscious, reticent, hidden content, unknown to the poet her-/himself. Works of feeling, rather than politics, can also reveal meanings unknown to the author. For example, a man photographs the hair of the woman he loves full of pieces of straw as she sleeps in the field. The photograph reveals thousands of arms and fists, waving in the air, a riot. These observations are provisional, stresses Cahun. It is clear from this first part of the polemic that she values the unconscious as a creative source both for the writer/artist and the reader/viewer, over and above conscious attempts to communicate political ideas and rouse people to political action. She also emphasises the importance of concepts drawn from psychoanalysis in evaluating the success of revolutionary artworks on their readers and spectators; although the emotive and psychological effects of the poem cannot be measured, these are its main propaganda values. There are three possible sorts of political action that a poem might attempt to inspire. Firstly, direct action by affirmation – e.g. the invocation that ‘Workers of all countries unite’. Secondly, direct action by opposition or provocation – e.g. a counterrevolutionary piece of writing provokes the opposite response to the class society/culture that gave rise to it. Thirdly, indirect action, whereby something can be started and left incomplete, a suggested truth can be contradicted, provoking another effort by the reader to engage with the original truth by contradicting its denial. Cahun proposes this as a ‘really dialectical poetry’. Indirect action of poetry is always best, she concludes, both from the political point of view and the artistic one. The second part of the essay is a vitriolic attack on Louis Aragon, due to his volte-face and desertion of Surrealism in order to embrace Stalinism. Indeed, his later writing is full of the kind of banalities he had previously condemned in propaganda literature.17 Cahun also argues here against the CP’s view that art should be directly political in its purpose. She finds this undialectical (inattentive to the complexities and contradictions of psychic and social life), and also dictatorial towards poets and artists. In any case, she writes, the role played by the unconscious in the making and reading of artworks can give unexpected results, no matter what the conscious intentions of the producer and her/his political standpoint. These views are close to those of Cahun’s friend André Breton, who was to argue along these lines in his manifesto for a free revolutionary art produced with Trotsky and

Politics and Its Objects Diego Rivera in 1938.18 This manifesto proposed the formation of a Fédération Internationale des Artistes Révolutionnaires Indépendants, which Cahun joined. She signed its last declaration (June 1939) before it collapsed and its members were dispersed by war. Looking back later on this work, Cahun said that she had found the ideas in Les Paris sont Ouverts very useful in carrying out her own propaganda work with Malherbe during the Occupation: ‘The most effective were perhaps the most subjective, the most sincere, the most romantic, the most “disengaged” [from political positions].’19 They produced photomontages (sometimes made from German illustrated magazines), typewritten short poems and slogans, and placed them where ordinary German soldiers might pick them up, for example inside cigarette packets, or on telegraph poles, as well as more dangerous places, such as graves of German soldiers. None of the agitational photomontages appear to have survived.20 Perhaps the most amusing (and typical!) of their strategies was to paint political slogans such as ‘Down with Hitler’ on coins using nail varnish (Cahun makes a point of mentioning that it was Peggy Sage’s Wicked White) and leaving them in an amusement arcade so that the soldiers would find them, play with them there and notice the slogans.21 Cahun felt that the need for art and politics to come together was particularly relevant when Les Paris was written in the early to mid-1930s, again during the period of 1940 to 1945 and, unfortunately, also after the war.22


This little mannequin and its photograph (figure 22) are an example of Cahun’s attempts to bring art and politics together in a way that avoids the undialectical approach of Stalinism and its espousal of mimetic realism as an artistic method. The CP’s increasingly rigid strategy of expressing a monolithic view of socialist politics through unambiguous exortations to workers was rarely questioned within the party, though the German Stalinist John Heartfield’s political photomontages did critique the official ‘reality’ represented in bourgeois and Nazi publications. The fact that Cahun’s figure is constructed and assembled from sections of the main French Communist Party newspaper makes it akin to montage, using text in a political way to encourage the viewer to ‘read between the lines’. It takes to pieces and then



Claude Cahun reassembles the CP commentary on the political events of late summer 1936, implying that the reports in L’Humanité should not be taken at face value but reconfigured, even ‘humanised’, in the figure of the angry little man. The figure and its image are full of the ambiguities Cahun had advocated in Les Paris sont Ouverts. The mannequin also materialises art strategies which were ‘repressed’ (in both literal and psychoanalytical meanings of the term) by the Communist Party, as the latter espoused the values of the bourgeoisie in politics and art in the period of the Popular Front. For example during the mass strikes and general political crisis of late May and June 1936 in France, the Communist Party instructed militants to return to work, and a CP newspaper article of 29 May stated: ‘We consider it impossible in the face of the Hitler menace, to put in jeopardy the security of France for which the Popular Front is responsible.’23 The CP followed this up on 14 June when L’Humanité carried the amazing (but unfortunately true) slogan ‘The Communist Party is Order!’, and vilified anyone who opposed the party line.24 This seemingly playful little figure is deadly serious, not surprisingly given the political situation in France and the rest of Europe at the time. The word ‘dent’ (tooth) appears several times on the mannequin, suggesting that Cahun may have used several copies of the paper. ‘Dent’ may have been cut out from ‘president’, or some similar frequently occurring word. The word for ‘tooth’ jokingly appears on the feet, on the tops of both arms and on the side of the head. However, where the mouth of the figure should be situated appears a set of false plastic teeth, shouting or crying out. In the gaping mouth is written ‘misère’ (misery). Or is the mouth open to bite or attack? The phrase ‘être sur les dents’ means to be overwhelmed and exhausted, and this could be suggested by the figure, given the political situation at the time. The motifs of teeth and pain appear to relate the figure to one of the photographic illustrations for Le Coeur de Pic, on which Cahun was working at the same time (figure 23). This illustration shows a model of a cross-section of a tooth, with a plastic figure of a Cupid and a needle (?). A snake-like form slithers down one side of the tooth like a nerve. The accompanying poem reads: Le nerf de ma petite dent me mord. Prends un petit bâton pointu pan

Politics and Its Objects c’est un petit serpent mort.25

This disturbing image, at first sight merely playful, together with the (deceptively simple) poem by Lise Deharme which it accompanies, links pain and desire, death and love, a hard exterior with a vulnerable interior. It is further removed from contemporary political concerns than the Poupée figure, but related in that it uses the photographic medium to picture an already constructed and manipulated object. We can see how these photographed constructions follow on from Cahun’s earlier self-images, in which she herself was the ‘construction’ to be photographed. In the Poupée figure, the whole construction is political. The neck of the figure is made from an article referring to the show trials of so-called ‘Trotskyistes’ and ‘Zinovievites’ in Moscow, designed to stifle opposition to Stalin in the USSR and abroad. On the upper chest we read ‘rassemblement monstre’ (huge rally), and under this ‘humanité’. At the top of the left arm is written ‘vos seins’ (your breasts – ‘vos’ is the polite form of ‘your’) and ‘tes dents’ (your – familiar form – teeth). Along the arm reads ‘sixième semaine liberté espagnole’ (sixth week Spanish freedom), and the hand has ‘bout du monde’ (end of the world). In the middle of the chest is the Communist five-pointed star, which seems to have a slogan on it for the annual ‘fête’ of L’Humanité, and down the centre of the body is part of the masthead of the paper, ‘L’Huma…’. Underneath the large print is written ‘Organe Figure 23: Claude Cahun, Le Coeur de Pic, central du parti com…’ (could plate XIX, 10.9 x 8.2 cms, 1936, JHT.



Claude Cahun this also suggest that the CP was a ‘parti con’ – a crap party?). The missing part torn off at the end is, ironically, the ‘organe central’, the phallus, which in this figure is nowhere to be seen. I think this is intentional on Cahun’s part, and that the lack of the phallus is not supposed to signify a female figure here but, more likely, an emasculated male. Above the large letters of the masthead we read ‘convoi-funèbre’ (funeral procession). The suggestion here, at several levels, is of a damaged, perhaps mutilated, Communist Party, aggressive, noisy, perhaps even suffering, but certainly not politically empowered. Rather, the figure is dismembered and incoherent, assembled from a newspaper which polemically articulates an increasingly monolithic political line, but in reality is fragmented, held together with Stalinist glue, and violence. The party which publishes it is like a puppet, not a being endowed with life and the ability to engage with changing situations in the contemporary world. Its politics are ephemeral, like its daily paper, and unable to develop, since its method is rigid, undemocratic and undialectical. For example, the Stalinist leadership supplied arms only on a limited scale to the Spanish Republicans, and at the same time sent enough agents to keep the left under control, make sure Spanish workers and peasants never gained any real political freedom, and murdered many of the best anarchist, Trotskyist and POUM (Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification) militants. This is not a work of political propaganda, and is full of ambiguities and suggestive contradictions. I am not proposing my reading of the possible meanings of the figure as exhaustive or definitive, which would, I feel, be contrary to Cahun’s intentions. This photograph raises interesting questions about ways in which political art can be made. It also makes us reflect on the work of the spectator in engaging with the methods of art and their meanings (construction, assemblage, juxtaposition, invention, montage, etc.), and this effort by the viewer as a means of perceiving something about politics (not simply ideology) that s/he did not previously know.


Despite successful attempts to combine a Surrealist approach to art with political polemics in Les Paris sont Ouverts and the Poupée series of photographs, Cahun was not totally at ease in the political milieu of the

Politics and Its Objects small groups to the left of the CP. In a very interesting account of her involvement in a small Marxist group in the mid-1930s, she describes how her views on art and culture, and her opposition to sexual oppression and homophobia, led her to be accused of ‘sentimentalisme’. She was told by ‘Koustou’, one of the leading members, that she would never really be a materialist (as all good Marxists should be), though he praised her approach in Les Paris sont Ouverts and developed her political education. The group assigned to her the role of Lunacharsky (at the time she did not know who he was), the Bolshevik in charge of art and culture immediately after the revolution of 1917 who was a supporter of the avant-garde. Her integration into revolutionary political activities was bound to be difficult, given her social background. However, she was well aware of her class position both at this time and during her activities in Jersey during the Occupation, attempting to form working relationships with activists from different walks of life. She could not understand why professional revolutionaries were so unwelcoming and suspicious of others who wanted to destroy class-based society. She, however, viewed herself as a whole person, a fusion of mind and body, ‘chair animée, indivisible’, and believed that liberation of the social person and the emotional/sexual person were linked. She wanted to fight for ‘la liberté des moeurs, des droits de l’être humaine, opprimé par des siècles de superstitions féroces, [qui] m’importaient personnellement’.26 Cahun was disappointed with the role of women within this small group. Despite the ‘theoretically ultra-feminist milieu of la Porte Rocquine’ (where the group met), the women members ‘effaced themselves’, and Cahun herself said she was the only one to take part in ideological discussions.27 It must have been very disappointing for her to encounter similar male-dominated situations in both Surrealist and far left political circles. In the (in)famous Surrealist discussions on sex, for example, scarcely any women are present, and Breton and others make clear their repugnance concerning male homosexuality. On the other hand, they find lesbian sexuality attractive in a titillating way. Ironically Aragon, much maligned by both Cahun and Breton in the early to mid-1930s, comes across as one of the most open-minded, supporting homosexuality and speaking up for women’s equality in sexual relationships and acts.28 Cahun must have sometimes found it difficult to engage with, and counter, attitudes such as Breton’s, who declared, as far as homosexual men



Claude Cahun were concerned, ‘I find the whole thing utterly repugnant – active or passive, they’re all fucked.’29 Despite Cahun’s fruitful relationship with Breton, it is likely that there were serious discussions. I confess I find some of the comments in the Surrealist debates on sex so ridiculous in the mouths of self-proclaimed cultural revolutionaries that I wonder if some are intended as provocations, rather than the sincerely held opinions of the participants, most of whom were male. As well as her involvement with the small group of Marxist revolutionaries, and the Surrealists, Cahun also knew (from the mid-1920s onwards) members of the ‘Philosophies’ group, Georges Politzer, Henri Lefebvre (later to write on the notion of the everyday) and Pierre Baruch. A sheet of caricatures of them with notes by Cahun is in the Jersey Archives.30 This group too had a difficult relationship with the changing direction of the CP, and in the later 1920s, inspired by his reading of Lenin’s Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, which was translated into French in 1929, Politzer rejected psychoanalysis. Interested in the alienation of everyday life under capitalism, Lefebvre was also shocked by what he saw on a visit to Germany in 1932, and returned resolved to fight fascism. All the group were enthusiastic about the philosophy of Hegel, whose writings were popular among French intellectuals in the mid-1930s, including Cahun.31


Lise Deharme’s book of children’s poems with Cahun’s (and Malherbe’s) photographic illustrations of constructed objects appeared in 1937, one of the few examples of her published photographic work. The title is difficult to translate. There is a pun on the word ‘pique’, which can mean a ‘pike’, or ‘spades’ (as in playing cards), so one translation could be ‘The Heart of Spades’. However, ‘Pic’ could be the name of the little figure who is shown in the cover photograph, with some cards spelling out his name, ‘Pic’, a joker card next to him, some spades (cards in front of him) and a queen of spades on a little pike (another meaning of ‘pique’) in his right hand. A coloured brooch in the shape of a heart with flowers on it is pinned to his chest. As a noun, ‘pique’ also means ‘pique’ or ‘spite’. The whole book is full of irony, wit and parody, with photographs of constructed objects which employ humour with a sinister edge. The constructions are made of found objects, little

Politics and Its Objects dummies and mannequins, toys, knick-knacks, the sort of bits and pieces you might pick up at a flea-market, as well as flowers, plants and natural objects. Everyday objects are utilised but arranged in scenarios which undermine and unsettle their ‘normal’ functions and connotations. I have already referred to one of the photographed constructed objects related to Poupée 1, a heart-like tooth, where a little pointed stick (pique/pike?) is fired at an aching nerve by a plastic Cupid (figure 23). Cahun’s object/photograph picks up on and develops the ambiguities of the short poem it accompanies. The author of the poems, Lise Deharme, was a Jewish woman born Lise Hirtz. She was a writer and publisher who was interested in the ideas of Freud and Lacan. Many of her writings deal with themes of the womanchild, the fairy story and mad love, similar to those of the Surrealists. She was interested in notions of masquerade and disguise, bisexuality, and the subversive potential of childhood, whose often unacknowledged sexuality tended to disrupt adult social conventions.32 Deharme founded a literary magazine in 1933, Le Phare de Neuilly, which, although short-lived, brought together dissident Surrealists who had previously been published in the reviews Documents (1929–1930) and Bifur (1929–1930). In her publication she included photographs by such artists as Lee Miller, Dora Maar and Eli Lotar, and she used editing as a montage technique, for example by surrounding Lacan’s conventional, lyric pantheist poem ‘Hiatus irrationalis’ with two sensual photographs by Brassaï and Lee Miller.33 Deharme’s book Le Coeur de Pic gave Cahun a chance to publish photographs of some of the object-work she had been doing in the mid1930s. Not all of this was political by any means, though there are some examples of political allusions in a 1936 photograph showing a constructed object in a bell jar. This assemblage includes the word ‘histoire’ in the foreground with other jumbled-up letters on little blocks behind it, clocks, a plastic figure with hand raised, the emblem of the hammer and sickle, and a five-pointed Soviet star in the foreground (figure 24). Whereas in the mid-1920s the bell jar had contained Cahun’s head (the series of photographs entitled ‘Keepsake’), by this period the focus on selfconstruction had shifted to the material world of objects and nature.34 These objects are an uneasy, but compelling, mix of political consciousness, interest in psychoanalysis, Surrealism, Hegelian dialectics, and a fascination with the potential meanings of objects displaced and reconfigured in subversive ways, excised from their natural surroundings or their commodified homes



Claude Cahun in Woolworths stores, with their powers of fetishism revealed and exploited.35 The weird collection in the bell jar is like a parody of useless displays of nineteenth-century bourgeois ‘bibelots’ (knick-knacks). In addition, this image brings together aspects of installation, photography and montage, providing another example of the imaginative response to, and intervention in, contemporary culture and politics which Cahun had advocated in Les Paris sont Ouverts. However, it is important to interrogate the role of the photograph in these works. The photographs are not merely records of the constructions; they enhance their strangeness and subversive quality. Traditionally, the photograph is equated with reality and materiality. In Cahun’s photographs of her constructions, the images show a seemingly unreal world, without people, where objects take on lives of their own, yet frozen and captured by the camera, as if they were perhaps alive before and after the image was made. Thus there is a fruitful tension between the photograph as photograph (an indexical sign linked by the physical property of light to an actual material event/object) and the unreal combination of objects in the scene that it pictures. An additional twist is the monochrome of the prints, which distances the objects from the real world, at the same time as they are shown to us as present in front of the camera – material and immaterial, real and unreal, at the same time.


In his book on Surrealism and photography David

Figure 24: Claude Cahun, Objects in Bell Jar, 10.8 x 8.3 cms, 1936, JHT.

Politics and Its Objects Bate poses the question ‘What is a Surrealist photograph?’ and answers that ‘surrealism as a discursive practice is a mode of treating signs, rather than any essential particular type of sign’.36 Surrealism in photography is an approach, not a particular kind of image. Christian Bouqueret describes Cahun as the quintessential Surrealist photographer, while acknowledging the role that Malherbe played in Cahun’s photographic work, as an assistant, a mirror and an interlocutor. Bouqueret mentions Cahun’s objects, or mini-installations, exhibited in the Exhibition of Surrealist Objects at the Charles Ratton Gallery in Paris in 1936, which are linked to the constructions photographed for Deharme’s book. (For example, plate XIII in Le Coeur de Pic, a little bed with objects, is similar to Un air de Famille, shown in the exhibition.)37 Bouqueret rates the work in Le Coeur de Pic extremely highly – ‘[C]ertainly one of the key works of Surrealist photography’ – and is at pains to highlight the photographic contribution of Cahun, as well as her skill at fabricating objects.38 In a useful addition to Bate’s discussion of Surrealist photography, Bouqueret stresses that the photographs for Deharme’s book and related photographs of constructed objects are not merely mimetic records of artworks. The photographic image of the fabricated material reality works on the nature of the real by capturing it on film, and then producing the resulting image – it does not simply copy. The inbuilt alienation effect of the photograph (as Kracauer calls it) tends to ‘make strange’ the object.39 There is a parallel here between the fabrication and making strange of the self, which is then photographed, and the fabrication and making strange of inanimate objects, also photographed, which results in a double ‘making strange’: a dislocation, a slight slippage or ‘décalage’, between an already constructed ‘reality’ and the photographic image, which Cahun seems to be exploiting. After all, she decided to make photographs of most of her objects, not merely construct objects as ends in themselves. Processes of seeing, representing, desiring and possessing are offered to us, not as ‘givens’ but as puzzles to be worked on, not just intellectually but sensually. Sight, the work of the eye and brain, is made problematic, in images that both seduce and disturb in their dialectical presentation of what is real, unreal and surreal all at once. Cahun never takes, nor appears in, any ‘innocent’ photographs.




In the last week of May 1936, at the Galerie Charles Ratton in Paris, the Exhibition of Surrealist Objects was held. The exhibition coincided with the election of the Popular Front government (a pro-capitalist coalition which carried out various social reforms under popular pressure), and the collapse of the far left grouping of politicised intellectuals, ‘Contre-Attaque’, to which Cahun belonged. The enforced marginalisation of artistic and political radicalism was the fate of all who criticised the Popular Front, by this time fully supported by the Communist Party, following Stalin’s new tactic of supporting bourgeois governments as a bulwark against the growth of German fascism which might endanger the USSR. Cahun exhibited works in this exhibition, and contributed a short written piece, ‘Prenez Garde aux Objets Domestiques’, to the special edition of Cahiers d’Art magazine devoted to the show.40 The different kinds of object exhibited at the gallery and listed on the cover of Cahiers d’Art were ‘[o]bjets mathématiques, objets naturels, objets sauvages, objets trouvés, objets irrationels, objets ready made, objets interprétés, objets incorporés, objets mobiles’.41 The strategy behind the exhibition was to offer a critique of the functional, mass-produced commodified object of capitalist society, and to engage with, and supersede, artistic categories of fine art painting and sculpture, by creating a materialisation of desire through objects which were not objectified in any negative sense, but, as Breton put it, objectivated.42 The ‘crisis of the object’ (Breton’s words), which coincided with political crisis in France and abroad, involved a subjectivisation of the object in the course of the objectification of subjective thought.43 This dialectical play of objectification and subjectification (inspired partly by Hegel) disrupted the normal function of objects in everyday life. Cahun’s works in the show included Un Air de Famille, a little doll’s bed with objects, veiled with tulle, along with a text reading ‘m – dANGEr – manger – mANGEz – menge je mens – mange ge manje’ (a disjointed play on the French words for ‘angel’, ‘to eat’, ‘danger’ and ‘I am telling a lie’), and Souris Valseuses, an assemblage of disparate objects which existed in several states.44 However, perhaps the most interesting object has remained at the Ratton Gallery since its exhibition in 1936.45 The object is a ball on a stick mounted on a wooden stand, which also supports a hand, slightly in front of it and to one side. An eye with lashes is painted vertically onto the ball, which has

Politics and Its Objects some hair on top. The object is thus both phallic and vaginal, an uneasy and ambiguous sexualised and gendered object. The text on the base of the object reads ‘La Marseillaise est un chant révolutionnnaire. La Loi punit le contrefacteur des Travaux forcés’ (‘The Marseillaise is a revolutionary song. The law punishes the counterfeiter of/with hard labour’).46 Harris has analysed this text, pointing out that the first sentence refers to a speech by Jacques Duclos (one of the leaders of the French Communist Party) on Bastille Day 1935, when he made reference to the Marseillaise and the French Revolution in order to mobilise nationalist, rather than internationalist, political ideals. The second part of the text refers to the inscription on paper money (specifically Belgian currency) that warns against the counterfeiting of legal tender. (Harris argues that the text on the Belgian notes is more ambiguous than on French ones in its formulation and suited Cahun’s aims better.) The object brings together sexuality, gender and politics in an imaginative and creative way, embodying the conscious and the unconscious, the real and the fantastic, in a wonderful materialisation of the principles that Cahun advocated for revolutionary poetic work in Les Paris sont Ouverts. Harris praises the ‘poetic complexity and extreme density of her object’, but adds, strangely, that ‘the political and the psychical are kept separate in Cahun’s object, even though the political enters here in a way that it rarely does in surrealist art’.47 I would argue, on the contrary, that the political and the psychic come together here in an even more effective way than they do in her object and photograph of Poupée 1, completed only a few months later. Perhaps the worsening political situation made Cahun construct a more obviously political object in September, making reference to international, rather than simply national, political crises. Harris remarks also that Cahun’s objects were constructed by someone who refused the notion of ‘the professional artist’, which is an important point. She also seems to have decided not to become known as a professional photographer. As Harris suggests, this may have been a political stance, since Marxists believe that, in a future socialist society, everyone will be able to develop her/his artistic talents, not only trained professionals. However, we should also remember Cahun’s relatively privileged financial position. It may be that, as she became increasingly politically aware, her avoidance of a profession became theorised as a radical political stance, rather than just good fortune. Accompanying the exhibition of Surrealist objects was Cahun’s text ‘Prenez Garde aux Objets Domestiques’ (‘Beware of Domestic Objects’), a



Claude Cahun dense, challenging text, packed full of images and ideas. In it, Cahun speaks of creativity, class, culture and nature. At the beginning of the text, Cahun relates humans to the animal world, rather as Caillois does, pointing out that, in comparison to other creatures, which seem understandable and reasonable, man is marked by excess. The ‘animal-man’ develops in monstrous ways, developing bizarre illnesses, forms of behaviour and needs – including in ‘civilised’ man the development of a luxury of irrational evolutionary traits. The colours of the iris and the roots of teeth, she says, are magical overdevelopments, compared to what is simply necessary to exist. (This seems to me to be related to Caillois’ views on the aesthetic, rather than simply practical, forms of appearances in animals and insects, which I discussed in relation to camouflage in chapter 2.) Man is subjected to man, to matter and to systems, and Cahun states that we have to discover the limits of reason and move beyond in order to liberate ourselves. Cahun goes on to ask whether we are able, in contemporary society, to be conductors of liberating forces (like the example of Salvador Dali’s ‘Grand Paranoïaque’), or simply adapt ourselves to things as they are, like the ‘Petit Mimétique’. She states: I insist on a prime truth: We must discover, handle, domesticate, make irrational objects ourselves to appreciate the particular or general merit of what we have before our eyes. For that reason, in a certain sense, manual workers would be better able than intellectuals to understand its meaning, if everything in capitalist society, including communist propaganda, did not keep them away from it. That is why you are beginning to put your hands in your pockets and maybe empty out their contents on the table.48

Cahun insists that everyone should try to create liberating objects for themselves. People cannot just be shown objects by others exhibited in a gallery, which would preserve categories of ‘art’ and ‘the artist’. Manual workers would be best placed to construct creative objects, but are prevented by capitalism and by Communist Party art policies from doing so. The construction of liberating and subversive objects, objects of desire and of political and artistic radicalism, are not the exclusive province of the trained artist. She suggests starting with the objects in our pockets, looking at them, and feeling their presence as everyday items, rethinking them, making them strange. Cahun concludes by suggesting a couple of creative projects we can all try, to prove that we do not have to be ‘artists’ to be creative and subversive.

