Claude Cahun

Claude Cahun, Self-Portrait
Claude Cahun
ca. 1927
From Three Photorgraphs Portfolio
© Claude Cahun, Courtesy of Haverford College Special Collections
Aperture Foundation Purchase, November 2007

(1894 – 1954) was a French photographer and writer. Her work was both political and personal, and often played with the concepts of gender and sexuality.

Born Lucy Schwob in Nantes, she was the niece of writer Marcel Schwob and the great-niece of Orientalist David Léon Cahun. Her mother’s mental problems meant that she was brought up by her maternal grandmother, Mathilde Cahun.

Around 1919, she settled on the pseudonym Claude Cahun, intentionally selecting a sexually ambiguous name, after having previously used the names Claude Courlis and Daniel Douglas. During the early twenties, she settled in Paris with her life-long partner and step-sister Suzanne Malherbe. For the rest of their lives together, Cahun and Malherbe (who adopted the pseudonym Marcel Moore) collaborated on various written works, sculptures, and collages. She published articles and novels, notably in the periodical “Mercure de France”, and befriended Henri Michaux, Pierre Morhange and Robert Desnos. Throughout her life, she worked on a series of monologues called “Heroines,” which was based upon female fairy tale characters and intertwining them with witty comparisons to the contemporary image of women. In 1929, a photograph of her was published in the journal Bifur. The following year, her autobiographical essay Aveux non avenus, illustrated with photomontages, was published by Carrefour.

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