Claude Cahun


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French photographer and writer, born in Nantes as Lucy Schwob. She adopted her androgynous name partly from her grandmother Mathilde Cahun, with whom she lived for much of her childhood, because of the mental illness of her mother. In the early 1920s she moved to Paris, where she established herself as a writer and photographer. Her best-known works are the self-portrait photographs she made, sometimes dressed in male costume with shaved or closely cropped hair, sometimes made up like a doll. In one of the images, What do You Want From Me? (1928), photomontage transforms Cahun into a two-headed figure. Cahun was a lesbian and her works have been frequently analysed from the point of view of gender identity, especially in relation to Surrealism. She was friendly with André Breton, who gave her considerable encouragement. In the 1930s she became increasingly involved with left-wing anti-Fascist movements and in 1937 she moved to Jersey with her step-sister and lifelong companion Suzanne Malherbe. As a result of clandestine activities during the German occupation, they were both imprisoned and narrowly escaped execution. They remained in Jersey after the war, but Cahun's health was broken.

Further Reading

D. Ades, ‘Surrealism, Male–Female’, in Mundy (2000)

Subjects: Photography and Photographs.

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