Politics and Its Objects The first involves scraping the surface off a mirror, and then making a strip on which are fixed a series of diverse objects, which are then moved slowly along behind the gap in the mirror, positioned where the reflection of the right eye should be. This disrupts our ‘normal’ perception of the world, of material objects, and their representations; of our own selves and our relation to others; the constructed nature of monocular perspective; and perhaps even the way in which the viewfinder of the camera directs our gaze. We might also question what lies ‘behind’ appearances and the equation of seeing and knowing. The second involves a sound work, involving several people, where the utterances of one person vibrate and are returned, setting up resonances and replies from others. These are suggestions to set her readers off on a dialectical process of construction/destruction. Cahun’s subversive comments on the construction of objects in an exploitative class society, in which objects are both increasingly specialised and mass-produced, invite consideration in relation to the wider functions and meanings of objects at this time, not only in relation to ‘Surrealist’ objects.


In the mid-1930s Cahun brought together constructed objects, poetic/ polemical texts and photography in attempts to integrate her cultural and political interventions. The objects she made and photographed fabricate a montage of unlikely, surreal elements whose meanings are as complex as her work in Aveux non Avenus, and yet resist explanation in words. It is possible to write eloquently about her self-portraits; it is far more difficult to tease out meanings of her photographs of objects, because they are of a different nature from her self-images and more resistant to being ‘translated’ into any other medium. In a sense, however, Cahun’s photographs objectified her (as any photograph would) as well as embodied her subjectivity. The dialectic between objectification and embodiment, which occurs when humans make, use or relate to objects, is also central to theories of the self based on the reciprocal recognition of self and other. So, in both instances of objectification, human/human and human/non-human, the self does not stand apart from, or opposed to, an object but is dialectically linked to it.49 Cahun’s objects seem enigmatic and ‘other’, whereas Cahun’s selfimages, even at their most bizarre, are both human and ‘other’ at the same



Claude Cahun time. We expect objects to be used and touched, and yet Cahun’s (and those of other Surrealists) are ‘useless’, and meant to be displayed rather than handled. Their purported links to the unconscious make them alien to the world of functional objects in normal utilitarian activities. The fact of being photographed makes them even more untouchable and resistant to everyday use, because it takes away their three-dimensional existence. Her objectassemblages are the antithesis of mass-produced, man-made objects, and yet they incorporate some examples of such commodities. Cahun’s objects thus have not quite rid themselves of their character as ‘art’ (untouchable, nonutilitarian), but neither are they just found or manufactured objects. So why is it specifically of ‘domestic objects’ that Cahun wants us to beware? The 1930s saw the proliferation of industrially produced objects – fetishised commodities – made by workers whose alienated labour lacked creative satisfaction. This was one of the factors Cahun alluded to in her text on domestic objects. Objects are not simply the embodiment of an idea, a view based on an idealist perspective which minimises the importance of labour in their construction.50 Objects are produced in a dialectical movement between thought and the material world, and should be understood in their economic, social and political contexts. For example, in the inter-war period, enthusiasms for found natural objects such as driftwood and shells were often a means to escape the issues embedded in the mass-produced object in an increasingly crisis-ridden capitalism. In the USSR attempts were made to rethink the nature of production in a post-capitalist economy and society in the years following the 1917 revolution, and in the USA mass production of consumer goods was directed at consumers’ desires, not needs, using some of the discoveries of psychoanalysis as relatively crude marketing strategies. In France attempts to introduce American-style goods and marketing techniques had limited success in this period, especially in terms of domestic appliances and objects. From 1923 (when it was called the Salon des Appareils Menagers) the Salon des Arts Menagers exhibited expensive household appliances, such as electric vacuum cleaners, toasters, coffee pots and washing machines to interested crowds of visitors. At the other end of the scale, the cheap Prix Uniques stores, modelled on Woolworths, were considered ‘foreign’. Complaints were made that they threatened ‘a French way of life’ of small businesses and artisanal production, and that they would ‘destroy the individuality and spirit of initiative of French workers’, encouraging in consumers a taste for

Politics and Its Objects objects of mediocre quality.51 France’s international reputation as the home of good taste and elegance had to be defended, as Mady Jean Chappat wrote in 1928: ‘If the United States creates households that are laboratories of porcelain and nickel, it is in France that one finds beautiful old furniture, discreetly brilliant ceramics, the intimacy of long silky curtains, books and bibelots, loving and faithful objects… [W]e have made a world-wide reputation for taste and finesse, and it should be preserved.’ 52 Manufacturers attempted to wean the upper middle-class woman (who could possibly afford the new expensive domestic appliances) off national and traditional tastes. At a workshop on gastrotechnique (the science of food preparation) in 1931, Dr Pomiane, member of the Academy of Sciences, stated: ‘I would never advocate relegating a woman to pursuing a technique that she might consider inferior to her intellect as an educated woman. Without debasing herself, the modern woman can work happily in her kitchen if she considers it rather as a laboratory, perhaps as the atelier of an artist.’53 Thus attempts were made to woo feminists, ‘new women’ and working women by putting a new slant on domestic labour, homemaking and child-rearing, all made modern and easier, supposedly, by new scientifique techniques and appliances. One issue that seemed particularly significant in France was how to integrate interior designs and objects which embodied traditional designs and ‘Frenchness’ with new developments in modern design. Gender and class were factors which also entered into play here. While some designers went for a more aggressively modern look, with minimal decoration, industrial materials and basic shapes, other interior design businesses attempted to modernise tradition.54 As far as we can tell, Cahun was not attracted to modernist product or interior design, in contrast to her tastes in clothing. Her Surrealist mixed-media objects are constructed to look complex, unruly, and do not have the pure and clear outlines and functional quality of contemporary modernism. Cahun’s approach to objects and their creative and poetic possibilities can be usefully contrasted with the approach of contemporary modernist designer Charlotte Perriand. Like Cahun, Perriand became involved in the politics of the far left, but their political trajectories differed, as did their creative output. In many ways, Cahun and Perriand epitomise the difference between a Surrealist and a modernist approach to constructed objects and domesticity. Perriand (1903–1999) grew up in a family



Claude Cahun involved in haute couture and attended the women’s school of the Union Centrale des Art Décoratifs. In 1929 she and nearly thirty other young designers split from the Société des Artistes Décorateurs, which they found too traditional and elitist, to found the Union des Artistes Modernes. Working with Le Corbusier until she left his atelier in 1937, Perriand became one of the most interesting French modernist interior designers. In the 1920s she lived and looked the part of the ‘new woman’, and her early designs refused to feminise interiors with seductive fabrics and ‘soft’ textures, instead preferring metal. She wrote: ‘I adorn my neck with chromed-steel beads, my waist with a coat of mail, my studio with chromed steel – I wear my hair à la Joséphine Baker.’55 Her modernist furniture and uncluttered interiors were simple, with minimal decoration, and her shelving and storage units made good use of available space. More individual touches were added by vases, plants, unusual ornaments or a few paintings. Perriand’s interiors were not entirely genderless, although they were a step in that direction. Her design for a ‘Study for a Young Man’, 1935, was not too dissimilar to her own apartment.56 However, gendered responses to domestic objects had not entirely disappeared from her linguistic or design vocabulary. The table in her apartment, salvaged from the Temps Nouveau exhibition pavilion, had a satiny finish which she described as ‘soft as the thighs of a woman’.57 Like Cahun, Perriand joined the AEAR in 1932, and was a fellow traveller of the French CP. She took political education classes at the Workers’ University (she modified her usual dress considerably before she turned up) and was an enthusiastic supporter of the Popular Front. Her views became more concerned with class inequalities, and the ways in which her designs could improve the domestic environment of the poor and working class.58 However, she was not uncritical of Stalinism, and she was very disillusioned by what she saw on visits to the USSR in 1931 and 1934.


A child-woman lies as if asleep in a cupboard, her arm hanging down over the drawers beneath (figure 25). The viewpoint from which the photograph is taken makes the cupboard look even bigger and the figure look even

Politics and Its Objects smaller. This is Cahun, in the later 1920s or early 1930s. Dressed like a little girl, in socks, with ribbons in her hair, she engages in her by now familiar destabilising tactics. Is she asleep or only pretending? A girl or a woman, or even a doll? Inside or outside? A subject or an object? Cahun almost makes herself a domestic object, unsettling the comfortable appearance of domesticity and homeliness with something unexpected, something repressed, a childhood memory, like Freud’s uncanny. The uncanny is a significant aspect of Cahun’s photographic work, and especially pertinent (not surprisingly) in her works made in the home. Most of her photographic self-portraits seem to have been set up in makeshift studio spaces which were very likely also domestic spaces, either inside the couple’s various homes or in their garden in Jersey. The homely aspect of their everyday environment is partly made strange and unfamiliar by the act of photographing, thus relating it to Freud’s notion of the uncanny.59 Freud describes how a feeling of the uncanny arises when something repressed ‘comes to light’, disturbing the homely, familiar and cosy atmosphere of everyday habitual practices and environments. Aspects of the uncanny (in German ‘unheimlich’, meaning ‘unhomely’) can include the confusion of the animate and the inanimate (as with puppets, dolls and automatons, which relate to some of Cahun’s self-portrait photographs). Significant in Freud’s discussion is the difference between the uncanny as experienced in everyday life (which he says happens rarely but is profoundly disturbing) and the uncanny as experienced aesthetically through art and literature (more common and less surprising). This important difference between the real-life and the aesthetic experience of the uncanny is embodied in Cahun’s photographs, for example the cupboard image, in which the ‘real’ and the aesthetic are brought into collision. The ‘record’ (of the real scene), which is the photographic image, seems to suggest a real-life instance of the uncanny, a return of something which has been hidden (a child in a secret womb-like space where she has been discovered), but both the scene and the resulting image are the result of artifice. Cahun and Malherbe’s home is where the repressed and the hidden might ‘come to light’, brought to consciousness by the photographic process.60 Cahun and Malherbe’s domestic spaces were, as far as we can tell, not those of fashionable ‘moderne’ art deco (like the prestigious photographer Laure Albin-Guillot’s apartment, which had signed furniture by Emile Jacques Ruhlmann) or modernist (like Charlotte Perriand).61 The mixtures of



Claude Cahun furnishings and objects in the couple’s homes are, not surprisingly, difficult to categorise. The best pieces were apparently bequeathed to the pair by their families, and included a silver chocolate jug and silver-plated Louis XVI candlesticks.62 A friend who often visited them after their common experience in prison under the Occupation told me that the couple had beautiful furniture and porcelain in their home in Jersey. They appear not to have been attracted by interiors such as Perriand’s, Figure 25: Claude Cahun, Self-portrait in Dresser, which attempted to move 10.3 x 7.7 cms, ca. 1932, JHT. towards a less gendered type of domestic environment by way of modernism. In any case, notions of domesticity as the creation of a nurturing environment for children and a refuge for a male breadwinner would not have applied in the case of Cahun and Malherbe, in contrast to notions of both traditional and modernised domesticity promoted in most of the women’s press in the inter-war period. Interestingly, Hélène Azenor remarked that most of the gay and lesbian couples she knew were not interested in furnishing their homes with modernist design: But oddly enough, I have always been struck by the fact that homosexuals – men and women – have very classic tastes, and that is still the case these days. Men and women of my aquaintance do not have a marked preference for modernism, for the avant-garde. Gays are quite ‘louis-philippards’ [a bourgeois style of furniture and interior decoration from the period 1830–1848] as far as interiors, and the decoration of their apartments are concerned: invariably old furniture!63

Politics and Its Objects Azenor’s comment does seem pertinent to Cahun and Malherbe’s domestic spaces. Their Paris flat is an arranged environment, akin to both the constructed persona of Cahun and the installation space of the Ratton Gallery, where Cahun’s Surrealist objects were exhibited. There are tables, chairs, spaces for display, artworks, and suddenly some odd little object disrupts the homely and comfortable atmosphere of domesticity and traditional furniture. Baudrillard’s analysis of interior design describes such settings as a ‘theatre of objects’, or creating an ambience, in contrast to later twentieth-century approaches to the arrangement of interiors as a problemsolving activity.64 The objects in Cahun and Malherbe’s flat in Paris at 70 bis Rue Notre-Dame des Champs, and very probably in their other homes, were as different as was realistically possible from the capitalist impetus of inter-war design and production. Their economy was akin to that of gifts (works by other artists, Cahun’s own works, inherited furniture and domestic articles), or little objects purchased either because they were non-industrial and ‘ethnic’ or because they were bizarre examples of uselessness ending up in her creative objects and photographs, like the souvenir coronation carriage or the snarling face of a plastic dog.65 This, in some senses, parallels her photographic work, which did not participate to any significant extent in a capitalist cultural economy until after her death. However, these objects for Cahun were important possessions, which their disappearance in the Occupation brought home to her. She remarked wryly that, although ‘property is theft’, she wanted their possessions back. Another aspect of what she referred to as ‘the subjection to objects’ which they endured during the Occupation was the reliance on everyday things previously taken for granted. Losing or breaking a needle was a tragedy, she wrote.66 A group of photographic images of their Paris flat taken in February 1938 gives us a good idea of their constructed domestic spaces, and may have been taken as a visual record before they finally moved their possessions to Jersey.67 The fireplace has two chairs on either side, an upholstered wooden armchair and an easy chair with a patterned cover. Two sphinxes sit on the fireplace, and objects decorate the mantelpiece – what looks like a bird, a little horse, and a long stand with what might be coral appearing to sprout from it. Two of the original photomontage illustrations for Aveux non Avenus hang in the alcoves on either side of the fireplace.68 Another photograph shows an item of patterned inlaid furniture, again with objects on top of it,



Claude Cahun next to what looks like a bed settee with an elaborate patterned throw and cushion. The light is falling on the patterned surfaces, emphasising their richness. They look ‘ethnic’ rather than modernist or traditional. There are a couple of images of Cahun at a dining table with the remains of a meal, on her own and with friends. In the background are various objects, and hanging up across the corner of the room is an image which looks like a large insect, reminiscent of Jacqueline Lamba and André Breton’s construction of the ‘Petit Mimétique’ exhibited at the Surrealist Object exhibition in 1936.69 Another of the images shows a small shelf unit with glass objects above it (it is not clear if these are for use or decoration), containing various other objects such as a glass paperweight and a mannequin holding up weights made of glass, in the pose of an athletic weightlifter. The space is obviously designed to display objects, but not in the sense of a display cabinet with porcelain figures. The objects seem strange, their purpose unclear. They do not seem to fulfil a traditional domestic decorative function. The photograph also shows their shadows, cast eerily on the wall behind them. Other photographs of the flat show bookcases, items of traditional French furniture from the eighteenth or early nineteenth century (comparable to the Louis-Philippe period items mentioned by Azenor), comfortable upholstered traditional chairs, a credenza decorated with ormolu, artworks on the walls (probably the contemporary works seized from their Jersey home by the Germans) and the framed print of St John the Baptist by Leonardo that Cahun was given by her father when she was a young woman. Perhaps the most interesting photograph which captures some of the mixture of homely/unhomely domesticity in their flat is of the roll-top desk (figure 26). On the writing top of the desk we can just make out several strange objects among the papers and writing utensils, for example a hand on the left. On the very top of the desk there are various objects recognisable from the miniinstallations made by Cahun, such as a small wooden hammer to the right of the glass dome, which appears in several of her works. Above this hangs a nineteenth-century circular (painted?) portrait of a woman. Then on the left, as if jutting into the image, is what looks like a little bird-house, its shadow (double) clearly visible on the wall. This odd mixture of objects, welcoming, lived in yet strangely alien, is presented and photographed like an arranged display for a spectator, rather than just a place to carry on your everyday life. Domesticity is made strange, and objects seem to take on a life of their own; not in the Marxist sense of commodity fetishes, more as

Politics and Its Objects anthropological fetishes endowed with power. Linked to the Freudian uncanny, the nature of these objects as ‘inanimate’ no longer seems secure. In Cahun’s short essay ‘Beware of Domestic Objects’, she discusses the permeable boundaries between humans and inanimate objects – ‘objects that will be better able to speak for themselves, that would speak better still if we could touch them and in the dark’. Later she adds: ‘We must discover, handle, domesticate, make irrational objects [objets irrationels] ourselves to appreciate the particular or general merit of what we have before our eyes.’70 The homeliness of this almost bourgeois interior is not quite what it seems. It is also apparent from these photographs that the domestic environment was an important location and resource for Cahun’s constructed objects and photographs. Items in the home, from the writing bureau, for example, are taken from their usual situations and recombined into larger, montaged combinations of objects which endow them with new meanings, undermining everyday appearances and realities (figure 24). There is another image in the wallet with these, though I wonder if it was taken at the same time. The lighting looks very different, and the objects in the little display unit have been changed around. The weightlifter is still there, but most of the other objects are different. In particular, lots of flowers seem to have invaded the room (figure 27). In a kind of overflowing of decorative taste, this traditionally ‘feminine’ means of bringing nature into the interior seems to negate itself. There is so much of the feminine touch, of the flowers in vases, that somehow it turns itself into its opposite. Signs of ‘the feminine’ are made strange. The objects and the flowers are not signs of a clean, tidy and well-decorated interior, but an arrangement which signals excess. Why is the vase of flowers precariously balanced on a little footstool? Is one vase of flowers not enough? In his essay on the uncanny, Freud points to the ‘compulsion to repeat’, and whatever reminds us of this urge is uncanny. He also remarks: ‘Thus heimlich [homely] is a word the meaning of which develops in the direction of ambivalence, until it finally coincides with its opposite, unheimlich.’71 Thus the homely comfortable interior with its objects and vases of flowers, by a suggestion of compulsive repetition, hints at its opposite, the uncanny. In distinguishing the uncanny in real life and in art, Freud refers to a kind of ‘reality testing’ – ‘a question of the material reality of the phenomena’.72 This pristine, sharp image emphasises the dialectic of the real and the



Claude Cahun fabricated, in the world of objects and their representations. Thinking back to Cahun’s exhortations in ‘Beware of Domestic Objects’, it is ironic that the photographic process, based on scientific discoveries, can go hand in hand with making ‘irrational objects’ as a means of re-evaluating ‘what we have before our eyes’, and liberating ourselves from rational constraints.


While Cahun and others interrogated the artistic and political potential of objects during the Figure 26: Claude Cahun, Interior at 70bis crisis of French society in the Rue Notre-Dame des Champs, Paris, 10.8 x 8.2 mid-1930s, Stalinist repression cms, February 1938, private collection. had already derailed potential revolutionary transformations of the object which had developed in the Soviet Union in the mid-1920s. Recently, Christina Kiaer has investigated these attempts to develop theories and practices whereby Soviet artists and writers sought to transform the commodified object of capitalism into an object which would have an active relationship with its users while avoiding commodity fetishism.73 Part of the problem was revealed by the photographer and artist Rodchenko, who visited Paris in 1925 to help organise the Soviet Pavilion at the arts deco exhibition (Exposition des Arts décoratifs). His letters back home to his wife, the artist and designer Stepanova, express his amazement and pleasure, but also his unease, at the mass of objects he encounters, including new still and movie cameras he buys: ‘I am terribly happy… I am sitting and turning it around in my hands.’ The movie camera is not just appreciated for its technical use value, but as an object which sets free his desires in a sensual way.74

Politics and Its Objects However, he is disturbed by the ‘cult of woman as thing’, linked to the commodification and objectification of human beings under capitalism. After visiting a cabaret, he writes to his wife, describing how naked women in enormous feathers simply walk on and off the stage in front of huge expensive backdrops, ‘And that’s it… I can’t even begin to describe exactly what this “nothingness” is for, what this “thing” is for, what it means when it seems that only a man is a person, and women are not people, and you can do anything with them – that is a thing…’ (2 May 1925).75 Christina Kiaer shows how tackling the object/thing in post-capitalist society in the USSR meant transforming the dead fetishised thing of commodity fetishism into an active object whose psychological force transformed it into a co-worker. The object was still a made object, but it had a productive relationship with its user, rather than the deceitful and alienating one which bourgeois commodities have. Aestheticised objects under capitalism were made visual, not touched and used (remember Cahun’s exhortation to touch and make objects, to rummage around in your pockets). Marx, in his polemics with the philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach, had argued that the material should be conceived as sensuous human practice, not as an object of contemplation.76 Kiaer spends some time discussing the stimulating article by the Bolshevik Boris Arvatov, ‘Everyday Life and the Culture of the Thing’, published in 1925. Arvatov called for a newly transformed socialist object, enabling a fruitful relationship between thing and human whose ‘full realization is conceivable only under socialism’.77 In addition, Kiaer points out that the Constructivists sought to remake, or harness, the uncanny aspect (the apparent ability to take on an animate life) of the Figure 27: Claude Cahun, Untitled, from commodified object for socialist negative, ca. 1932–1936, JHT.



Claude Cahun ends, enabling the release of repressed desires, thus linking social, economic and psychic liberation.78 The objects that surround us in everyday life need to be viewed dialectically and transformed. For Arvatov, the homely and the comfortable can be a weight imprisoning us in reactionary mindsets and practices. Arvatov links the object and its transformation to psychic and social liberation, just as Cahun was to do in her later essay, although his strategies and their context were rather different. Modernists, Surrealists and Marxists all in their different ways attempted to engage with the fetishised and commodified object in the inter-war period, with varying degrees of success. Cahun in her own way attempted to bring together questions of social and psychic liberation, gender, sexuality and class in her engagement with the object, its creation, and human desire. Her photographic practice added another dimension to the interrogation of bourgeois reality which her constructed objects undermined and reconfigured before being photographed.


In a document written in November 1944 intended for the Surrealist writer Robert Desnos, Cahun summed up her ideas on the role of the artist and political activism. In typically ambiguous and dialectical fashion, she says that she now regards herself as both a post-revolutionary and a prerevolutionary. Revolution is an ongoing process, which will never be finished – a permanent characteristic of mankind to improve the human condition as a whole. ‘Besides I thoroughly believe it is the only thing an artist can be – to be of any use in the world. ”Artist” again is not quite the satisfactory word for my purpose. So I do not stop at that.’ Revolutions, she continues, are not just about economical, social and political factors, but about the physical, mental and spiritual aspects of human beings. Artists cannot lead revolutions, but they do have an important part to play. ‘They have to prefigure the highest aims of the Revolution, keep these aims alive.’ Her experience in left-wing politics led her to conclude that people who can make successful revolutions need qualifications and technical specialisms that most artists and poets simply do not have.79 Cahun’s words here downplay the bravery and political commitment of the principled actions she undertook with Malherbe during the German

Politics and Its Objects Occupation of Jersey. Their propaganda was revolutionary and anti-fascist, never anti-German. Her previous writings, such as Les Paris sont Ouverts and ‘Prenez Garde aux Objets Domestiques’, and her ‘Surrealist’ constructions were the groundwork for politically principled and inventive propaganda. In her writing, fabrication of creative objects and photography of the 1930s, Cahun produced a body of work which successfully engaged with the problem of integrating aesthetic considerations with politics on a profound level, mobilising both the conscious and unconscious of her audience/ viewers. Cahun’s commitment to sincerity (despite the masks), and a dialectical understanding of living reality, is manifest in her life, her politics and her photographic work.



I want to conclude this book on Claude Cahun’s photography by looking briefly at her contribution to a corpus of images of women’s bodies. Firstly, let us consider images of the Countess Castiglione from the period 1861 to 1867 (figure 28). The countess, an Italian who spent most of her adult life in France, became interested in photography and often visited the Parisian studio of Mayer and Pierson, where she and the photographer Pierson collaborated on a remarkable series of photographs which showed the countess in various disguises, masquerading as various personae, wearing masks, photographing parts of her body, displaying her clothes and generally picturing herself as an object of the gaze. For a woman of her background, fêted in court circles, this was a very unusual thing to do. Various debates have taken place among scholars as to whether the countess was merely narcissistic and mirroring back to herself (and the viewer of the photographs) an ideological and patriarchal image of objectified and fetishised beauty, or whether she was an author, an active agent performing ‘an act of intentional mimicry, an act which potentially subverts the authority it apes’.1 It is tempting to speculate as to whether Cahun might have come across some traces of the performed and fabricated self-image of the countess. The posthumous sale of Castiglione’s possessions, held at the Hôtel Drouot in June 1901, took place when Cahun was very young. At the sale, most of the pictures (apart from those in Mayer and Pierson’s archives) were bought by Count Robert de Montesquiou-Fézenac, who published a book about the countess in 1913. He bought plaster casts of her hands and feet, various possessions, clothing and jewellery as well as the photographs, some of which were sumptuously framed in satin or silk, enhancing their fetishistic qualities. In December 1913 he organised an event commemorating her life, in which actresses including Sarah Bernhardt performed poetic recitations.2 Despite Solomon-Godeau’s argument that the Countess Castiglione merely bought into the identity offered her by male-dominated cultural, 141


Claude Cahun economic and social formations, it seems to me that her use of photography to embody performances of this fetishised appearance was not without subversive effect, whether consciously or unconsciously. The photographs were primarily made for Castiglione herself, as if to create and possess her own image, and thus these images were not economically commodified, despite the format of this photograph, which has four images on the same plate to reduce production costs. As it stands, its unusual cropping and apparent doublings and repetitions of poses relate to fetishism and the uncanny, as the headless countess displays her lower legs beside the ‘homely’ upholstery of the photographer’s studio. By the time Cahun came to carry out her own self-fabrications for the camera, the position of most women in France was very different in many ways, though politically it had not changed drastically. Cahun’s self-fabrications are different not only because of the historical contexts but for a number of other reasons. She was not a celebrity, she lived in a different class environment from that of

Figure 28: Countess Castiglione (at the Mayer and Pierson Studio), Self-portrait showing her legs, from original glass negative, 23.8 x 29.9 cms, ca. 1861–1867, Museé d’Unterlinden, photo courtesy Christian Kempf.

Afterword the countess, who frequented the court of Napoleon III, and her photographs were made as a collaboration with her lover Suzanne Malherbe, not with a male professional photographer. These factors alter the meanings of the photographs. However, Castiglione and Cahun are important in their use of photography both to construct and make strange the representation of the female body. Their practice is different from that of women performance artists and women who practice various forms of body art, because the photograph allows an interrogation of visual representation and the real alongside an interrogation of the body and femininity. Cahun’s photograph of her legs in fishnet stockings and wearing strappy, glittery evening shoes offers the viewer the possibility of engaging with, and interrogating, fetishism and desire (figure 29). Solomon-Godeau, discussing the ‘Legs of the Countess’, argues that the Castiglione photographs of her bare legs necessarily participate in the male objectification of parts of the countess’s body as fetish objects, since fetishism is not really a feature of female sexual desire.3 Solomon-Godeau sees the use of photographs by the countess as more likely to fetishise and objectify than to disturb expectations of what is ‘real’ and what is fabricated. I would argue that Cahun’s photograph offers us an image open to a fetishistic reading by viewers of various gendered and sexualised positions. The way the leg is thrust forward and revealed to the viewer, with the knee gently protruding, produces an effect of erotic spectacle. The leg, however, is not bare but veiled and even slightly masked by the fishnet stocking. Is this a serious attempt at eliding the photographic and the bodily fetish, or a masquerade of fetishism in the sense that Cahun knows what traditional Freudian fetish objects for the heterosexual male are, and is offering them to the viewer tongue-in-cheek (or leg-in-stocking?), because the display is for her female lover and collaborator? Is this a real image of fetishism or a fake, photographed to make it look realistic in a traditional medium of erotic images of women? By the time we reach the 1970s and the modern feminist movement, photography by women using the female body as material has become even more daring, while preserving some of the same themes and approaches. Francesca Woodman’s wonderful series of photographs made in the later 1970s utilises her own, and others’, bodies to produce works with themes such as interiors and domesticity, voyeurism, masks and fetishism, while also interrogating the process of photography and the


Figure 29: Claude Cahun, Untitled, 22.8 x 17.1 cms, ca. 1938, JHT.

Afterword position of the human subject within it. For example, Horizontale, 1976 (figure 30) shows a woman’s legs bound tightly with transparent plastic tape, which makes the flesh bulge out as if it were quilted, like the textile bedspread on which her bare feet rest. Like the previous images of the Countess Castiglione and Cahun, her legs are the focus of attention, while at the top of the image a knitted glove covers up the dark ‘woollen’ shape that it simultaneously masks and draws attention to. The glove mimics the pubic hair and genital area beneath, as it mimics the hand above which holds it, in a kind of displaced masturbatory gesture as light, comforting

Figure 30: Francesca Woodman, Horizontale, Providence, Rhode Island, 12.5 x 13 cms, 1976, courtesy George and Betty Woodman.



Claude Cahun and protective as the wool itself. Patterns of light and tone play across the image, relating the woman’s living flesh and the inanimate surfaces of the surrounding fabrics and chair legs. The sensuality of this image is reminiscent of certain works by Cahun, for example the self-portrait in front of the quilt, though there is no evidence that Woodman knew of her work, despite her interest in Surrealism.4 In the wake of Cahun’s pioneering imagery from the earlier part of the twentieth century, we are familiar nowadays with photographic work which takes femininity and sexuality as its subject matter. Rosy Martin’s interrogation of lesbian identities, Sarah Pucill’s photographs of herself and her partner, and the photographers whose work is discussed in the book The Passionate Camera all deal with issues of gender, sexuality and representation familiar from Cahun’s earlier work.5 The rediscovery of Cahun accompanied an increasing interest in, and familiarity with, women photographers and artists, and the photograph as the embodiment of a constructed mise-enscène which paralleled the development of postmodern theories of the constructed nature of reality. For writers such as Michel Foucault and Jean-François Lyotard, there is no subject/self and no reality ‘outside the text’ (outside the language used to represent it), and consequently the constructed photograph as text was seen by some critics as the ideal visual equivalent of these postmodern approaches.6 I feel it is mistaken to characterise Cahun’s constructed images in this way. Cahun’s awareness of dialectics, and later her familiarity with Marxism, allowed her to combine deconstructive strategies with a commitment to engaging as an active political agent with material reality. For Cahun, there is a self ‘outside the text’. What I have discussed here are only aspects of the many avenues Cahun explored and developed in her own photographic career, and it is important to reiterate that it is somewhat misleading to deal with her photography as more important than her other activities, with which it forms a totality. Her photography was both a personal and political practice. She interrogated the construction of the self, gender and sexuality, material objects and the means of representing them. Her work consistently eludes classification and thrives on ambiguity and contradictions. This collaborative and empowering photographic practice was put to the test in the severest of situations during the political crisis in France in the mid-1930s, and in what were literally life-threatening conditions during the Occupation of Jersey in the Second

Afterword World War. The rediscovery of her work has facilitated analysis of its significant presence in elaborations of theories relating to feminism, psychoanalysis and representation, lesbian, gay and bisexual studies, queer theory, Surrealism, and women and photography. As yet her pioneering example in uniting photographic practice and a dialectical revolutionary politics remains unequalled. No doubt she would have hoped that this will not remain the case for long. What I have constructed in this book is a quilt dedicated to the understanding of Cahun’s photographic works, nodal points in a larger fabric of cultural, economic, political and sexual histories. The quilt is both seductive and comforting, but, as Cahun warns, ‘Beware of Domestic Objects’.





R. Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography, London, 1993. Cahun’s photograph is in the collection of the Jersey Heritage Trust (http://, in the section on catalogues).


Lucy Schwob employed several other pseudonyms – Claude Courlis, Daniel Douglas, R.M. (short for Renée Mathilde, her middle names) – as well as Claude Cahun. She reverted to Lucy Schwob as a ‘nom de guerre’ during the German Occupation of Jersey (Channel Islands) in the Second World War, and also used the name ‘Der Soldat ohne Namen’ (The Soldier with no Name) to sign propaganda leaflets and tracts at this time. For the use of these names see the informative D.Phil. thesis by K. von Oehsen, ‘Claude Cahun’ – Published/ Unpublished. The Textual Identities of Lucy Schwob 1914–1944, University of East Anglia, 2003. Despite the fact that she used several names, I will generally refer to her as Claude Cahun, which has become familiar to many people who now know her work.


For a chronology of Lucy Schwob’s life, see F. Leperlier, ed., Claude Cahun: Ecrits, Paris, 2002, pp. 11–15, and the detailed account in Leperlier’s earlier book Claude Cahun: L’Ecart et la Métamorphose, Paris, 1992. For a concise account of the couple’s lives, see K. von Oehsen, ‘The Lives of Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore’, in L. Downie, ed., Don’t Kiss Me: The Art of Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore, London, 2006, pp. 10–23.


Leperlier’s biography (narrative rather than analytical) is the only monograph devoted to Cahun. The best work on Cahun’s writing is the unpublished thesis by von Oehsen, who has generously shared her findings with me. Among the many exhibitions/catalogues in which Cahun’s photographic works have been displayed are Claude Cahun Photographe, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Paris, 1995; Inside the Visible: An Elliptical Traverse of 20th Century Art in, of, and from the Feminine, curated and



Claude Cahun edited by M. Catherine de Zegher, Cambridge, MA, and London, 1996; and more recently L. Downie, ed., op. cit., containing useful essays which I recommend as the best introduction to Cahun and her work.


The single largest archive of Cahun’s photographic work, manuscripts and papers is in Jersey. After Malherbe’s death the most valuable books were taken to be sold at Sotheby and Co., London (16 April 1973).


‘Dr. Lacan, 149 Rue de la Pompe, Kléber 9780’ is in her address book in the Jersey Archives; her translation into French of Havelock Ellis’ Etudes de Psychologie Sociale, ‘La Femme dans la Société: L’Hygiène Sociale’ (Paris, Mercure de France, 1929), which she also reviewed and expanded as part of the same project, is a substantial book of 283 pages. The second part of her translation was never published. Her article in defence of Oscar Wilde’s play Salome, and the issues raised by the Billing obscenity trial, appeared in the Mercure de France, no. 481, 1 July 1918. British MP Noel Pemberton Billing condemned the play as part of his crusade against homosexuals. The dancer Maude Allan (Salome in the play) was also castigated by Billing in an article entitled ‘The Cult of the Clitoris’, and he attacked the play as intended for ‘sexual perverts, sodomites and lesbians’. See F. Tamagne’s excellent book, Histoire de l’Homosexualité en Europe: Berlin, Londres, Paris 1919–1939, Paris, 2000, p. 34. In a document on deposit in the Jersey Heritage Trust from a private collection (document 4), Cahun mentions books she is taking to Jersey for the summer, including Trotsky’s Permanent Revolution and Engels’ The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State.


See M.G. Meskimmon, The Art of Reflection: Women Artists’ Self-Portraiture in the Twentieth Century, London, 1996, chap. 2, ‘The Autobiographical Model’.


See S. Burke, The Death and Return of the Author: Criticism and Subjectivity in Barthes, Foucault and Derrida, 2nd edn, Edinburgh, 1998.


After the war, Cahun wrote on the back of a photograph (JHT/1995/33f) that quite a few of Cahun and Malherbe’s many films survived because the Germans searching their house became tired of destroying them. She adds that ‘I never had the time or the courage to verify exactly what survived – knowing that my favourites were not there…’ (my translation).

10 For more on the the self, society and visual culture, see my Picturing the Self: Changing Views of the Subject in Visual Culture, London, 2005.


These are actually cut from parts of the typescript of Aveux non Avenus, and thus link issues of visual as well as textual representation and the

Notes self. Thanks to von Oehsen for alerting me to the source of the collaged typescript; see her thesis, p. 101.

12 The title also has a sense of false confessions, confessions of things that never took place. The work is reproduced with illustrations in Leperlier, ed., Claude Cahun: Ecrits, pp. 162–436.

13 J.E. Milligan points out how unusual it was for women writers in inter-war France to publish autobiographical material, which appeared in novels, rather than autobiographies or journals. Women who did venture into autobiographical writing (if we can tentatively describe Aveux as such) ‘all exhibit an arsenal of defensive strategies for self-protection, strategies which almost without exception converge on a policy of self-concealment’. See The Forgotten Generation: French Women Writers of the Inter-war Period, Oxford and New York, 1996, p. 87.

14 Facsimile edition published by Editions MeMo, 2004. The photograph in Bifur issue no. 5, 1930, is captioned, below the image, Frontière Humaine. It is not clear whether the title is Cahun’s or the editor’s. Frontières Humaines was a novel by Georges Ribemont-Dessaignes, published in 1929. Von Oehsen, op. cit., pp. 76–78, discusses the novel in relation to Cahun’s photograph. Bifur was originally intended to be called ‘carrefour’, meaning ‘crossroads’, but this was changed to ‘bifur’, short for ‘bifurcation’, like the branching off of railway lines (or as in bifurcated garments such as trousers). The issue in which Cahun’s photograph appears has other photographs by, for example, Tina Modotti, and film stills from works by Joris Yvens and Eisenstein. There were adverts for books (including Ribemont-Dessaignes’ novel and Trotsky’s My Life and The Revolution Betrayed). An unpleasant piece by Nino Frank entitled ‘S. Nob’ (pp. 182–193) sneers at the way in which ‘pederasty’ and Jews are ‘à la mode’. It is hard to see how Cahun could have felt comfortable with this.

15 A photograph of this display in the Jersey archive is described on the wallet which contained it as ‘Vitrine van den Bergh juin 1930’ (wallet E38) illustrated in Downie, ed., op. cit., p. 176. Some graphic work by Malherbe was also on display, as well as a copy of Bifur.

16 See reverse of sheet dated 3 July 1950 in private Cahun archive, UK. 17 See A. Lionel-Marie and A. Sayag, eds, Collection de Photographies du Musée National d’Art Moderne 1905–1948, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, 1996, pp. 135–136.



Claude Cahun 18 A letter from Robert Desnos to Cahun, 6 March 1939, says that if she were in Paris he would ask to borrow her enlarger. Le Rève d’une Ville: Nantes et le Surréalisme, exhibition catalogue, Réunion des Musées Nationaux and Nantes, 1994, p. 286.

19 For a useful essay on Cahun and photographic techniques see James Stevenson, ‘Claude Cahun: An Analysis of her Photographic Technique’, in L. Downie, ed., Don’t Kiss Me: The Art of Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore, London, 2006, pp. 46–55.

20 H. Lewis, The Politics of Surrealism, New York, 1988, p. 134. 21 One example is the collection edited by N. Broude and M.D. Garrard, Reclaiming Female Agency: Feminist Art History after Postmodernism, Berkeley, 2005, with an essay on Cahun by Julie Cole, ‘Claude Cahun, Marcel Moore, and the Collaborative Construction of a Lesbian Subjectivity’, pp. 343–360. Her self-portraits have also been selected as cover illustrations for books, including W. Chadwick, ed., Mirror Images: Women, Surrealism, and Self-Representation, Cambridge, MA, and London, 1998; Bi Academic Intervention, eds, The Bisexual Imaginary: Representation, Identity and Desire, London and Washington, 1997; and O. Heathcote, A. Hughes and J.S. Williams, eds, Gay Signatures: Gay and Lesbian Theory, Fiction and Film in France, 1945–1995, Oxford and New York, 1998.

22 Mise en Scène: Claude Cahun, Tacita Dean, Virginia Nimarkoh, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, 1994.

23 Bate, op. cit., p. 9. Rosalind Krauss is another of many who make similar points, stating that Cahun’s work explores the ‘labile condition of subjectivity, which many feminist writers find exemplary’, and comprises a series of self-portraits ‘behind which the “real” Claude Cahun disappears’. Krauss, Bachelors, Cambridge, MA, and London, 1999, p. 29.

24 See, for example, A. Solomon-Godeau, ‘The Equivocal “I”: Claude Cahun as Lesbian Subject’, in S. Rice, ed., Inverted Odysseys: Claude Cahun, Maya Deren, Cindy Sherman, Cambridge, MA, and London, 1999, pp. 111–126; R. Krauss, op. cit., chap. 1, ‘Claude Cahun and Dora Maar: By Way of Introduction’; W. Chadwick, ed., Mirror Images: Women, Surrealism and Self-Representation, Cambridge, MA, and London, 1998; A. Jones, ‘The “Eternal Return”: Self-Portrait Photography as a Technology of Embodiment’, Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, vol. 27, no. 4, 2002, pp. 947–978; M. Meskimmon, Women Making Art: History, Subjectivity, Aesthetics, London and New York, 2003, pp. 91–98; and my chapter ‘How Is

Notes the Personal Political?’, in Materializing Art History, Oxford and New York, 1998, pp. 105–172.

25 See also Grosz’ Volatile Bodies: Toward a Corporeal Feminism, Bloomington, IN, 1994.

26 See, for example, A. Cruz, E.A.T. Smith and A. Jones, Cindy Sherman Retrospective, New York and London, 1997.

27 For example Katy Kline, ‘In or Out of the Picture: Claude Cahun and Cindy Sherman’, from 1998; see Chadwick, ed., op. cit., pp. 66–81.

28 Solomon-Godeau, ‘The Equivocal “I”, op. cit. See also the previously cited essay by Cole in Reclaiming Female Agency, and the very interesting film about Cahun and her work by Lizzie Thynne, Playing a Part: The Story of Claude Cahun, Sussex University, 2004. For an analysis of Cahun’s work with particular emphasis on lesbian and gay history see Tirza True Latimer, ‘Looking Like a Lesbian: Portraiture and Sexual Identity in 1920s Paris’, in W. Chadwick and T.T. Latimer, eds, The Modern Woman Revisited: Paris between the Wars, New Brunswick, NJ, and London, 2003, pp. 127–143, and Latimer’s Ph.D. thesis, Looking Like a Lesbian: The Sexual Politics of Portraiture in Paris between the Wars, Stanford University, CA, 2003, UMI dissertations, Ann Arbor, MI, 2003, discussing portraits of Cahun, Romaine Brooks and Suzy Solidor.

29 Solomon-Godeau, ‘The Equivocal “I”, op. cit., p. 114. Marie-Jo Bonnet, even less impressed with ‘abusive’ attempts to read Cahun as a precursor of the deconstruction of sex and gender identities, also argues that we should pay more attention to her partner Malherbe as collaborator. She believes that the female couple is hidden and/or marginalised in Western art, and that the absence of images of women together in Cahun’s work plays a conscious or unconscious part in perpetuating this elision by making Malherbe invisible. Bonnet, Les Deux Amies: Essai sur le Couple de Femmes dans l’Art, Paris, 2000, pp. 218–219.

30 See G. Doy, ‘Another Side of the Picture: Looking Differently at Claude Cahun’, in L. Downie, ed., Don’t Kiss Me: The Art of Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore, London, 2006, pp. 72–82.

31 For a personal account of the occupation, see J. Mière, Never to be Forgotten, Jersey, 2004. I am very grateful to Joe (and to Mrs Mière), for welcoming me, and for sharing his poignant memories of ‘Lucy’ and ‘Bertie’ (Cahun and Marherbe) with me.



Claude Cahun 32 On Breton and Vaché, Nantes and Surrealism, see the catalogue Le Rêve d’une Ville, op. cit.

33 Chapter 9 in J. Lacan, Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-analysis (intro. by D. Macey), Harmondsworth, 1994.

34 In an account of her imprisonment written in August 1948 to Marianne Ashridge (pp. 26–27), Cahun recounts how a visitor to her cell, Kurt, came from the dark corridor into their room, bathed in an excellent quality of reflected light from a bright sky outside. Cahun is surprised and senses danger at his unexpected appearance and the collusion of the guard, Otto. Her heightened senses ‘fixerent l’image avec une précision chimique’, so that she still had this image in her mind years later. As well as ‘photographing’ the other with her look, Cahun also testifies to the photographic nature of her experience of significant sensual and emotional occurrences.

35 36 37 38

Burgin, op. cit., p. 38. Barthes, The Pleasure of the Text, New York, 1999 (first pub. 1973) p. 61. Barthes, ibid., p. 35. (He has writers, not photographers.) J. Lacan, The Psychoses: The Seminar of Jacques Lacan (ed. J.-A.Miller), Book III, 1955–1956 (trans. and notes R. Grigg), London, 1993, p. 268. Lacan adds that the Oedipus complex is a quilting point (point de capiton) for Freud.

39 See R. Barthes, Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes, London, 1995, p. 142.


1 2

See Downie, ed., op. cit., p. 99. Hair is also important in the self-construction of Frida Kahlo, as in her famous painting Self-portrait with Cropped Hair, 1940, which is inscribed with the words of a popular Mexican song: ‘Look if I loved you, it was for your hair. Now that you are bald, I don’t love you any more.’ See E. Dexter and T. Barson, eds, Frida Kahlo, exhibition catalogue, Tate Modern, London, 2005, p. 66.


On hair, see Fashion Theory, vol. 1, no. 4, December 1997; special issue of Kunstschrift, March/April 1997, no. 2, ‘Haar’, with useful articles and a bibliography on hair in the visual arts; A. Synott, ‘Shame and Glory: A Sociology of Hair’, The British Journal of Sociology, vol. 38, no. 3, 1987, pp. 381–413; and E.R. Leach, ‘Magical Hair’, Journal of the Royal Anthropological

Notes Institute, vol. 88, part 2, 1958, pp. 147–164. See also S. Zdatny, ed., Hairstyles and Fasion: A Hairdresser’s History of Paris, 1910–1920, Oxford and New York, 1999. Based on edited articles by Emile Long, this book contains a professional’s view of women’s hairstyles in the second decade of the twentieth century. L’Oréal hair colourings were invented in 1909 (p. 17), short hair was associated with permanent waves rather than straight hair (Long wrote in May 1917 that styled short hair for women was different from the ‘horrible fashion [of cutting hair short] which “masculine women” have at different times adopted’; p. 139).


For late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century photographs of Breton women having their hair cut off outdoors, see A. Chanlot, Les Ouvrages en Cheveux: Leurs Secrets, Paris, 1986, p. 41.


See Psychopathia Sexualis, London, 1899, ed., pp. 228–235, and A. Binet, ‘Le fétishisme dans l’amour’, Revue Philosophique, vol. 24, 1887, pp. 154–155, specifically on hair fetishists. In Freud’s essay on fetishism of 1927, he states that hair is a common male fetish because it is closely linked to the female genitals and perception of the threat of castration, which is repressed with the help of the fetish object, which ‘completes’ the lack written on the mother’s/desired woman’s body. For a more recent study of fetishism and hair in fin-de-siècle literature and wider culture, see ‘Splitting Hairs: Female Fetishism and Postpartum Sentimentality in Maupassant’s Fiction’, chapter 5 in Emily Apter, Feminizing the Fetish: Psychoanalysis and Narrative Obsession in Turn-of-the-century France, Ithaca, NY, and London, 1991.


Note, for example, the public humiliation of French women who had sexual relations with occupying Germans, which involved having their heads shaved and being paraded through the streets. Celebrities such as the actress Arletty and the haute couture designer Coco Chanel managed to escape with their hair-dos intact, though ‘guilty’ of the same actions.


See the extended shaved head in her self-portrait ca. 1929, Claude Cahun Photographe, p. 62.


‘But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for covering.’, 1 Corinthians 11: King James version of the Bible.


These irreverent ‘portraits’ of women from history, literature and mythology are entitled ‘Eve la trop Crédule’, ‘Dalila, Femme entre les Femmes’, ‘La sadique Judith’, ‘L’allumeuse [Penelope l’irrésolue]’, ‘Hélène la Rebelle’, ‘Sapho l’incomprise’, ‘Marie’, ‘Cendrillon, l’Enfant Humble et Hautaine’, ‘Marguerite, Soeur Incestueuse’, ‘Salomé la Sceptique’, ‘La Belle’,



Claude Cahun ‘L’Epouse essentielle (ou la Princesse inconnue)’, ‘Sophie la Symboliste’, ‘Salmacis la Suffragette’ and ‘Celui qui n’est pas un Héros’. For the text, see F. Leperlier, ed., Claude Cahun: Ecrits, pp. 127–159, and English translation by Norman McAfee, in S. Rice, ed., Inverted Odysseys: Claude Cahun, Maya Deren, Cindy Sherman, Cambridge, MA., and London, 1999, pp. 43–94. For a later impressive image of a woman ‘enacting’ Medusa, see the colour photograph by Madame Yevonde from her Goddesses series of 1935, Mrs Edward Mayer as Medusa.

10 ‘Dans un miroir complaisant, Dieu sourit à sa bouche qu’il farde… J’entre. Je m’interpose. Jamais plus il n’oubliera que Méduse elle-même fut fait à son image’ (In a compliant mirror, God smiled at his mouth which he was making up [with lipstick]… I enter. I place myself between. Never again will he forget that Medusa herself was made in his/her image) (p. 191). Reprinted in Leperlier, ed., Claude Cahun: Ecrits, p. 383.


See B. Dijkstra, Idols of Perversity: Fantasies of Feminine Evil in Fin-desiècle Culture, New York and Oxford, 1986. The colour reproduction on the cover of the book shows a painting of Salome by American artist Ella Ferris Pell, 1890, which shows a healthy-looking model waiting for John the Baptist’s head. Dijkstra hails this work as a ‘striking departure’ from the usual treatments of the theme, and, ‘whether consciously intended or not, a truly revolutionary feminist statement for its period’ (pp. 391–392). Cahun’s image is visually closer to the typical ‘unhealthy’ Symbolist femmes fatales, in this case apparently bed-ridden. For earlier images of Medusa, see the book by J. Clair, Méduse: Contribution à une Anthropologie des Arts du Visuel, Paris, 1989.

12 For the Medusa myth and interpretations of it, see M. Garber and N.J. Vickers, eds, The Medusa Reader, New York and London, 2003.

13 The Medusa Reader, p. 133. 14 From ‘Glas’, The Medusa Reader, p. 129. 15 See the extract by F. Frontiti-Ducroux, ‘Medusa as Image Maker’, in The Medusa Reader, pp. 262–266.

16 See R. Mack, ‘Facing down Medusa (An Aetiology of the Gaze)’, Art History, vol. 25, no. 5, 2002, pp. 571–604. Mack uses Louis Althusser’s concept of interpellation (from the essay ‘Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes towards an Investigation)’, in Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, New York, 1971, pp. 180–181) to argue that Greek men ‘became Perseus’ when they were addressed by the image of the conquered Medusa inside

Notes drinking cups and other objects, thus situating themselves as powerful and masculine.

17 See, for example, S. Sontag, On Photography, Harmondsworth, 1977; C. Metz, ‘Photography and Fetish’, in C. Squiers, ed., The Critical Image: Essays on Contemporary Photography, London, 1990, pp. 155–164; and, for a counter-argument, S. Edwards,’Against the Photograph as Memento Mori’, History of Photography, vol. 22, no. 4, 1998, pp. 380–384. See also C. Owens, ‘The Medusa Effect, or, The Specular Ruse’, in S. Bryson, B. Kruger, L. Tillman and J. Weinstock, eds, Beyond Recognition: Representation, Power and Culture, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1992, pp. 191–200, on p. 196. Thanks to Charley Peters for drawing this book to my attention. Siegfried Kracauer compares the film screen in the cinema where the image is projected to Athena’s polished shield where the Medusa is reflected, as a metaphor for how we view fictional reality in the cinema; Kracauer, Nature of Film: The Redemption of Physical Reality, London, 1961, p. 305.

18 The photographs taken by Malherbe after Cahun’s death are very ordinary, as seen from the images of beach scenes, plants and houses in the archive at the Jersey Museum. Despite attempts to regard the Cahun/Moore duo as an equal photographic partnership, I am not convinced. Neither is James Stevenson, op.cit., who writes of the photos Malherbe took after Cahun’s death that ‘Moore was lacking in photographic artistic skill, which in turn would imply that the artistic photographs were totally the inspired work of Cahun’ (p. 55).

19 Illustrated in Downie, ed., op. cit., p. 173. 20 Stevenson, op. cit., p. 46. 21 Von Oehsen’s work is an exception, but not surprisingly, as it is devoted to Cahun’s literary output.

22 I think the making of the montaged images in Aveux non Avenus was more genuinely collaborative, though they are mainly constructed from fragments of Cahun’s previous photographs. We should also note that, in one of her accounts of their ‘trial’ (25 July 1944) and interrogation by German officers when in prison, Cahun mentions examples of photomontaged propaganda displayed on the table as evidence against her and Malherbe. She claims responsibility for the photomontages, probably in order to protect her partner, as, in my opinion, they were most likely collaborative. Private archive, account dated 3 July 1950, p. 27.

23 O. Uzanne, ed., Féminies, Paris, 1896, pp. 10–11.



Claude Cahun 24 For a discussion of gender in relation to Symbolism, see P. Mathews, Passionate Discontent: Creativity, Gender and French Symbolist Art, Chicago and London, 1999. The ‘joke’ here reminded me of Mary Anne Doane’s discussion of the famous Robert Doisneau photograph of 1948, An Oblique Look, in which a man and a woman are shown looking into the window of an art shop. The woman points at a picture and is speaking to the man, oblivious of the fact that his gaze crosses the picture space diagonally to look at the naked behind of a woman in another small painting. The joke is at the woman’s expense, and if/when we laugh we are positioned as ‘male’. See M.A. Doane, ‘Film and the Masquerade: Theorizing the Female Spectator’, in Femmes Fatales: Feminism, Film Theory, Psychoanalysis, New York and London, 1991, pp. 17–32, illustrated on p. 29.

25 I used the reprinted essay in M. Schwob, Oeuvres (ed. A. Grefen), Paris, 2002, pp. 635–643, quote from p. 639. ‘Ce masque devient leur propre visage, en sorte qu’elles arrivent à prendre conscience de son expression qu’elles n’avaient point consciemment composée.’

26 Maurice Schwob, November 1913, quoted by von Oehsen, ‘The Lives of Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore’, in Downie, ed., op. cit., p. 11.

27 M. Schwob, Le Roi au Masque d’Or/Vies imaginaires/La Croisade des Enfants, Paris, 1979, pp. 43, 45.

28 G. Trembley, Marcel Schwob: Faussaire de la Nature, Geneva and Paris, 1969, p. 34. Cahun also doubts the possibility of direct communication, especially from a position of ‘difference’: ‘Si différence il y a, elle ne peût être révélée au monde que par l’entremise d’autres miroirs’ (‘If there is difference, it can only be revealed to the world through the intermediary of other mirrors’). Private archive, on blue unpaginated sheet in A5 envelope 1, ‘Confidences au Miroir’. She is referring to sexuality and discussions on sexuality she had in a small far left group with Trotskyist sympathies in the 1930s.

29 For the text, see Leperlier, Claude Cahun: Ecrits, pp. 21–124, and von Oehsen, ‘Claude Cahun’ – Published/Unpublished, pp. 20–25, who has pointed out that Cahun’s text could be described as ‘meta-symbolist’ in its unveiling of the process of creating visions.

30 See Downie, ed., op. cit., p. 98. Beside Cahun is a small table on top of which are a pile of newspapers. It is tempting to identify these as copies of Le Phare de la Loire, where the fashion journalism of Malherbe (and Cahun?) was published from July 1913. This image, then, would be Schwob/ Cahun’s individual ‘take’ on young women’s dress in a provincial seaport.

Notes 31 See A. Lurie, The Language of Clothes, rev. ed., London, 1992, pp. 41–42. The sailor and sailors’ dress became, and still are, powerful signifiers of same-sex desire; see the photograph by Tammy Rae Carland, Strange Thirsts, 1994, illustrated on page 78 of H. Hammond, Lesbian Art in America: A Contemporary History, New York, 2000.

32 See the interesting discussion of Solidor and her (self-)images in Latimer, Looking Like a Lesbian, chap. 3 of her Ph. D. thesis.

33 A. Dayot, L’Image de la Femme, Paris, 1987, p. 1. 34 Ibid., pp. 42–43, 57. He also quotes several very sensual love poems by Ronsard, and waxes lyrical on the portrait of Diane de Poitiers in her bath, delighting at the painting of her shoulders, her arms like creepers, her flowering cleavage, her dazzlingly bright stomach (p. 127).

35 See the list of Cahun’s literary works at the back of Leperlier, Claude Cahun: Ecrits, pp. 773–774; P. Allain, ‘Sous les Masques du Fard: Moore, Claude Cahun et quelques autres…’, La Nouvelle Revue Nantaise, no. 3, Autour de Marcel Schwob: Les Croisades d’une famille républicaine à travers 50 ans de presse nantaise, Nantes, Les Presses de la Contemporaine, 1997, pp. 115–130, and von Oehsen, ‘The Lives of Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore’, p. 11.

36 See Downie, ed., op. cit., p. 100. 37 Von Oehsen, ‘The Lives of Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore’, p. 14. 38 See Monique Jutrin, Marcel Schwob: ‘Coeur Double’, Lausanne, 1982, pp. 26, 35, 84, 87.

39 M.L. Roberts, Civilization without Sexes: Reconstructing Gender in Postwar France, 1917–1927, Chicago, 1994, p. 222.

40 See the information in J.F. McMillan, Housewife or Harlot: The Place of Women in French Society 1870–1940, Brighton, 1981, pp. 25–28. Divorce became relatively freely available during the early years of the French Revolution, but was restricted under Napoleon.

41 R. Bridenthal, ‘Something Old, Something New: Women Between the Two World Wars’, in R. Bridenthal, C. Koonz and S. Stuard, eds, Becoming Visible: Women in European History, 2nd ed., Boston, 1987, chap. 18, p. 476.

42 See letter dated 18 April 1952 in private collection. Their friends Edna and George Leneveu helped them to find customers. In the same collection is a document dated 3 July 1950 which mentions, on p. 8 verso, that they have had to take out a large mortgage to live.

43 B. Elliott and J.-A. Wallace, Women Artists and Writers: Modernist (Im)positionings, London and New York, 1994, p. 25.



Claude Cahun 44 Ibid. 45 The struggle for entry into the state art schools is recounted by M. Sauer, L’Entrée des femmes à l’Ecole des Beaux-Arts 1880–1923, Paris, 1990; see pp. 35–36 for these dates.

46 For Pelletier and other women who campaigned for equality, see F. Gordon and M. Cross, Early French Feminisms, 1830–1940: A Passion for Liberty, Cheltenham, 1996, and, for a photograph of Pelletier wearing a trouser suit and a bowler hat, and carrying a walking stick see C. Bard, Les Garçonnes: Modes et Fantasmes des Années Folles, Paris, 1998, p. 68. In addition, see Roberts, op. cit., and the volumes in the series edited by G. Duby, A History of Women in the West, vol. 4, Emerging Feminism from the Revolution to World War, Harvard, MA, 1996, and vol. 5, Toward Cultural Identity in the Twentieth Century, Harvard, MA, 1996.

47 See, for example, E. Roudinesco, J. Clair et al., Autour des ‘Etudes sur l’Hystérie’ Vienne 1895, Paris 1995, Paris, 1998, and E. Roudinesco, La Bataille de Cent Ans: Historie de la Psychanalyse en France, vol. 1, 1. 1885–1939, Paris, 1986. Almost every book on psychoanalysis in France illustrates the now famous painting of Dr Charcot ‘demonstrating’ his diagnosis of the patient Blanche as a hysteric, her undergarments, upper chest and shoulders exposed. The painting by Brouillet, Une leçon clinique à la Salpêtrière, 1887, is in the Musée d’Histoire de la Médicine, Paris, and is illustrated on pp. 178–179 of the catalogue Spectacular Bodies: The Art and Science of the Human Body from Leonardo to Now, by Martin Kemp and Marina Wallace, Hayward Gallery, London, 2000.

48 Her mothers’s illness and its possible/hypothetical effect on Cahun are discussed by G.M. Colvile, ‘Self-Representation as Symptom: The Case of Claude Cahun’, in S. Smith and J. Watson, eds, Interfaces: Women, Autobiography, Image, Performance, Ann Arbor, MI, 2002, pp. 263–288. In an autobiographical document, Cahun states that she missed her mother as a child once the latter had been institutionalised. She was not allowed to visit her very often, as the hospital claimed it was upsetting for her mother to remember the past. Her mother was treated as a shameful family secret and a madwoman, writes Cahun. See series of brown A5 envelopes containing documents written in 1945 in private collection. In envelope 5, ‘Rêve’, she recounts how her mother used to become agitated, cry, howl and kick her, then express remorse. In the same collection, another document, dated 3 July 1950, refers to her obese, mentally ill mother.

Notes 49 Envelope 5, ‘Rêve’, p. 2, private collection. 50 See document dated 3 July 1950, p. 3, in private collection. 51 Ibid. A local priest came to visit Cahun at her grandmother’s house while her mother was allowed out of the asylum. Cahun was putting on a play with the young people from the village, acting the male parts wearing trousers and jackets with costumes sent from Nantes. She spoke enthusiastically to the priest about Leonardo’s Last Supper, and the relationship between Jesus and John the Baptist ‘le bien aimé’. He mistook her meaning and tried to convert her. She remembered this conversation at cross-purposes much later with some amusement (see envelope 3, private collection). The ‘John the Baptist’ reproduction, framed, hung in the couple’s flat in Paris, 70 bis Rue Notre Dame des Champs, visible in a photograph taken in early 1938. See wallet of photos of the interior of the flat, private archive deposited at the Jersey Museum/Jersey Heritage Trust.

52 See the excellent book by Tamagne, Histoire de l’Homosexualité en Europe, op. cit., p. 12.

53 For Saslow, see ‘Homosexuality in the Renaissance: Behaviour, Identity, and Artistic Expression’, in M.B. Duberman, M. Vicinus and G. Chauncey, Jr, eds, Hidden from History: Reclaiming the Gay and Lesbian Past, Harmondsworth, 1991, pp. 90–105, espec. pp. 96–97, and, for D’Emilio, see ‘Capitalism and Gay Identity’, in D. Morton, ed., The Material Queer: A LesBiGay Cultural Studies Reader, Boulder, CO, and Oxford, 1996, pp. 263–272. The rise of the so-called ‘Pink Pound’ is evidence that capitalism, seen on a world scale, both makes visible previously marginalised identities and simultaneously exploits them.

54 From her thoughtful essay ‘Invisible Women: Lesbian Working-class Culture in France, 1880–1930’, in J. Merrick and B.T. Ragan, Jr., eds, Homosexuality in Modern France, New York and Oxford, 1996, pp. 177–201, quote from p. 179.

55 See Florence Tamagne, Mauvais Genre? Une Histoire des Représentations de l’Homosexualité, Paris, 2001, p. 265. See also the groundbreaking book by Marie-Jo Bonnet, Les Relations Amoureuses entre les Femmes XVIe–XXe siècle, 2nd edn, Paris, 2001 (first pub. in 1981 as Un Choix sans Equivoque), and part 11, chaps 1–4, in L. Faderman, Surpassing the Love of Men: Romantic Friendship and Love between Women from the Renaissance to the Present, London, 1982.

56 See the article by Charcot and Magnan, ‘Inversion du Sens Genital’, Archives de Neurologie, vol. 3, January–June 1882, as discussed by Anthony Copley



Claude Cahun in Sexual Moralities in France 1780–1980: New Ideas on the Family, Divorce and Homosexuality, London and New York, 1989, pp. 138–139. Magnan’s view was that homosexuality arose from a mismatch based on a mind/body division; a man’s brain in a woman’s body for lesbians, and vice versa for gay men.

57 Copley sees the influence of Freud in French culture in the 1920s as crucial, but points out that this was more in the world of literature and culture rather than that of medicine; ibid., p. 149.

58 On this unpublished manuscript (Jersey), see von Oehsen, ‘Claude Cahun’ – Published/Unpublished, pp. 33–59, who thinks it was mainly written 1916– 1919 but worked on later and probably unfinished. This fragmentary text of 198 verses over 94 typewritten pages is full of literary and mythological references, and is composed in the tradition of seventeenth-century emblematic texts. There are references to Narcissus and Pygmalion, and many mentions of reflections, doubling and the splitting of the self.

59 See C. Smith-Rosenberg, ‘Discourses of Sexuality and Subjectivity: The New Woman, 1870–1936’, in M. B. Duberman et al., eds, Hidden from History: Reclaiming the Gay and Lesbian Past, Harmondsworth, 1991, pp. 264–280, quote from p. 271.

60 Ibid. 61 See S. Benstock, ‘Paris Lesbianism and the Politics of Reaction, 1900–1940’, M.B. Duberman et al., eds, in Hidden from History: Reclaiming the Gay and Lesbian Past, Harmondsworth, 1991, pp. 332–346, and Benstock’s famous work Women of the Left Bank: Paris, 1900–1940, London, 1994 (first pub. 1986) which goes into extensive detail. See also A. Weiss, Paris Was a Woman: Portraits from the Left Bank, London and San Francisco, 1995.

62 Sautman, op. cit., p. 177. 63 See Sautman, op. cit, p. 187. This is a thoroughly interesting article, which I recommend highly.

64 Laura U. Marks, The Skin of the Film: Intercultural Cinema, Embodiment and the Senses, Durham and London, 2000, p. 149. Marks continues, ‘Theories of embodied spectatorship counter at their root theories of representation grounded in the alienation of visuality from the body, in particular Lacan’s theory of the mirror phase, which has been so influential in cinema studies’ (p. 150). This excellent book about embodiment, spectatorial dialogue and the cinema is also very useful for thinking about sensual embodiment and photography.



For example, Laurie J. Monahan’s essay ‘Radical Transformations: Claude Cahun and the Masquerade of Womanliness’, in M.C. de Zegher, ed., Inside the Visible: An Elliptical Traverse of 20th Century Art in, of, and from the Feminine, Cambridge, MA, and London, 1996, pp. 124–133, and Kline, op. cit.


See my essay ‘Cindy Sherman: Theory and Practice’, in J. Roberts ed., Art Has no History! The Making and Unmaking of Modern Art, London, 1994, pp. 257–277, and A. Cruz, E.A.T. Smith and A. Jones, Cindy Sherman Retrospective, New York and London, 1997.


See N. Wheale, ed., The Postmodern Arts: An Introductory Reader, London, 1995, and, for more critical perspectives, see C. Norris, The Truth about Postmodernism, Oxford, 1993, and D. Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change, Oxford, 1990. The best critique of postmodern theory is still, in my view, A. Callinicos, Against Postmodernism: A Marxist Critique, Cambridge, 1989.


For a critique of this ‘playful’ postmodern feminist trend, see T. Ebert, Ludic Feminism and After: Postmodernism, Desire, and Labor in Late Capitalism, Ann Arbor, MI, 1996.


See, in particular, Butler’s Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, New York and London, 1999 (first pub. 1990), to which several significant writers on Cahun make reference, and Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of ‘Sex’, New York and London, 1993. In the latter, Butler argues that there is no ‘I’, no self, and no will outside discourse. However, the subject called ‘queer’ can take up and cite this term (‘I’) ‘as the discursive basis for an opposition. This kind of citation will emerge as theatrical to the extent that it mimes and renders hyperbolic the discursive convention that it also reverses’ (p. 232, emphasis in original). This approach appealed greatly to some of the scholars interested in Cahun, though it led to a concentration on supposedly ‘performative’ aspects of Cahun’s work at the expense of Cahun’s political ideas and activities, which were premised on consciousness and agency, both individual and collective.


Cahun wrote that most of the resistance to the German army was from people belonging to ‘what passed as the working class in Jersey’. Most were young people from sixteen to twenty-two years of age. Cahun and Malherbe were obvious exceptions in terms of age and social background. See envelope 3, typescript journal addressed to Marianne



Claude Cahun Ashridge, 13 August 1948, p. 49, private archive on deposit at Jersey Museum.


For a more extended discussion of all these issues, see chapter 4 of my Materializing Art History.


For more on subjectivity and its relation to visual culture, see my Picturing the Self.

9 For example, two prints of ca. 1914–1915; Downie, op. cit, pp. 100, 101. 10 The markings on the mask can be read as both decorative and confusing for the viewer’s gaze, rather like the ocelli on butterflies’ wings, which look like eyes but are there to camouflage, mimic surroundings and create aesthetic effects. More of this later in relation to the work of Cahun’s acquaintance Roger Caillois. Many thanks to Jennie Hawksley and Kristine von Oehsen for their comments on the mask in this photograph.

11 Barthes, Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes, pp. 119, 120, 142. 12 See Lacan, The Psychoses, pp. 259–270. Lacan writes, ‘It’s the point of convergence that enables everything that happens in this discourse to be situated retroactively and prospectively’ (p. 268). Lacan relates to the coming together of the subject and ‘his discourse’ (p. 269). I am modifying Lacan’s concept to investigate certain works by Cahun as ‘quilting points’ in her oeuvre.

13 Lacan, Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-analysis, p. 186, from ‘The Partial Drive and its Circuit’, dated 13 May 1964.

14 See The Impossible Science of Being: Dialogues between Anthropology and Photography, The Photographers’ Gallery, London, 1995, p. 13.

15 V.I. Stoichita, A Short History of the Shadow, London, 1997, pp. 35, 41, 221. 16 The earliest (lost) appears to have been a snapshot (‘nothing more realist’) she owned as an adolescent before the First World War, but she ‘was not responsible for’ a Japanese doll laughing at ‘the fatal future’. She had a mask-like face, writes Cahun, and a fringe of blonde silk hair down to her eyebrows. The photograph made it appear black. Envelope 1, ‘Confidences aux Miroirs’, written in 1945, private archive.

17 Downie, ed., op. cit., p. 177. 18 Illustrated on pp. 94–97 in S. Folie and M. Glasmeier, eds, Tableaux Vivants: Lebende Bilder und Attitüden in Fotografie, Film und Video, Vienna, 2002. Although Arndt refers to them as ‘Maskenphotos’, the notion of ‘mask’ is interpreted freely as encompassing disguise, masquerade and veiling.

Notes Born in 1903, Arndt taught at the Bauhaus in Dessau, buying her first camera in 1926.

19 See the essay by O. Baddeley, ‘Reflecting on Kahlo: Mirrors, Masquerade and the Politics of Identification’, in E. Dexter and T. Barson, eds, Frida Kahlo, Tate, London, 2005, pp. 47–63, plate 48.

20 This amazing garment (Costume Institute, Metropolitan Museum, New York) is analysed by Caroline Evans, ‘Masks, Mirrors and Mannequins: Elsa Schiaparelli and the Decentered Subject’, Fashion Theory, vol. 3 no. 1, 1999, pp. 3–32. This thoughtful article demonstrates the change in emphasis since the high point of fashionable postmodern theories in the late 1980s/ early 1990s, for Evans argues that she will be using the theories of Lacan and Rivière not just to follow a fashionable cultural trend but ‘to locate changing models of the self historically, and to map the development of the modern “decentred subject” in the inter-war years. A plea for oldfashioned historical materialism, it attempts to reconcile the interpretative strategems of contemporary critical theory with a materialist analysis, not only of the fashion designs in question but also of the theory itself’ (p. 4). Evans argues persuasively that the rethinking and ‘decentring’ of the subject in mid-twentieth-century France took place in a situation of cultural and political crisis, and puts forward the view that Schiaparelli’s fantastic, escapist designs can be accepted as a valid response to fascist occupation on the part of a creative fashion designer, whereas Chanel’s more ‘realistic’ down-to-earth styles were the work of someone who was an anti-Semitic collaborator.

21 For this text published in the journal La Ligne de Coeur, see Leperlier, Claude Cahun: Ecrits, pp. 485–486. For the original, see La Ligne de Coeur, no. 4, 15 March 1926, pp. 47–50.

22 For a short but very useful essay on masks and their meanings, see Will Rea, in Object Cultures, Henry Moore Institute, Leeds, 2001, pp. 16–17.

23 S. Freud, ‘The “Uncanny”, in Art and Literature, The Pelican Freud Library, vol. 14, Harmondsworth, 1985, pp. 336–376.

24 E. Tseëlon, ed., Masquerade and Identities: Essays on Gender, Sexuality and Marginality, London, 2001.

25 Miranda Welby-Everard also comments that a concentration of the performance of gender is insufficient to appreciate Cahun’s ‘performances’. In a fascinating article on Cahun’s involvement with radical theatre in the 1920s, she makes clear the close connection between Cahun’s writings,



Claude Cahun theatre performances and photographs. However, I feel that they were perhaps closer at this period in the later 1920s than at other times, and Welby-Everard feels that the camera was only a tool to portray Cahun the actor in the series of theatrical photographs she discusses. See her ‘Imaging the Actor: The Theatre of Claude Cahun’, Oxford Art Journal, vol. 29, no. 1, 2006, pp. 1–24.

26 On the veil, see D.A. Bailey and G. Tawadros, eds, Veil: Veiling, Representation and Contemporary Art, in IVA, London, 2003, and my chapter ‘Fetishism, Drapery and Veils’, in G. Doy, Drapery: Classicism and Barbarism in Visual Culture, London and New York, 2002. The most stimulating piece of writing on veiling which I have come across is ‘Veiling over Desire: Close-ups of the Woman’, by Mary-Anne Doane, reprinted in her book Femmes Fatales chap. 3, pp. 44–75.

27 See Downie, ed., op. cit., p. 129 (behind latticed window), p. 132 (with cat). 28 See Leperlier, Claude Cahun: L’Ecart et la Métamorphose, pp. 93–105, the essay by Tirza True Latimer, ‘Acting Out: Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore’, in Downie, ed., op. cit, pp. 56–71, and especially Welby-Everard, op. cit.

29 This photograph reminds me of a fascinating image taken in San Francisco in the latter part of the nineteenth century, of a woman with a model of a camera on her head, standing with the bottom half of her face covered by an opened fan. On the fan are small photographs. The dress she is wearing is covered with portrait photographs by Thomas Houseworth and Co. The title of the photograph is The Masquerade. See Shawn Michelle Smith, American Archives: Gender, Race, and Class in Visual Culture, Princeton, NJ, 1999, cover illustration and frontispiece. See also p. 106; in this amazing image we see gender, artifice, performance and photography brought together in the commodified image of the business of photography, and the woman revealing/concealing her appearance at the same time as it is ‘taken’.

30 ‘The Roman “person” was a judicial category more than a name or the right to a role and a ritual mask… From the second century BCE the word persona (Latin for mask) acquired the sense of an image which signifies a person.’ E. Tseëlon, ‘Reflections on Mask and Carnival’, in Tseëlon, ed., op. cit. pp. 18–37, quote from p. 25.

31 See, for example, the portrait of Sarah Siddons by Sir William Beechey of 1793, National Portrait Gallery, London, where she holds up a mask (in profile) in front of her face, and turns round to look directly at the spectator.

Notes 32 ‘[E]t je n’eus pas à lever beaucoup le masque…porté tant bien que mal, en l’absence même de (Suzanne) notre dépendance des familles m’y contraignant…pour faire entendre à l’intéressé seul, par-dessus la tête paternelle, que je n’étais point une fille à épouser.’ Envelope 2, private archive.

33 On the top left is the famous Crystal Skull, origin and date uncertain, which the British Museum bought from Tiffany and Co. New York, in 1897. See Object Cultures, Henry Moore Institute, Leeds, 2001, p. 11. Cahun bought a panther’s skull at the fleamarket at St Ouen; this is referred to in envelope 3, inter, private archive.

34 C. Lévi-Strauss, ‘Split Representation in the Art of Asia and America’, in Structural Anthropology, vol. 1, Harmondsworth, 1977, (first pub. in France 1958, from papers written 1944–1957), pp. 245–268.

35 There is a photograph by Cahun (or Malherbe?) of smoked human heads and tattooed heads with hair with Moko designs from New Zealand, 13 x 20 cms, private collection, UK, taken in the British Museum. We can assume that Cahun was an anti-colonialist and anti-imperialist, given her far left politics. There is a photo wallet in the Jersey archive annotated by her which previously contained photographs taken at the International Colonial Exhibition in Paris, 1931, but the photographs do not appear to have survived. Surely she would have been aware of the ‘anti-colonial’ exhibition organised by the Surrealists and the trade union federation the CGTU, which was organised as a scathing critique of the official ‘colonial’ fair under the title La Vérité sur les Colonies. See D. Bate, Photography and Surrealism: Sexuality, Colonialism and Social Dissent, London, 2004, chap. 7, ‘The Truth of the Colonies’, and C. Hodeir and M. Pierre, L’Exposition Coloniale 1931: La Mémoire du Siècle, Paris, 1991, pp. 125–134. The exhibition included works critical of colonialism and the role played by the Church in imperialist projects, and also examples of native African, Oceanian and North American arts. There were masks included in the show, including some made by North American native peoples.

36 See V. Burgin, J. Donald and C. Kaplan, eds, Formations of Fantasy, for a reprint of Rivière’s essay, pp. 35–44, and Stephen Heath’s ‘Joan Rivière and the Masquerade’, pp. 45–61. See also A.E. Schwartz, ‘Postmodern Masquerade’, in D. Bassin, ed., Female Sexuality: Contemporary Engagements, Northvale, NJ, and London, 1999, pp. 115–125, and the section on Rivière in L. Appignanesi and J. Forrester, Freud’s Women, London, 1993, pp. 353–365.



Claude Cahun 37 Rivière, in Burgin et al., eds, op. cit., p38. 38 ‘Performativity is thus not a singular “act”, for it is always a reiteration of a norm or set of norms, and to the extent that it acquires an act-like status in the present, it conceals or dissimulates the conventions of which it is a repetition… Within speech act theory, a performative is that discursive practice that enacts or produces that which it names.’ Butler, Bodies that Matter, pp. 12–13. So, argues Butler, gender and sexual identities are enacted and produced at the same time. Butler does not explain the source of these oppressive norms, as in this theory there are no ‘origins’.

39 Apter, op. cit. p. 70. 40 Quoted by Heath, in Burgin, et al., eds, op. cit. p. 51. See also Catherine Constable, ‘Making up the Truth: On Lies, Lipstick and Fredrich Nietzsche’, in S. Bruzzi and P. Church Gibson, eds, Fashion Cultures: Theories, Explanations and Analysis, London and New York, 2000, pp. 191–200.

41 Letter from Freud to Jones, March 1922, quoted by Appignanesi and Forrester, Freud’s Women, p. 355.

42 43 44 45

Ibid., p. 353. Ibid., and Heath op. cit., p. 47. Schwartz, op. cit., p. 115. See S. Vice ed., Psychoanalytic Criticism: A Reader, Cambridge, 1996, p. 128, and chap. 2, ‘The Meaning of the Phallus’, in J. Mitchell and J. Rose eds, Feminine Sexuality: Jacques Lacan and the Ecole Freudienne, London, 1983, pp. 74–85, based on a 1958 lecture by Lacan. Here Lacan revisits the 1920s and 1930s debates about female sexuality. ‘The fact that femininity takes refuge in this mask, because of the Verdrängung (repression) inherent to the phallic mark of desire, has the strange consequence that, in the human being, virile display itself appears as feminine’(p. 85). So taking on the mask functions to entice the desire of the other; femininity is the mask par excellence; even a male displaying the functions of mask and masquerade appears feminine; and the female homosexual demands and wants to have the phallus, so therefore even in her ‘virile’ display she can still appear feminine.

46 47 48 49

See Appignanesi and Forrester, op. cit., p. 364. This is discussed in my Picturing the Self, pp. 115–120. Letter in Suzanne Malherbe’s papers, Jersey Heritage Trust. In the first section of Aveux non Avenus, written from 1919 to 1925, she mentions Freud on p. 157. See reprint of Aveux in Leperlier, ed., Claude

Notes Cahun: Ecrits, p. 347. It is possible that she did know of other analysts’ work, as she had a wide knowledge of cultural developments, and journals such as Minotaure, which she possessed, regularly discussed psychoanalytic theories.

50 Freud is confusing on this, as at times he appears to refer to anatomy, on other occasions to the symbolic and cultural meanings of gender attributes. For good discussions of the debates, see T. Brennan, The Interpretation of the Flesh: Freud and Femininity, London and New York, 1992, chap. 2, ‘The Riddle’s Repression’, and J. Chasseguet-Smirgel, ed., Female Sexuality: New Psychoanalytic Views, London, 1981; the first section of this book is devoted to summaries of the main papers on the debate.

51 S. Reynolds, France between the Wars: Gender and Politics, London, 1996, p. 25. 52 Ibid. pp. 18–20. 53 Ibid., chaps 4, 5, p. 116. For an excellent discussion of gender issues in post-war France, see also Roberts, op. cit.

54 Translation in J.B. Miller, ed., Psychoanalysis and Women, Harmondsworth, 1973, pp. 5–20.

55 See Chasseguet-Smirgel, ed., op. cit., p. 9. 56 S. Freud, ‘The Psychogenesis of a Case of Homosexuality in a Woman’, Pelican Freud Library, vol. 9, London, 1991, ‘Case History no. 11’, pp. 371–400, p. 397.

57 Quote from E. Jones, 1927, quoted by A.E. Schwartz in her helpful book Sexual Subjects: Lesbians, Gender and Psychoanalysis, London and New York, 1998, p. 19. Also useful is N. O’Connor and J. Ryan, Wild Desires and Mistaken Identities: Lesbianism and Psychoanalysis, London, 1993.

58 See Freud, ‘The Psychogenesis of a Case of Homosexuality in a Woman’: ‘[A] very considerable measure of latent or unconscious homosexuality can be detected in all normal people…the supposition that nature in a freakish mood created a “third sex” falls to the ground’ (p. 399).

59 Schwartz, Sexual Subjects, p. 19. 60 From pp. 253–254, quoted by Dijkstra, op. cit. p. 135. This section of his book, ‘The Mirror of Venus’, includes similar quotes.

61 S. Melchior-Bonnet, The Mirror: A History, London and New York, 2002, p. 174.

62 J. Berger, Ways of Seeing, Harmondsworth, 1976 (first pub. 1972), chap. 3. 63 R. Gregory, Mirrors in Mind, Oxford, 1997, p. 174. 64 See catalogue nos 45–47 in Claude Cahun Photographe, p. 141.



Claude Cahun 65 See Downie, ed., op. cit., p. 110, for ‘Keepsake’ images, and p. 149, for reflection in window.

66 According to Leperlier, this manuscript dates from 1913–1914. Von Oehsen suggests 1916–1919, and that Cahun worked on it later; see her thesis, p. 33.

67 From manuscript para. 185, p. 87, in private collection, UK. Extracts from this text are in Leperlier, ed., Claude Cahun: Ecrits, pp. 489– 495. The breath is an indexical sign of the other’s presence, like the shadow of Malherbe (?) in colour plate 3. Thanks to Susan Lawson for this point.

68 Manuscript in private collection, UK, ca. 1950, autobiographical account addressed to author of ‘Journal d’un exilé’, p. 14.

69 See E. Roudinesco’s excellent book Jacques Lacan, New York, 1997, p. 12. 70 Ibid., pp. 57, 59, 60. Lacan’s own behaviour was hardly ethical or socialist. He had two lovers simultaneously, one of whom he asked to type his thesis, and he persuaded the other, a widow, to pay for its publication (p. 57). He made his early reputation in 1932 through exploiting his patient Marguerite Pantaine, ‘filched all Marguerite’s writings, her photographs, her whole life history; and he never gave any of it back’, despite requests from the patient and her family (p. 35).

71 Ibid, p. 136. 72 Ibid, p. 110. 73 E. Cowie, Representing the Woman: Cinema and Psychoanalysis, Basingstoke, 1997, p. 90. The mirror phase is also discussed in D. Macey’s introduction to Lacan, Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis, pp. xvii–xix, and Lacan’s essay is reprinted in Ecrits: A Selection, London, 1997, pp. 1–7.

74 S. Freud, On Metapsychology: The Theory of Psychoanalysis, Harmondsworth, 1991, p. 81.

75 See the entry on ‘Narcissism’, by E. Ragland-Sullivan, in E. Wright ed., Feminism and Psychoanalysis: A Critical Dictionary, Oxford, 1996, pp. 271–274, and J. Holmes, Narcissism, in the useful series ‘Ideas in Psychoanalysis’, Cambridge, 2001.

76 Private collection, UK, illustrated in Claude Cahun Photographe, catalogue no. 254, p. 159. On folds, and folding as a way of thinking, see G. Deleuze, The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque (trans. and intro. by T. Conley), London, 1993.

77 C. Owens, ‘Photography en Abyme’, in S. Bryson et al., eds, Beyond Recognition, pp. 16–30, quote from p. 17.

Notes 78 K. Silverman, The Acoustic Mirror: The Female Voice in Psychoanalysis and Cinema, Bloomington, IN, 1988.

79 See J. Lacan, ‘The Line and Light’, in Four Fundamental Concepts of PsychoAnalysis, p. 99.

80 Caillois’ articles were on ‘La Mante Religieuse’ (‘The Preying Mantis’), Minotaure, no. 5, 1934, pp. 23–26, and ‘Mimétisme et Psychasthénie Légendaire’, Minotaure no. 7, 1935, pp. 5–10. For a translation, see, and texts 2 and 4 in Caillois, The Edge of Surrealism: A Roger Caillois Reader, ed., C. Frank, Durham and London, 2003. Caillois joined the Surrealists as a young man in 1932 and was involved in the anti-fascist grouping ‘Contre-Attaque’ (as was Cahun), but split with Breton shortly afterwards to support the Popular Front.

81 My translation from Caillois, ‘Mimétisme et Psychasthénie Légendaire’, using the quote in J.J. Spector, Surrealist Art and Writing 1919/39: The Gold of Time, Cambridge, 1997, p. 153, and The Edge of Surrealism, p. 96.

82 Translation from ‘Mimicry and Legendary Psychasthenia’, http://www., p. 5, and The Edge of Surrealism, p. 98.

83 R. Caillois, The Mask of Medusa, London, 1964, p. 25. 84 See the table of different kinds of disguise, camouflage and intimidation linked to masking (this is mostly done by males, he says), ibid., pp. 60–61.

85 See illustrations in Claude Cahun Photographe, pp. 145–146. There are also very interesting photographs in the archive in Jersey of about 1939 which show Cahun in front of a shrub in bloom wearing a flowered knitted cardigan, almost camouflaged (November 1938); Downie, ed., op. cit., p. 132.

86 Vol. 1, no. 11, 1936. 87 For Cahun’s text, see Leperlier, ed., Claude Cahun: Ecrits, pp. 539–541, ‘Prenez Garde aux Objets Domestiques’ (English translation in Claude Cahun, Institut Valencia d’Art Moderne, 2001–2002, pp. 218, 220).

88 Cahun manuscript in Jersey Archives, JHT/1995/00045/1, pp. 52–53. Faith was Cahun’s name for Vera, a woman in Jersey who helped Cahun and Malherbe, but never accepted their sexuality, probably due to her religious beliefs. Cahun was shocked by Faith’s negative comments to the couple after their liberation from prison. Manuscript on deposit at Jersey Museum.



Claude Cahun 89 F. Denoyelle, La Lumière de Paris: Les Usages de la Photographie 1919–1939, vol. 2, Paris, 1997, p. 269. This book, and the accompanying first volume, are indispensable for information on photography in Paris during the inter-war period. See also the excellent work by C. Bouqueret in Des Années Folles aux Années Noires: La Nouvelle Vision Photographique en France 1920–1940, Paris, 1997.

90 Several of the photograph wallets preserved in the Jersey Cahun archive show the shop window of Sennet and Spears Ltd Chemists and Photographers, of St Helier, Jersey, on the front, and on the back the shop, which sold cosmetics and perfumes, or ‘One of our photographic Workrooms’, where women are among those working on the films and prints.

91 M. Beckers and E. Moortgat, Yva: Photographien 1925–1938, Berlin, 2001, p. 210. 92 See the very useful C. Bouqueret, Les Femmes Photographes de la Nouvelle Vision en France 1920–1940, Paris, 1998, exhibition Hotel de Sully, Paris, and touring, p. 6.

93 Cahun knew Monnier and her lover Sylvia Beach well. See Downie, ed., op. cit., p. 67.

94 See S. Reynolds, ‘Camera Culture and Gender in Paris in the 1930s: Stills and Movies’, Nottingham French Studies, no. 31, 1992, pp. 39–51, pp. 41–42.

95 See the entry on Laure Albin-Guillot in Collection des Photographies du Musée National d’Art Moderne: Photographies 1905–1948, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris 1996, p. 28.

96 Ibid., pp. 27–28, 33–35. 97 In 1937 the painter Jean-Denis Maillart described Laure Albin-Guillot at a society event: ‘She was dressed in a black tailor-made skirt suit, on the lapel of which flourished the rosette of the Legion of Honour, with a waistcoat and white cuffs, and her grey hair was haloed by a large felt hat with a turned-up brim, from which escaped sideways a scarf of blue violet jersey which draped itself over her shoulders…the mouth with very red sensual lips exposed a broad smile…’ Ibid., p. 28. She appears to have devoted as much care and attention to her personal ‘style’ as Cahun, but with very different results.

98 See, for example, her archive papers JHT/1995/00045/1, where she writes that there was a copy of Le Crapouillot on the table at her trial: ‘Le numéro spécial sur les Allemands. Tailladé par moi. Je m’en étais servie pour mes photo-montages. Il m’avait sugéré le soldat sans nom…’ This magazine,

Notes cut up by her for the photomontages, suggested the idea of the ‘soldier without a name’, in whose (lack of) name the couple diffused their antifascist propaganda. The copy of Vu is no. 115, year 3, 28.5.1930. Thanks to Kristine von Oehsen for checking this for me.

99 Letter to Henri Michaux, Jersey Archives, JHT/1995/00045/16. 100 For Höch, see Maud Lavin, Cut with the Kitchen Knife: The Weimar Photomontages of Hannah Höch, New Haven, CT, and London, 1993, and the exhibition catalogue The Photomontages of Hannah Höch, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, 1997, organised by M. Makela and P. Boswell. Suzanne Malherbe mentioned that her own attitude to advertising was a mixture of contempt and watchful hostility, which came to colour her opinion of political propaganda. Private archive on deposit at Jersey Museum.

101 23 August 1939, pp. 46–47, p. 62. Despite the title, it is not clear whether these women actually developed and printed their own negatives.

102 See the sections on advertising and fashion photography in Bouqueret, Des Années Folles aux Années Noires, pp. 190–195, and the excellent section on fashion magazines in Denoyelle, op. cit., vol. 2, pp. 227–310, which lists the photographers who worked for various magazines.

103 His advertising photography is the subject of a thoughtful book which analyses the ways in which these images addressed women. See P. Johnston, Real Fantasies: Edward Steichen’s Advertising Photography, Berkeley, 2000.

104 The relevant extract can be found in P. du Gay, J. Evans and P. Redman, eds, Identity: A Reader, London, Thousand Oaks, CA, and New Delhi, 2000, pp. 31–38, L. Althusser, ‘Ideology Interpellates Individuals as Subjects’.

105 For Toni Frissell, see the useful website of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Reading Room, (accessed 26.11.2006).

106 For colour in advertising photography, see Johnston, op. cit., p. 334, note 43. This explains how complex early colour photography was. Edward Steichen’s colour adverts from the late 1920s were shot in black and white, hand-coloured and then colour-separated before printing in the magazine. See, for example, Johnston, colour plate 7, for a relevant example from the Ladies’ Home Journal, 1929.

107 Collection de Photographies du Musée National d’Art Moderne: Photographies 1905–1948, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, 1996, p. 135.

108 Johnston, op. cit., p. 242.



Claude Cahun 109 See Vogue, February 1941, p. 43, for the photograph and its caption,’STUDY YOUR SKIN: Decide what care, what make-up it needs: work out a daily ritual: and follow it faithfully’, and p. 42 for the accompanying article.

110 Skin as mask, as boundary and as a projection of the ego is an interesting topic. I refer the reader to my discussion of Didier Anzieu’s theories of the skin ego in Picturing the Self, pp. 69–70, Steven Connor, The Book of Skin, London, 2004, and Claudia Benthien, Skin: On the Cultural Border between Self and the World, New York, 2002. The skin as a projection of the ego is arguably more significant for women, who are taught to use the surface of their face to decorate, improve and attract.

111 See, for example, Christine Frederick, Selling Mrs Consumer, New York, 1929, who advises using the theories of Freud, Jung and Adler, among others; Johnston, op. cit., p. 154.

112 M.A. Doane, The Desire to Desire: The Woman’s Film of the 1940s, Basingstoke, 1987, pp. 180–181. For an example of women photographers’ interventions in mass media advertisements to subvert the performance of femininity and masquerade, see Maud Lavin, ‘Ringl + Pit: The Representation of Women in German Advertising, 1929–33’, Print Collectors Newsletter, vol. 16, part 3, 1985, pp. 89–93. Unfortunately, though, ‘within the entire advertising system then, Ringel + Pit’s work had a relatively limited circulation and effect’; p. 92.

113 T. Adorno, The Culture Industry: Selected Essays on Mass Culture, London and New York, 1991, p. 78.

114 The coloured photograph by Steichen mentioned previously (see Johnston, op. cit., colour plate 7, The Ladies’ Home Journal, published in the USA September 1929, p. 41), was featured in an advert for Woodbury’s soap with Miss Julia Evans. She is photographed ‘with the famous Benda masks’ around her as she kneels on the floor wearing an evening dress. Despite the exoticism of the brightly coloured masks, Evans’ beauty is described as homegrown, ‘with something rich and golden about it that somehow suggests the rippling play of light on Western wheatfields’. Wladyslaw Theodore Benda’s stunning masks were made of layers of glued paper, reinforced with wires, painted in oil colours and with gold leaf inside. His oeuvre includes masks of actual individuals, masks with ‘racial characteristics’ and masks expressing particular emotions. See W.T. Benda, Masks (intro. by F. Crowninshield), New York, 1944.

115 Vogue, August 1940, pp. 36, 37.

Notes 116 See Second Skin: Historical Life Casting and Contemporary Sculpture, Henry Moore Institute Leeds, 2002, and Le Dernier Portrait, ed. by E. Héran, catalogue of the exhibition at the Musée d’Orsay, Paris, 2002.

117 Some of Helena Rubinstein’s collection of African masks were used by Man Ray in his work, and were also referenced in features in Vogue. See L. Woodhead, War Paint: Madame Helena Rubinstein and Miss Elizabeth Arden, their Lives, their Times, their Rivalry, London, 2004, p. 134, and photographs illustrated between pp. 230 and 231.



With acknowledgements to Love, Loss and What I Wore, by Ilene Beckerman, Chapel Hill, NC, 1995.


The couple both smoked, as we know from their difficulties obtaining tobacco in Jersey during the Occupation. Suzanne also smoked a pipe.


‘J’y étais allée – méconnaissable – en Lucy Schwob. Je vivais normalement, sous mon aspect Claude Cahun. Les bureaucrats avaient fait des excuses à la vieille dame en noir qui avait l’air si malade.’ Account addressed to Marianne, 13 August 1948, private archive on deposit at Jersey Museum.


See the photographs of Cahun in costume for the plays she participated in with the director Pierre Albert-Birot, 1929, in H. Ander and D. Snauwaert, eds, Claude Cahun Bilder, Munich, 1997, pp. 137–138, and Downie, ed., op. cit., pp. 157–162.


‘[C]e qui augmentait le scandale provincial de mes vêtements. Ils n’étaient pas de mon âge et pas même à la mode…surtout quand ils la devançaient…ils avaient mauvais genre… [C]e que Jean Paulthan précisa, quelques années plus tard, refusant mes manuscrits avec toute la politesse N.R.F…un genre indéterminé.’ Envelope 2, p. 1, in private archive. ‘Mauvais genre’ has various meanings – the wrong kind, bad form (as in manners, fashion, taste) or the wrong gender! The phrase ‘elle a du genre’ means ‘she has style’, and ‘se donner du genre’ is ‘to put on airs’. Florence Tamagne plays on some of the meanings of ‘mauvais genre’ as bad form/wrong gender in the title of her interesting book Mauvais Genre? Une Histoire des Représentations de l’Homosexualité. This ‘indeterminate’ aspect of Cahun’s life and work has been examined by Liena Vayzman, in her Ph.D., The Self-Portraits of Claude Cahun: Transgression, Self-representation, and Avant-garde Photography,



Claude Cahun 1917–1947 (France), Yale University, 2002, who argues that Cahun’s life and photography attempted to transgress boundaries and borders (for example, her position as both inside and outside the avant-garde) and renegotiate categories of sexual identity, photography and artistic authorship (her collaboration with Malherbe). I became aware of this thesis only when this book was about to go to press, and have read only the abstract, but Vayzman’s points seem to me to support my position that Cahun’s work and appearance(s) are resistant to categorisation and ‘indeterminate’. I intend this term as a compliment, and not in the negative sense used by Jean Paulthan when refusing Cahun’s writing for the Nouvelle Revue Française!


Delpierre states that the sailor suit was adopted as popular for boys from about 1862 but became particularly fashionable in the 1920s. The girls’ version had a pleated skirt. M. Delpierre, Le Costume de 1914 aux Années Folles, Paris, 1997, pp. 32–33, 74. See figure 5 discussed above, and illustration in Downie, ed., op. cit., p. 98, bottom right.


Suzanne Malherbe’s dress was also interesting, but not on the same level of inventiveness as that of Schwob/Cahun. After the war Suzanne was fond of wearing a swagger coat, trousers and a green plastic visor like a newspaper editor, according to Joe Mière, a young, working-class resistor to the German Occupation of Jersey who met the couple in prison and did their hair for them there when they were all captives. He knew her as Bertie. (Interview with me in Jersey, 2005.)


For a discussion of nakedness, nudity and art, see L. Nead, The Female Nude: Art, Obscenity and Sexuality, London, 1992, and, more recently R. Barcan, Nudity: A Cultural Anatomy, Oxford and New York, 2004.

9 For illustrations, see Downie, ed., op. cit., pp. 124–125, 135. 10 From letter addressed to author of Journal d’un Exilé, p. 12, private collection, UK.

11 Letter to author of Journal d’un Exilé, p. 12. 12 Private archive on deposit at Jersey Museum, cerise folder, no pagination. 13 See p. 6 of airmail paper in Dark Blue Basildon Bond airmail folder, private archive. See also papers in the Jersey Archives, JHT/1995/00045/1, where Cahun mentions that one of the mistresses had her fur coats, leather shoes, dresses and ‘the rest’.

14 See comments by local fisherman Arthur Newman, who described the couple’s dress as ‘let’s say – very modern’; see von Oehsen, ‘The Lives of Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore’, in Downie, ed., op. cit., p. 18.

Notes 15 See JHT/1995/00045/60a, Jersey Archives. A passage from Aveux non Avenus reads: ‘Instinctively I reached for the buttons on my “fly” on the right-hand side (the men’s side), but the tailor (you’ve really got to tell them everything!) had sewn them on the left-hand side’ (see Leperlier, ed., Claude Cahun: Ecrits, p. 333).

16 Interview with Mary Southwood, May 2005. There are invoices for clothes and items of clothing sent on approval in Susan Malherbe’s papers, which perhaps happened more often after Claude’s death.

17 Interviews with Joe Mière and Mary Southwood, Jersey, 2005. John Wakeham also talked to me about views of homosexuality and of Communist Party politics in Jersey in the post-war period.

18 Cahun is wearing this in several photographs, for example one where she is standing in front of a flowering shrub; Downie, ed., op. cit., p. 132, November 1938.

19 For information on women’s dress and fashion at this period, see V. Steele, Paris Fashion: A Cultural History, Oxford and New York, 1988, M. DelbourgDelphis, Le Chic et le Look: Histoire de la Mode féminine et des Moeurs de 1850 à nos jours, Paris, 1981 (espc. pp. 95–174) and Delpierre, Le Costume de 1914 aux Années Folles.

20 On Chanel, see F. Baudot, Chanel, London, 1996, A. Mackrell, Coco Chanel, London, 1992, A. Madsen, Coco Chanel, London, 1990, and E. Charles-Roux, Chanel and her World, London, 1981.

21 M.L. Roberts, ‘Samson and Delilah Revisited: The Politics of Women’s Fashion in 1920s France’, American Historical Review, June, 1993, pp. 657–680, quote from p. 681.

22 Henriette Sauret, ‘Préoccupations masculines’, La Voix des Femmes, 30 January 1919, quoted in Roberts, ‘Samson and Delilah Revisited’, p. 662.

23 See, especially, Madsen, Coco Chanel, pp. 208, 222–223, 245. 24 See, for example, the photographs in Charles-Roux, Chanel and her World, espc. pp. 262–263, and Steele, Paris Fashion, p. 252; the latter illustrates a photograph of Chanel in slacks, with her arm around Serge Lifar of the Ballets Russes, on the Cote d’Azur.

25 This context is very well analysed by Mary Louise Roberts in her book Civilisation without Sexes and the article by Anne-Marie Sohn, ‘La Garçonne face à l’opinion publique: type littéraire ou type social des années 20?’, Le Mouvement Social, vol. 80, 1972, pp. 3–27. Sohn points out that the novel



Claude Cahun itself, at 7 francs, was too expensive for the lower-paid, and therefore was read mostly by members of the middle and upper classes (p. 9). However, the debates in the press meant that many others knew about the controversy without having read the book. The film version of the novel from 1936, directed by Jean de Limur, with Arletty, Suzy Soilidor, a very young Edith Piaf and Marie Bell, has a scene in a club where the heroine goes to forget her troubles. Lesbians there are signified by their wearing suits along with eye make-up and lipstick, although Suzy Solidor has short pageboy-style hair and an evening dress, and delivers the song ‘Take pleasure when it comes’ in a highly seductive voice, before wandering off with our heroine to sample some drugs and sex.

26 See E. Wilson, Bohemians: The Glamorous Outcasts, London, 2003. 27 See B. Klüver and J. Martin, Kiki’s Paris: Artists and Lovers 1900–1930, New York, 1989, p. 158.

28 Ibid., p. 145. 29 For these photographs, see E. Poniatowska and C. Stellweg, Frida Kahlo: The Camera Seduced, London, 1992, pp. 55–56, 59. According to this book, Mexican female film stars of the time wore Paris and New York fashions. The effect of this, I would argue, was to ‘distance’ them from Mexicanness and its virtually colonised relation to the US, while their Hollywood roles cast them as exotic, and usually speaking in heavily accented English, as with Dolores del Rio, and the wonderful Katy Jurado.

30 See page 29 of the journal, reproduced and discussed in T. Gronberg, Designs on Modernity: Exhibiting the City in 1920s Paris, Manchester and New York, 1998, p. 147.

31 In the photograph of the group outside the Surrealist exhibition in London, JHT/1995/00044i, Cahun is wearing two stars on her frock (illustrated in Downie, ed., op. cit., p. 174). Initially I thought these were Stars of David, but not so. It has been suggested that Cahun’s Jewish heritage has been overstressed, but, in the context of the rise of fascism in particular, many people from Jewish backgrounds became much more conscious of their Jewish backgrounds and aspects of Jewish culture, including Freud. In an autobiographical account in a private archive, UK, ‘Confidences aux Miroirs’, 1945, envelope 3, she expresses relief that her Jewish family died before the Nazis came to power, so she knew perfectly well that she would have been identified as a Jew as far as the German National Socialists were concerned.

Notes 32 See the useful D. Crane, Fashion and its Social Agendas: Class, Gender and Identity in Clothing, Chicago, 2000, p. 128.

33 For example, Cole, in Broude and Garrard, eds, op. cit., pp. 342–359, and A. Solomon-Godeau, ‘The Equivocal “I”:Claude Cahun as Lesbian Subject’, in S. Rice, ed., Inverted Odysseys, pp. 110–125.

34 See ‘Looking Like a Lesbian’, in Chadwick and Latimer, eds, The Modern Woman Revisited, pp. 127–144. For related research on other (non-French) artists and lesbians, see B. Elliott, ‘Performing the Picture or Painting the Other: Romaine Brooks, Gluck and the Question of Decadence in 1923’, in K. Deepwell ed., Women Artists and Modernism, Manchester and New York, 1998, pp. 70–82, and K. Rolley,’ Cutting a Dash: The Dress of Radclyffe Hall and Una Troubridge’, Femininist Review, no. 35, 1990, pp. 54–66.

35 C. Lesselier, ‘Silenced Resistances: Lesbians in France, 1930–1968’, Journal of Homosexuality, vol. 25, parts 1/2, 1993, pp. 105–125, p. 112.

36 For example, S. Benstock, Women of the Left Bank Paris 1900–1940, London, 1987, has some very interesting material on clothing and dress in relation to Gertrude Stein, who did not participate in the ‘mannish lesbian’ image, dressed in clothing which seemed to transcend gender and instead used language to mark her break with patriarchal rules. Women who had to work for a living had to ‘pass’ (as straight) in their daily lives or suffer potential economic consequences (p. 181), and could come out only in lesbian clubs and other spaces of lesbian and gay sociality. However, Stein was interested in haute couture clothes and during her last years she and Alice B. Toklas, her partner, were dressed by the young Pierre Balmain (p. 183). Stein’s contact details are in Cahun’s address book.

37 L. Doan, Fashioning Sapphism: The Origins of a Modern English Lesbian Culture, New York, 2001, p. 107.

38 Ibid., fig. 7. 39 Tamagne, Mauvais Genre?, p. 265. There is also material on lesbian (self-) representations in France in the inter-war period in Bonnet, Les Relations Amoureuses, pp. 321–334, and Bard, Les Garçonnes, which is very well illustrated, as is Tamagne’s Mauvais Genre?.

40 Colette, The Pure and the Impure, Harmondsworth, 1971, pp. 84–85 (pub. as Ces Plaisirs, 1932).

41 Lesselier, p. 109. 42 For an extensive discussion of Inversions, many extracts and other interviews with French gays and lesbians, see the invaluable book by



Claude Cahun G. Barbedette and M. Carassou, eds, Paris Gay 1925, Paris, 1981. The magazine cost 1.50 Francs, which put it out of the reach of the lower-paid (p. 155).

43 Cahun obviously knew about the derivation of the term ‘inversions’ through Havelock Ellis’ work, some of which she translated. Ellis’ book Sexual Inversion was published in 1897. See Tamagne, Histoire de l’Homosexualité en Europe, pp. 238–240, for a summary of Ellis’ views and significance. For Ellis, the female invert shows an identifiable degree of masculinity. It seems Cahun did not agree with this, while remaining interested in the issues raised by Ellis’ work.

44 45 46 47

Tamagne, Mauvais Genre?, p. 157. Barbedette and Carassou, eds, op. cit., pp. 257–258. Ibid., p. 142. The book also discusses an article in Inversions, 1 February 1925, on the lives of famous men, which mentions Marcel Schwob and his piece ‘Les Vies Imaginaires’. This describes the life of certain famous men as they should have been, contrasting this with the lives they actually lived. This reverses the norm, which is to eradicate homosexuality from the lives of famous gay writers and artists, resulting in a process whereby ‘leurs vies sont travesties par les bio-graphes’ (p. 209) and the travesty/disguise is to make the gay men heterosexuals.

48 The interview with Azenor is on pp. 70–74 of Paris Gay 1925. This book also has a photograph (1934) of Azenor wearing a suit with a skirt below the knee, a shirt and tie with a handkerchief in the breast pocket, and a white (straw?) hat with a band round it. Her shoes are two-tone lace-ups (plate 12). A photo taken by Azenor shows two of her friends wearing casual cotton trousers and shirts (plate 16).

49 The film Portrait d’Hélène Azenor: Instants de Vie, directed by C. Lesselier and J. Vanbemburghe, 1987, lasts twenty-one minutes, and the books are entitled Histoire d’Une, Paris, 1988, and Vivre tout Haut, Paris, 1989. There is a small dossier on Azenor in the Bibliothèque Kandinsky at the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris. My grateful thanks to the staff there for welcoming me.

50 Azenor, Histoire d’Une, p. 44. She explains that ‘une’ in the title means ‘one of a kind’, because that is what she thought she was until she met other lesbians dressed like her in a lesbian nightclub.

51 A number of Cahun’s photographs taken at the seaside over a twentyyear period show her in shorts, vest tops, with short hair, and fairly unisex

Notes bathing costumes (men’s costumes also had vest-type tops at this time); see, for example, Claude Cahun Photographe no. 5, 1921, and 40–42, ca. 1928, and Downie, ed., op. cit., p. 102.

52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60

Interview in film, 1987. Interview in film, 1987. Azenor, Vivre tout Haut, p. 22. Ibid., p. 37. Ibid., pp. 34–37. See illustration in Downie, ed., op. cit., p. 161. Interview in film, 1987. Azenor, Histoire d’Une, pp. 10–11. On women and trousers, see Julie Wheelwright, Amazons and Military Maids: Women who Dressed as Men in Pursuit of Life, Liberty and Happiness, London, 1989; C. Smith and C. Greig, Women in Pants: Manly Maidens, Cowgirls, and other Renegades, New York, 2003; and L. Benaïm, Le Pantalon: Une Histoire en Marche, Paris, 1999. As these books demonstrate, class and gender issues are inextricably linked to the wearing of bifurcated garments by women.

61 Quoted by Mary Lynn Stewart, ‘Marketing Fabrics and Femininity in Interwar France’, Textile History, vol. 35, no. 1, 2004, pp. 90–111, quote from p. 94.

62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69

Tamagne, Histoire de l’Homosexualité, pp. 57–58. Downie, ed., op. cit., p. 176. Stewart, op. cit., p. 106. Benaïm, op. cit., pp. 98–99. See Bard, op. cit., p. 31 for photograph. Bonnet, Les Relations Amoureuses, p. 281. Janet Flanner, Paris was Yesterday 1925–1939, London, 2003, p. 115. K. Bill, ‘Attitudes to Women’s Trousers: Britain in the 1930s’, Journal of Design History, vol. 6, no. 1, 1993, pp. 45–53, quote from p. 50. Dolores del Rio was also an example. See also L. Tickner, ‘Women and Trousers: Unisex Clothing and Sex Changes in the Twentieth Century’, in Leisure in the Twentieth Century: History of Design. Fourteen Papers given at the Second Conference on Twentieth-Century Design History, London, 1976, pp. 56–67.

70 J. Schuyf, ‘“Trousers with Flies!!” The Clothing and Subculture of Lesbians’, Textile History, vol. 24, no. 1, 1993, pp. 61–73, quote from p. 63.



Claude Cahun 71 Schuyf op. cit., pp. 72–73, and E. Wilson, ‘Deviant Dress’, Feminist Review, no. 35, 1990, pp. 67–75.

72 S. Cole, ‘Don we now our Gay Apparel’, Oxford and New York, 2000, p. 61. 73 Many books discuss and illustrate the hopes and plans of avantgarde artist/designers in the new USSR. See, for example, L. Zaletova et al., Revolutionary Costume: Soviet Clothing and Textiles of the 1920s, New York, 1989.

74 See, for example, Red Star (1908) and Engineer Menni (1913) by Alexander Bogdanov, mentioned in R. Stites, Revolutionary Dreams: Utopian Vision and Experimental Life in the Russian Revolution, Oxford, 1989, p. 132.

75 See the excellent discussion of these issues by L. Attwood, Creating the New Soviet Woman: Women’s Magazines as Engineers of Female Identity, 1922–53, London, 1999, espc. chap. 4, ‘Beauty, Fashion and Femininity’, and 5, ‘Variations in the “New Woman”’. See also D. Bartlett, ‘Let them Wear Beige: The Petit-bourgeois World of Official Socialist Dress’, Fashion Theory, vol. 8, no. 2, 2004, pp. 127–164.

76 Attwood, Creating the New Soviet Woman, pp. 66–67. 77 Ibid., p. 134. 78 Quoted in M. McLeod, ed., Charlotte Perriand: An Art of Living, New York, 2003, p. 162. Ball bearings were popular signs of modernity, and were illustrated and exhibited widely in the 1920s.

79 See the very useful article by Christine Bard and Jean-Louis Robert, ‘Le Parti Communiste Français et les Femmes 1920–1939’, in H. Gruber and P. Graves, eds, Women and Socialism, Socialism and Women: Europe between the Two World Wars, New York and Oxford, 1998, pp. 321–347. The original unedited version is available on travaux/articles/article6.htm (see pp. 4–5 of this version for the information on L’Ouvrière). The authors claim that the paper was closed down in 1927, but the copies I read showed that it reappeared in 1930 for a few more years till 1935.

80 ‘Genre un peu garçon manqué comme aspect. Ce n’était pas le type de la jeune fille de l’époque.’ Quoted in Bard and Robert, ‘Le Parti Communiste Français et les Femmes 1920–1939’, in Gruber and Graves, eds, Women and Socialism, Socialism and Women. Original version available online at htm (p. 4 for quotation from an interview with Colette Jobard, 3.1.1975).

Notes 81 Pelletier’s 1919 book L’Individualisme condemned (from bitter experience) social pressure to conform. ‘The least originality of colour or form in our clothing, our hairstyles, our gestures, our general demeanour is food and drink to our enemies in society. What is the month of prison meted out to the thief in comparison to the insults and sarcastic comments that are hurled at a man who, for example, might have the notion to put on a dress of yellow silk and walk thus attired down the streets of Paris – what am I saying – the sarcastic comments, armed force would be brought to bear to imprison him for an unlimited period in a mental institution?’ (p. 82). Quoted by J.W. Scott, Only Paradoxes to Offer: French Feminisms and the Rights of Man, Cambridge, MA, and London, 1996, p. 216 (my translation).

82 For a very useful article based on research in Regards, see F. Delpla, ‘Les Communistes français et la sexualité’, Le Mouvement Social, no. 91, 1975, pp. 121–152.

83 See 28 September 1934 issue for adverts for Reich’s La Crise Sexuelle, and Matérialisme dialectique, Freudisme et Psychanalyse, on p. 14, next to the regular knitting-pattern feature.

84 Bard and Robert ‘Le Parti Communiste Français et les Femmes 1920–1939’, p. 11. 85 Ibid., p. 146. On Morris, see Bard, Les Garçonnes, pp. 105–107. 86 The couple had to kill the cat they had during the Occupation because they thought it would starve to death if/when they were arrested.



Private archive on deposit in Jersey Museum, envelope 3, large typed journal addressed to Marianne Ashridge, 13.8.1948, p. 25.


Photographs by Cahun of Breton, Lamba and their daughter, Aube, dating from 1935 to 1939 are illustrated in Downie, ed., op. cit., pp. 163–166.


For a succinct account of Cahun’s relationship to Surrealism, see von Oehsen, ‘The Lives of Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore’, in Downie, ed., op. cit., pp. 15–17, and, for greater detail, see F. Leperlier, Claude Cahun: L’Ecart et la Métamorphose, Paris, 1992.


For Trotsky’s writing on France in this crucial period of political struggles in France, see L. Trotsky, The Crisis of the French Section [1935–1936], New York, 1977, and Leon Trotsky on France, New York, 1979.



Claude Cahun 5

L. Trotsky, Leon Trotsky on Literature and Art (ed. and intro. P.N. Siegel), New York, 1970, and S. Fitzpatrick, Commissariat of the Enlightenment, Cambridge, 1970.


For accounts of this, see M. Nadeau, The History of Surrealism, New York, 1965, chap. 14, 16, Leperlier, Claude Cahun: L’Ecart et la Métamorphose, pp. 143–209, Lewis, The Politics of Surrealism (the best account despite her supposing that Cahun was a man), and Spector, op. cit., chap. 3.


Nadeau, The History of Surrealism, pp. 193–194, and Lewis, op. cit., pp. 130–131.


Spector, op. cit., p. 293, note 171, says that Crevel sometimes wore make-up and drag, in contrast to the rather straight masculinity of the majority of Surrealists.


See typed journal, envelope 3, addressed to Marianne Ashridge, 13.8.1948, private archive on deposit at Jersey Museum, p. 25.

10 R. Golan, Modernity and Nostalgia: Art and Politics between the Wars, New Haven, CT, and London, 1995, chap. 6, ‘In Defence of French Art’.

11 Ibid., pp. 153–154. 12 See, for example, Claude Cahun Photographe, illustrations on pp. 149–156, and Downie, ed., op. cit., pp. 177–191, for still lives and objects.

13 This phrase was a quote from Stalin, who had used it in 1932. See the exhibition catalogue Soviet Socialist Realist Painting 1930s–1960s, curated by Matthew Cullerne Bown, Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, 1992, p. 5.

14 Trotsky’s article ‘The Suicide of Vladimir Mayakovsky’ was published in the Bulletin of the Opposition, no. 121, May 1930, and is reprinted in Leon Trotsky on Literature and Art, pp. 174–178.

15 Nicholas Coutouzis, a medical student, suggested the dedication; see papers in private archive, UK. For biographical information about the leading members of the Porte Rouqine (or Porte Brunet) group, see Leperlier, Claude Cahun: L’Ecart et la Métamorphose, pp. 149–150.

16 Cahun wrote later (November 1944) about her conception of revolutionary politics, and how her main theoretical source for dialectics (essential in her view) was Hegel. See Red Folder, written between 16 November 1944 and following Wednesday, in private archive, UK.

17 See Nadeau, The History of Surrealism, chap. 14, ‘The Aragon Affair’, and Lewis, op. cit., chap. 6, ‘L’Affaire Aragon and Proletarian Literature’.

18 ‘Manifesto: Towards a Free Revolutionary Art’, in Trotsky, Leon Trotsky on Literature and Art, p. 118.

Notes 19 ‘Les plus efficaces furent peut-être les plus subjectifs, les plus sincères, les plus romantiques, les plus “dégagés”.’ From private archive, UK, in long letter folder addressed to author of Journal d’un Exilé, July 1950.

20 On their activities in the Occupation, see C. Follain, ‘Lucy Schwob and Suzanne Malherbe – Résistantes’, in Downie, ed., op. cit., pp. 83–95, and K. Poor, Bodies of Resistance. The Late work of Claude Cahun, BA Hons thesis, Columbia University, NY, 2003. See also the interesting remarks on John Heartfield’s visit to Paris in 1935, where he met Aragon, and Aragon’s subsequent article published in Commune, May 1935, pp. 985–991, entitled ‘John Heartfield et la beauté révolutionnaire’, in von Oehsen, op. cit., pp. 170–171. Cahun recounted after the war how, at their trial, examples of cut-up magazines were displayed on the table as evidence against them. One of these was a special issue of Le Crapouillot on Germany. ‘Le numéro spécial sur les Allemands. Tailladé par moi. Je m’en étais servie pour mes photomontages. Il m’avait suggéré le soldat sans nom’ (‘The special edition on the Germans. Cut up by me. I had used it for my photomontages. It suggested to me [the idea of] the soldier with no name’). Jersey Archives JHT/1995/00045/1. ‘The soldier with no name’ was the ‘name’ with which Cahun and Malherbe signed their propaganda tracts.

21 See folder with ‘Abbrucharbeiten’ label on cover in private archive, UK. 22 Letter written after the war. Private archive on deposit in Jersey Museum, pink/cerise folder. She also writes: ‘L’ensemble de mon activité, durant l’occupation de Jersey, represente la suite logique de mon activité d’écrivain, en France, à l’époque du Front Populaire’ (‘Taken as a whole, my activity during the occupation of Jersey represents the logical conclusion of my activity as a writer in France at the time of the Popular Front’).

23 L’Humanité, 29 May 1936; D. Stocking, ‘Not everything is possible: French Stalinism and the Popular Front, 1936–38’, Permanent Revolution, no. 5, 1987, p. 25. In addition to this article on the Communist Party and its betrayal of workers’ struggles during the period, see T. Kemp, Stalinism in France, vol. 1, The First Twenty Years of the French Communist Party, London, 1984, and Trotsky, Leon Trotsky on France.

24 Stocking, ‘Not everything is possible’, p. 20. Things had become even worse by 1937, when 8,000 workers marched to oppose a fascist rally in Clichy, a suburb of Paris. Police defended the fascists from attack and opened fire on the demonstrators, killing six and wounding 500. Leading CP member Thorez turned up at the town hall in the evening and refused



Claude Cahun to speak to the crowd. ‘As he left he faced a group of workers calling for workers’ militias. “Filthy Trotskyists,” he called out as he passed.’ Kemp, op. cit., p. 152.

25 Two of the photographs of L’Humanité mannequins are entitled Prends un petit bâton pointu, thus demonstrating that Cahun linked the Poupée series and this illustration for Deharme’s poem. See Claude Cahun Photographe, p. 150.

26 Sheets entitled ‘Confidences aux Miroirs’ dated 1945, in series of brown envelopes in private archive UK. See also Leperlier, ed., Claude Cahun: Ecrits, pp. 573ff.

27 Information from the very illuminating accounts by Cahun in a private archive, UK, in a series of brown A5 envelopes dated 1945. Cahun also mentions that she tried to introduce the other members of the Marxist group to the work of Dali, which she found really ‘sensually’ attractive, and to discuss his work in Les Paris sont Ouverts, but the negative responses of the others made her decide against this.

28 J. Pierre, ed., Investigating Sex: Surrealist Discussions 1928–1932, London, 1992, p. 27, 31. Victor Mayer, for example, says he finds feminine lesbians exciting but ‘loathes’ mannish lesbians (p. 131).

29 Pierre, op. cit., p. 132. 30 Archive ref JHT/00045/80. 31 On Lefebvre, Politzer, the various magazines they founded and their political directions, see the useful book by B. Burkhard, French Marxism between the Wars: Henri Lefebvre and the ‘Philosophies’, New York, 2000.

32 See the useful chapter on Lise Deharme in M.-C. Barnet, La Femme Cent Sexes ou les Genres Communicants: Deharme, Mansour, Prassinos, Bern, 1998.

33 See M.-C. Barnet, ‘To Lise Deharme’s Lighthouse: Le Phare de Neuilly, a forgotten Surrealist Review’, French Studies, vol. 57, no. 3, 2003, pp. 323–334, p. 327.

34 For the bell jar photographs with Cahun’s head, see Claude Cahun Photographe, p. 139, nos 20–22, all 10 x 7.5 cms.

35 In a letter quoted by Leperlier (Claude Cahun: L’Ecart et la Métamorphose, pp. 244–245), Cahun mentions a plastic coach, ‘une abomination de Woolworth bazar’, produced as a coronation souvenir, which she says she probably bought to illustrate one of Deharme’s poems and did not use at the time. See the photograph on p. 118, Le Char du Couronnement 1, 1940, in Claude Cahun Photographe.

Notes 36 D. Bate, Photography and Surrealism: Sexuality, Colonialism and Social Dissent, London and New York, 2004, p. 29. On Surrealist photography, see also Begierde im Blick: Surrealistische Photographie, Kunsthalle, Hamburg, 2005, Los Cuerpos Perdidos: Fotografia y Surrealistas, Sala de Exposiciones de la Fundación ‘la Caixa’, Madrid, 1995, I. Walker, City Gorged with Dreams: Surrealism and Documentary Photography in Inter-war Paris, Manchester, 2002, and the section ‘Photographie et Surréalisme’ in the excellent Bouqueret, Des Années Folles aux Années Noires, pp. 63–84.

37 See Claude Cahun Photographe, p. 153, no. 180 and p. 151, no. 165. 38 Bouqueret, Des Années Folles aux Annés Noires, p. 73. 39 See the interesting article on Kracauer ’s writings on film and photography by Miriam Hansen, “With Skin and Hair”: Kracauer’s Theory of Film, Marseille 1940’, in Critical Inquiry, no. 19, 1993, pp. 437–469. Summing up Kracauer’s views, Hansen writes: ‘Photography, while complicit with the blind representation of nature, also has “provoked” the decisive confrontation in every field’. For its inbuilt alienation effect ruptures the ostensible coherence of dominant publicity and reflects the disintegrated fragments of nature as detritus and disorder’ (p. 456).

40 Steven Harris has greatly increased our understanding of the Surrealist object through his articles ‘Coup d’Oeil’, Oxford Art Journal, vol. 24, no. 1, 2001, pp. 89–112, and ‘Beware of Domestic Objects’, Art History, vol. 24, no. 5, 2001, pp. 725–757, and his book Surrealist Art and Thought in the 1930s: Art, Politics and the Psyche, Cambridge, 2004.

41 The cover is reproduced in Leperlier, Claude Cahun: L’Ecart et la Métamorphose, p. 220.

42 See the discussion of surrealist objects in Nadeau, The History of Surrealism, pp. 185–190.

43 Harris, op. cit., p. 152. 44 See Leperlier, Claude Cahun: L’Ecart et la Métamorphose, p. 215 (JHT/1995/ 00032/c), pp. 222–223. Un Air de Famille seems to include references to eating disorders which Cahun experienced as a young woman. The words may also refer to the colloquial expression ‘faiseuse d’anges’ (maker of angels = abortionist).

45 Harris, op. cit., pp. 168–172. 46 Illustrated ibid., p. 165. 47 Ibid., p. 172.



Claude Cahun 48 Translation from Claude Cahun, Institut Valencia d’Art Moderne, Valencia, 2001–2002, p. 220, translation of whole text pp. 118, 220. Cahun’s text is reprinted in French in Leperlier, ed., Claude Cahun: Ecrits, pp. 539–541.

49 For a useful discussion of different approaches to objectification and the dialectic of self/object in material culture see C. Tilley, ‘Objectification’, in Handbook of Material Culture, in book ed. by C. Tilley, W. Keane, S. Kuechler, M. Rowlands and P. Spyer, London, 2006, pp. 60–73. The following chapter, ‘Agency, Biography and Objects’, by Janet Hoskins, is also useful.

50 See C. Tilley, op. cit., p. 60. 51 Ellen Furlough, ‘Selling the American Way in Interwar France: Prix Uniques and the Salons des Arts Menagers’, Journal of Social History, vol. 26, no. 3, 1993 (accessed electronically) , pp. 1–24, see pp. 7, 10.

52 Ibid., p. 10, quoted from ‘La Psychologie du Home’, L’Art Ménager, January, 1928.

53 R.L. Frost, ‘Machine Liberation: Inventing Housewives and Home Appliances in Interwar France’, French Historical Studies, vol. 18, no. 1, 1993, pp. 109–130, quote from p. 119. For another useful article, see F. Werner, ‘Du Ménage à l’Art Ménager: L’Evolution du travail ménager et son écho dans la presse féminine française de 1919 à 1939’, Le Mouvement Social, vol. 129, 1984, pp. 61–87.

54 See N.J. Troy, Modernism and the Decorative Arts in France: Art Nouveau to Le Corbusier, New Haven, CT, and London, 1991, and the chapter by E. da Costa Meyer, ‘Simulated Domesticities: Perriand before Le Corbusier’, in M. McLeod, ed., Charlotte Perriand: An Art of Living, New York, 2003, pp. 22–35. The whole of this book is excellent on the context of interior design in France during Perriand’s career.

55 Da Costa Meyer, op. cit., pp. 30–31. 56 See McLeod, ed., Charlotte Perriand, pp. 160, 166. 57 Quoted by Joan Ockman, ‘Lessons from Objects: Perriand from the Pioneer Years to the “Epoch of Realities”, in McLeod, ed., Charlotte Perriand, pp. 154–181, p. 164.

58 See, for example, Perriand’s imagined ‘dialogue’ with a secretary, published in Vendredi, 22 May 1936, about the latter’s work environment, in which the designer convinces the secretary to try out some modern storage units alongside items of traditional period furniture, which the secretary does not wish to give up. McLeod, ed., Charlotte Perriand, p. 260.

Notes 59 Freud’s essay ‘The Uncanny’ was first published in 1919; see The Pelican Freud Library, vol. 14, Art and Literature, Harmondsworth, 1985, pp. 335–376. It might be argued that all photographs, by creating a ‘double’ and inviting us to to question material reality, (see Freud, ‘The Uncanny’ p. 371) partake of the uncanny.

60 I was very tempted to engage in a discussion of closets and disclosure here, inspired by Henry Urbach’s suggestive article ‘Closets, Clothes, disClosure’, in D. McCorquodale et al., Desiring Practices: Architecture, Gender and the Interdisciplinary, London, 1996, pp. 246–263. However, as Urbach points out on page 254, the homosexual ‘closet’ was not named as such before the 1960s.

61 See description of Albin-Guillot and her home in Collection de Photographies, Centre Georges Pompidou, p. 28.

62 These are referred to in an unpublished account in a private archive, describing their imprisonment and attempts on their release to retrieve their stolen property and clothing.

63 ‘Mais curieusement, j’ai toujours été frappée par le fait que les homosexuels – hommes ou femmes – avaient des goûts très classiques, et c’est toujours le cas aujourd’hui. Les hommes ou les femmes que je connais n’ont pas un goût très marqué pour le modernisme, l’avant-garde. Les homosexuels sont assez louis-philippards en ce qui concerne les intérieurs, la décoration de leurs appartements: toujours des vieux meubles!’ Azenor interviewed in Barbedette and Carassou, op. cit., p. 74.

64 J. Baudrillard, The System of Objects, London, 1996, p. 25. Baudrillard argues that the contemporary interior is based on the domination of objects as part of a structural discourse, on functionality, and the notion of ‘furnishing’ gives way to that of ‘interior design’.

65 For more on anti-commodification and culture, see L. Hyde, The Gift: How the Creative Spirit Transforms the World, Edinburgh, 2006 (first pub. 1979).

66 See large envelope 3, with account addressed to Marianne Ashridge, 13.8.1948, p. 26, in private archive on deposit at Jersey Museum.

67 The negatives of these are in a private archive on deposit in Jersey Museum, and the wallet is inscribed with the date and subject of the photographs and negatives.

68 There is a related print in Jersey; Downie, ed., op. cit., p. 191. 69 For useful discussion and illustration, see S. Harris, op. cit., pp. 182–185, fig. 25.



Claude Cahun 70 Cahun, ‘Prenez Garde aux Objects Domestiques’, quoted from the English translation in Claude Cahun, Institut Valencia d’Art Moderne, Valencia 2001–2002, p. 220, emphasis in original.

71 Freud, ‘The Uncanny’, p. 347. On the compulsion to repeat/uncanny, see p. 361.

72 Ibid., p. 371. 73 See Kiaer’s fine book Imagine No Possessions: The Socialist Objects of Russian Constructivism, Cambridge, MA, and London, 2005.

74 Kiaer, op. cit., p. 215. 75 Ibid., p. 216. 76 Kiaer is referring to Boris Arvatov’s views on the object here (p. 68) and to Marx (p. 69). Marx’s fifth thesis on Feuerbach states: ‘Feuerbach, not satisfied with abstract thinking, appeals to sensuous contemplation; but he does not conceive sensuousness as practical, human-sensous activity.’ K. Marx and F. Engels, Selected Works, Moscow, London and New York, 1973, p. 29.

77 For Arvatov’s text, see ‘Everyday Life and the Culture of the Thing (Toward the Formulation of the Question)’, October, no. 81, 1997, (accessed electronically), pp. 1–8 quote from p. 5.

78 Kiaer, op. cit., pp. 210–211. 79 Red folder, Robert Desnos, private archive, UK.



Abigail Solomon-Godeau, ‘The Legs of the Countess’, October, 1986, no. 39, pp. 65–108, p. 108. For different, but also very interesting, accounts of the Countess and her images, see the catalogue La Comtesse de Castiglione par Elle-même, edited by P. Apraxine and X. Demange, Paris, Musée d’Orsay, 12.10.1999–23.1.2000.

2 3

La Comtesse de Castiglione, pp. 76–79. Solomon-Godeau, p. 83: ‘Mirror of male desire, a role, an image, a value, the fetishized woman attempts to locate herself, to affirm her subjectivity within the rectangular space of another fetish – ironically enough, the mirror of nature’.


For Woodman’s work see H. Chandès, ed., Francesca Woodman, Paris and Zurich, 1998 and the more interesting C. Townsend, Francesca Woodman, London, 2006, especially pp. 36–37.

Notes 5

See D. Bright, ed., The Passionate Camera: Photography and Bodies of Desire, London and New York, 1998; also T. Boffin and J. Fraser, eds, Stolen Glances: Lesbians Take Photographs, London, 1991, H. Hammond, Lesbian Art in America: A Contemporary History, New York, 2000 and K. Newton and C. Rolph, eds, Masquerade: Women’s Contemporary Portrait Photography, Cardiff, 2003 (Pucill’s photographs are on pp. 102–105). See also J. Spence and J. Soloman, eds, What can a woman do with a camera?, London, 1995.


L. Pauli ed., Acting the Part: Photography as Theatre, National Gallery of Canada, and Merrell, London and New York, 2006, pp. 142, 149.


Select Bibliography


Private archives; archive of Cahun and Malherbe photographs, papers, magazines and books at the Jersey museum The Weighbridge, St Helier, Jersey; identity cards and papers of Cahun and Malherbe at the archives in St Helier, Jersey.


Bifur, 1929–1931, Editions du Carrefour, re-edition, Paris, 1976; Le Crapouillot, 1937–1938; Minotaure, 1935–1936; L’Ouvrière, 1922–1935; Le Phare de la Loire, October 1913–July 1914; Regards (sur le Monde du Travail), 1932–1935; Vogue, 1930–1945; La Coiffure et les Modes, 1931–1933, thereafter Votre Beauté, 1933– 1936; Vu: Journal de la Semaine, 1928–1935.


Jalousie (La Garçonne), directed by Jean de Limur, with Marie Bell, Suzy Solidor, Arletty, Edith Piaf, 90 mins, 1936. Playing a Part: The Story of Claude Cahun, a film by Lizzie Thynne, 45 mins, 2004. Portrait d’Hélène Azenor: Instants de Vie, directed by C. Lesselier and J. Vanbemburghe, 21 mins, 1987.


Allain, P. ‘Sous les Masques du Fard: Moore, Claude Cahun et quelques autres…’, La Nouvelle Revue Nantaise, no. 3, Autour de Marcel Schwob: Les



Claude Cahun Croisades d’une Famille républicaine à travers 50 ans de Presse nantaise, Nantes, Les Presses de la Contemporaine, 1997, pp. 115–130 Apraxine, P., and Demange, X. eds, La Comtesse de Castiglione par Elle-même, Musée d’Orsay, Paris, 1999 Apter, E., Feminizing the Fetish: Psychoanalysis and Narrative Obsession in Turnof-the-century France, Ithaca, NY, and London, 1991 Azenor, H., Histoire d’Une, Paris, 1988 Azenor, H., Vivre tout Haut, Paris, 1989 Barbedette, G. and Carassou, M. eds, Paris Gay 1925, Paris, 1981 Bard, C., Les Garçonnes: Modes et Fantasmes des Années Folles, Paris, 1998 Barnet, M.-C., ‘To Lise Deharme’s Lighthouse: Le Phare de Neuilly, a forgotten Surrealist Review’, French Studies, vol. 57, no. 3, 2003, pp. 323–334 Barthes, R., Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography, London, 1993 Bate, D., ‘The Mise-en-Scène of Desire’, in Mise-en-Scène: Claude Cahun, Tacita Dean, Virginia Nimarkoh, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, 1994, pp. 5–15 Benaïm, L., Le Pantalon: Une Histoire en Marche, Paris, 1999 Benstock, S., ‘Paris Lesbianism and the Politics of Reaction, 1900–1940’, in M.B. Duberman, M. Vicinus and G. Chauncey, Jr, eds, Hidden from History: Reclaiming the Gay and Lesbian Past, Harmondsworth, 1991, pp. 322–346 Bonnet, M.-J., Les Deux Amies: Essai sur le Couple de Femmes dans l’Art, Paris, 2000 Bonnet, M.-J., Les Relations Amoureuses entre les Femmes XVIe–XXe Siècle, 2nd edn, Paris, 2001 Bouqueret, C., Des Années Folles aux Années Noires: La Nouvelle Vision Photographique en France 1920–1940, Paris, 1997 Bouqueret, C., Les Femmes Photographes de la Nouvelle Vision en France 1920–1940, Paris, 1998 Burgin, V., The Remembered Film, London, 2004 Burkhard, B., French Marxism between the Wars: Henri Lefebvre and the ‘Philosophies’, New York, 2000 Cahun, C., Aveux non Avenus, Paris, 1930 Cahun, C., Les Paris sont Ouverts, Paris, 1934 Caillois, R., The Mask of Medusa, London, 1964 Chasseguet-Smirgel, J., ed., Female Sexuality: New Psychoanalytic Views, London, 1981

Select Bibliography Claude Cahun, Institut Valencia d’Art Moderne, Valencia, 2001–2002 Claude Cahun Photographe, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Paris, 1995 Cole, J., ‘Claude Cahun, Marcel Moore, and the Collaborative Construction of a Lesbian Subjectivity’, in N. Broude and M.D. Garrard, eds, Reclaiming Female Agency: Feminist Art History after Postmodernism, Berkeley, 2005, pp. 343–360 Crane, D., Fashion and its Social Agendas: Class, Gender and Identity in Clothing, Chicago, 2000 Deharme, L., Le Coeur de Pic: Illustré de Vingt Photographies par Claude Cahun, Rennes, 2004 (facsimile of first edn pub. Paris, 1937) Delpla, F., ’Les Communistes français et la sexualité’, Le Mouvement Social, no. 91, 1975, pp. 121–152 Denoyelle, F., La Lumière de Paris: Les Usages de la Photographie 1919–1939, 2 vols, Paris, 1997 Dijkstra, B., Idols of Perversity: Fantasies of Feminine Evil in Fin-de-siècle Culture, New York and Oxford, 1986 Doan, L., Fashioning Sapphism: The Origins of a Modern English Lesbian Culture, New York, 2001 Doane, M.-A., The Desire to Desire: The Woman’s Film of the 1940s, Basingstoke, 1987 Downie, L., ed., Don’t Kiss Me: The Art of Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore, London, 2006 Doy, G., Materializing Art History, Oxford and New York, 1998 Doy, G., Picturing the Self: Changing Views of the Subject in Visual Culture, London, 2005 Doy, G., ‘Another Side of the Picture: Looking Differently at Claude Cahun’, in L. Downie, ed., Don’t Kiss Me: The Art of Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore, London, 2006, pp. 72–82 Elliott, B., and Wallace, J.-A., Women Artists and Writers: Modernist (Im)positionings, London and New York, 1994 Evans, C., ‘Masks, Mirrors and Mannequins: Elsa Schiaparelli and the Decentered Subject’, Fashion Theory, vol. 3, no. 1, 1999, pp. 3–32 Follain, C., ‘Lucy Schwob and Suzanne Malherbe – Résistantes’, in L. Downie, ed., Don’t Kiss Me: The Art of Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore, London, 2006, pp. 83–95 Freud, S., ‘The “Uncanny”, in Art and Literature, The Pelican Freud Library, vol. 14, Harmondsworth, 1985, pp. 336–376



Claude Cahun Garber, M., and Vickers, N.J., eds, The Medusa Reader, New York and London, 2003 Golan, R., Modernity and Nostalgia: Art and Politics between the Wars, New Haven, CT, and London, 1995 Harris, S., Surrealist Art and Thought in the 1930s: Art, Politics and the Psyche, Cambridge, 2004 Heath, S., ‘Joan Rivière and the Masquerade’, in V. Burgin, J. Donald and C. Kaplan, eds, Formations of Fantasy, London and New York, 1986, pp. 45–61 Johnston, P., Real Fantasies: Edward Steichen’s Advertising Photography, Berkeley, 2000 Kemp, T., Stalinism in France, vol. 1, The First Twenty Years of the French Communist Party, London, 1984 Kiaer, C., Imagine No Possessions: The Socialist Objects of Russian Constructivism, Cambridge, MA, and London, 2005 Kline, K., ‘In or Out of the Picture: Claude Cahun and Cindy Sherman’, in W. Chadwick, ed., Mirror Images Women: Surrealism and Self-Representation, Cambridge, MA, and London, 1998, pp. 66–81 Lacan, J., Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-analysis (intro. D. Macey), Harmondsworth, 1994 Lacan, J., ‘The Quilting Point’, in The Psychoses: The Seminar of Jacques Lacan (ed. J.-A. Miller), Book III, 1995–1996, (trans. R. Grigg), London, 1993, sect. 21, pp. 259–270 Latimer, T.T., ‘Looking Like a Lesbian: Portraiture and Sexual Identity in 1920s Paris’, in W. Chadwick and T.T. Latimer, eds, The Modern Woman Revisited: Paris Between the Wars, New Brunswick, NJ, and London, 2003, pp. 127–143 Latimer, T.T., Looking like a Lesbian: The Sexual Politics of Portraiture in Paris between the Wars, Ph.D. thesis, Stanford University, CA, 2003, UMI dissertations, Ann Arbor, MI, 2003 Leperlier, F., Claude Cahun: L’Ecart et la Métamorphose, Paris, 1992 Leperlier, F., ed., Claude Cahun: Ecrits, Paris, 2002 Lesselier, C., ‘Silenced Resistances: Lesbians in France, 1930–1968’, Journal of Homosexuality, vol. 25, parts 1/2, 1993, pp. 105–125 Lévi-Strauss, C., ‘Split Representation in the Art of Asia and America’, in Structural Anthropology, vol. 1, Harmondsworth, 1977, pp. 245–268 Lewis, H., The Politics of Surrealism, New York, 1988

Select Bibliography Lionel-Marie, A., and Sayag, A., Collection de Photographies du Musée National d’Art Moderne 1905–1948, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, 1996 Mack, R., ‘Facing down Medusa (An Aetiology of the Gaze)’, Art History, vol. 25, no. 5, 2002, pp. 571–604 Meyer, E. da Costa, ‘Simulated Domesticities: Perriand before Le Corbusier’, in M. McLeod, ed., Charlotte Perriand: An Art of Living, New York, 2003, pp. 22–35 Milligan, J.E., The Forgotten Generation: French Women Writers of the Inter-war Period, Oxford and New York, 1996 Monahan, L.J., ‘Radical Transformations: Claude Cahun and the Masquerade of Womanliness’, in M.C. de Zegher, ed., Inside the Visible: An Elliptical Traverse of 20th Century Art, in, of, and from the Feminine, Cambridge, MA, and London, 1996, pp. 125–134 Ockman, J., ‘Lessons from Objects: Perriand from the Pioneer Years to the “Epoch of Realities”’, in M. McLeod, ed., Charlotte Perriand: An Art of Living, New York, 2003 Oehsen, K. von, ‘Claude Cahun’ – Published/Unpublished. The Textual Identities of Lucy Schwob 1914–1944, unpublished D.Phil. thesis, University of East Anglia, 2003 Owens, C., ‘Photography en Abyme’, ‘The Medusa Effect, or, The Specular Ruse’ and ‘Posing’, all in S. Bryson, B. Kruger, L. Tillman and J. Weinstock, eds, Beyond Recognition. Representation, Power and Culture, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1992, pp. 16–30, 191–200, 201–217 Pierre, J., ed., Investigating Sex: Surrealist Discussions 1928–1932, London, 1992 Poor, K., Bodies of Resistance: The Late Work of Claude Cahun, BA Hons thesis, Columbia University, NY, 2003 Reynolds, S., ‘Camera Culture and Gender in Paris in the 1930s: Stills and Movies’, Nottingham French Studies, no. 31, 1992, pp. 39–51 Reynolds, S., France Between the Wars: Gender and Politics, London, 1996 Rivière, J., ‘Womanliness as a Masquerade’, in V. Burgin, J. Donald and C. Kaplan, et al., eds, Formations of Fantasy, London and New York, 1986, pp. 35–44 Roberts, M.L., Civilization without Sexes: Reconstructing Gender in Postwar France, 1917–1927, Chicago, 1994 Roberts, M.L., ‘Samson and Delilah Revisited: The Politics of Women’s Fashion in 1920s France’, American Historical Review, June, 1993, pp. 657–680 Roudinesco, E., Jacques Lacan, New York, 1997



Claude Cahun Sautman, F. C., ‘Invisible Women: Lesbian Working-Class Culture in France, 1880–1930’, in J. Merrick and B.T. Ragan, Jr, eds, Homosexuality in Modern France, New York and Oxford, 1996, pp. 177–201 Schuyf, J., ‘“Trousers with Flies!!” The Clothing and Subculture of Lesbians’, Textile History, vol. 24, no. 1, 1993, pp. 61–73 Schwartz, A.E., Sexual Subjects: Lesbians, Gender and Psychoanalysis, London and New York, 1998 Smith-Rosenberg, C., ‘Discourses of Sexuality and Subjectivity: The New Woman, 1870–1936’, in M.B. Duberman, M. Vicinus and G. Chauncey, Jr, eds, Hidden from History: Reclaiming the Gay and Lesbian Past, Harmondsworth, 1991, pp. 264–280 Snauwaert, D., and Ander, H., eds, Claude Cahun Bilder, Munich, 1997 Sohn, A.-M., ‘La Garçonne face à l’opinion publique: type littéraire ou type social des années 20?’, Le Mouvement Social, vol. 80, 1972, pp. 3–27 Solomon-Godeau, A., ‘The Legs of the Countess’, October, 1986, no. 39, pp. 65–108 Solomon-Godeau, A., ‘The Equivocal “I”:Claude Cahun as Lesbian Subject’, in S. Rice, ed., Inverted Odysseys: Claude Cahun, Maya Deren, Cindy Sherman, Cambridge, MA, and London, 1999, pp. 111–126 Spector, J.J., Surrealist Art and Writing 1919/1939: The Gold of Time, Cambridge, 1997 Stevenson, J., ‘Claude Cahun: An Analysis of her Photographic Technique’, in L. Downie, ed., Don’t Kiss Me: The Art of Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore, London, 2006, pp. 46–55 Stewart, M.L., ‘Marketing Fabrics and Femininity in Interwar France’, Textile History, vol. 35, no. 1, 2004, pp. 90–111 Tamagne, F., Histoire de l’Homosexualité en Europe: Berlin, Londres, Paris 1919–1939, Paris, 2000 Tamagne, F., Mauvais Genre? Une Histoire des Représentations de l’Homosexualité, Paris, 2001 Tilley, C., ‘Objectification’, in C. Tilley, W. Keane, S. Kechler, M. Rowlands and P. Spyer, Handbook of Material Culture, London, 2006, pp. 60–73 Trotsky, L., Leon Trotsky on France, New York, 1979 Tseëlon, E., ed., Masquerade and Identities: Essays on Gender, Sexuality and Marginality, London, 2001 Uzanne, O., ed., Féminies, Paris, 1896

Select Bibliography Vayzman, L., The Self-Portraits of Claude Cahun: Transgression, Self-representation, and Avant-garde Photography, 1917–1947 (France), Ph.D., Yale University, NY, 2002 Welby-Everard, M., ‘Imaging the Actor: The Theatre of Claude Cahun’, Oxford Art Journal, vol. 29, no. 1, 2006, pp. 1–24 Werner, F., ‘Du Ménage à l’Art Ménager: L’Evolution du travail ménager et son écho dans la Presse féminine française de 1919 à 1939’, Le Mouvement Social, vol. 129, 1984, pp. 61–87



Adorno, Theodor 72, 76

camouflage 62–66, 102, figs 11,

AEAR (Association des


Ecrivains et des Artistes

Chanel, Coco 89–90

Révolutionnaires) 59,

Le Coeur de Pic 109, 116–117,

111–112, 130

120–123, fig.23

Albin-Guillot, Laure 68, 131

collaboration (with Suzanne

anarchism 69, 95

Malherbe) 19, 143

anorexia 30

colour photography 74–75

Aragon, Louis 107, 109, 111,

Communist Party 33, 91, 97,


102, 109–111, 118, 124

Arndt, Gertrud 40

and art 111, 113–115, 126

Arvatov, Boris 137–138

and dress 102–107

Aveux non Avenus 3, 5–6, 8, 17,

and Popular Front 116,

46–47, 53, 58–59, 80, 89, 127,


133, fig.2

see also Stalinism

Azenor, Hélène 33, 96–98,

consumer objects/commodities


128–129, 137–138 Contre-Attaque 59, 124

Barthes, Roland 1, 12–13, 39

Countess Castiglione 141–143,

Bifur, 8, 121

145, fig.28

biography 4, 13

couple, the 62

Birot, Pierre-Albert 46 body 85–86, 110, 141–146

Dali, Salvador 110, 126

Breton, André 3, 12, 64, 110,

Dayot, Armand 23–25, 34

114, 119–120, 124, 134

death of the author 4

Burgin, Victor 11–12

Deharme, Lise 8, 109, 117,

Butler, Judith 10, 36–37, 50

120–122 dialectics 114, 121, 124, 128,

Caillois, Roger 12, 62–66, 102,



Dietrich, Marlene 69, 75, 101



Claude Cahun Doane, Mary-Anne 75–76, 78

Horney, Karen 55–56

domestic objects 128–136

L'Humanité 109, 116–117

see also Prenez Garde

hysteria 30

aux Objets Domestiques interior design/decoration Ellis, Havelock 4, 32 embodied spectator 34–35

129–134, fig.26 images of woman 23–25, 36

Engels, Frederick 4

see also mass culture

exhibitions of Cahun's work

imagery of women

8–9, 29 eyebrows 78, 88, 104 fashion journalism 25–27, 70, 83, 105–106 feminism 26, 36–37, 104, 147

Inversions (gay periodical) 95–96 jeans 91–92, fig.19 Jewish identity 18, 27–28, 112 Jones, Ernest 51–52, 56

feminist/women's art history 9–10 femmes fatales 17, 20

Kahlo, Frida 4, 40–41, 78, 91–92, fig.19

see also Medusa fetishism 16, 141–143 flowers 64, 66, 74, 99, 135, figs 11, 12, 27 Freud, Sigmund 4, 32, 44, 49, 51, 60, 97, 121, 131

Lacan, Jacques 4, 10, 12–13, 18–19, 34, 39, 51, 75, 121 and Cahun 59–60 see also mirrors Lamba, Jacqueline 64, 110, 134

and women 55–57

Lefebvre, Henri 120

see also fetishism, the

left politics 85, 118–120


Leperlier, François 11, 25

Freund, Gisèle 67–68

lesbian and gay studies 11, 147

Frissell, Toni 73–74, 76,

lesbian dress 85, 90, 93–102 lesbian/homosexual identities

Gide, André 97

14, 31–35, 47, 52, 56, 60, 87,

Grosz, Elizabeth 10

93–102, 111, 132–133, 146 and far left 119–120

hair 15–17, 78, 86, 90–93, 104, 106, 114

and Stalinism 107 and Surrealism 119–120

Hall, Radclyffe 94

see also Azenor, Freud,

Hegel, Georg 120–121, 124

lesbian dress

Héroïnes 17

Lévi-Strauss, Claude 47–49, 62

Index make-up 14, 76–77, 89

paranoiac 64, 126

male spectator 61, 141

Les Paris sont Ouverts 14, 107,

Marx, Karl 4, 33, 113, 137

109, 111–116, 118–119, 122,

Marxism 11, 13, 37, 111, 119, 125,

125, 139

134, 146 mask 12, 14, 21, 23, 26, 38–49, 63, 69, 73, 76–79, 88, 98, 139, 143, figs 6, 7, 8, col.pls 2, 5, 6 cosmetic masks 89 and lesbian and gay

Pelletier, Madeleine 30, 105–106 performative/performance 9, 12, 21, 45, 54, 83, 108, 141, 143 see also masquerade

identity 96

Perriand, Charlotte 104, 129–131

of women 78–79

photographic technique and

see also camouflage, mass culture imagery of women, mimicry masquerade 44–45, 49–54, 78, 98, 108 mass culture imagery of women 14, 66, 73–80 Medusa 15, 17–20, 25–26, 34, 62–63

Cahun 3, 8–9, 20, 68 photographic wallets 8, 69–70, figs 13, 14 photomontage/collage 5, 9, 115 Popular Front 116, 124–125, 130 post-feminism 10–11 postmodern theories 10–11, 36–37, 146 Prenez Garde aux Objets

men's fashions 100, 102

Domestiques 14, 57, 124–128,

mimicry 62–66, 102, 126, 145

135–136, 139, 147

mirrors 5–6, 8, 14, 18, 41, 56–59, 69, 73, figs 9, 10 and photography 57–58

queer theory 11 quilting points 13, 39

see also Lacan, mass culture imagery of

revolution 138–139


Rivière 10, 14, 49–53, 56, 78

Modotti, Tina 86

Rodchenko, Alexander 136–137 Ross, Rhiannon 24–25,

‘new woman’ 90, 98, 129–130 Nietzsche, Frederick 50–51

sailor suit 23–25, 85, 88, 96 Saint John the Baptist (by

Occupation of France 100–101 Occupation of Jersey 11, 37, 72, 86–87, 108, 115, 132–133, 139, 146

Leonardo) 30, 134 Schiaparelli, Elsa 41 Schwob, Marcel 13, 17, 20–21, 27–28



Claude Cahun self 5, 12–13, 34, 37–39, 49, 57, 74, 119, 127, 146 professional self 53 true self 85

Tierney, Gene 97, ties 98 Trotsky, Leon 4, 91, 97, 111, 113, 115

see also Lacan, mirrors

and Trotskyism 102,

shadows 38–40 Sherman, Cindy 10, 36, 49–50, 54,

104, 117–118 trousers 85–87, 90–92, figs 15, 18, 21

skin 49, 74, 79–80

with flies 99, 101, 108

Solidor, Suzy 24 Solomon-Godeau, Abigail 10–11,

uncanny, the 44, 77–78, 131, 135

141–143 split-representation 48–49, 62

veil 45–46

Stalinism 103–104, 106–107, 113,

Vues et Visions 23

118, 130, 136 Steichen, Edward 70, 75 ‘style’ 85

women and photography 67–73, 85, figs 13, 14

Surrealism 30, 93, 97, 110–112,

see also Freund,

114, 146–147

Yevonde, Frissell,

and photography 122–123 and women 30, 71, 110

Albin-Guillot ‘woman’ and psychoanalysis 54–56

Surrealist objects 64, 121–129, 133 Surrealist politics 14, 109–111, 120

see also Rivière women artists and writers 29, 33 women in French society 28–32

Symbolism 13, 17, 33, 35, 43, 72

Woodman, Francesca 143, fig.30

Tamagne, Florence 31

Yevonde, Madame 53

tattoos 24, 48, 62

A Sensual Politics of Photography Claude Cahun  

A Sensual Politics of Photography Claude Cahun