Pictures by Women: A History of Modern Photography


Claude Cahun (Lucy Schwob), Marcel Moore (Suzanne Malherbe). Untitled. 1921–22

Gelatin silver print, 9 5/16 x 5 7/8" (23.7 x 15 cm). Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Mrs. Leon Dabo, by exchange. © 2018 Estate of Claude Cahun

Director, Glenn Lowry: Roxana Marcoci, Curator in the Department of Photography

Curator, Roxana Marcoci: Lucy Schwob was born in Nantes, France, in 1894. Then in 1919 she adopted the pseudonym Claude Cahun. After studying at the Sorbonne and then briefly at Oxford, Cahun settled in Paris in the early 1920s, together with her step sister, Suzanne Malherbe, who became her lover, and eventually her life long partner.

The two women were very active in the Parisian avant-garde, and that included the surrealist movement of the 1930s. Now today Cahun is perhaps more celebrated in photographic history for her inventive self-portraits, which she began to make as early as 1911. At that time she was still a teenager. As you can notice, in this particular picture, she shaved her head, she wore men's clothing, she posed in guises that ranged from sort of a very stylish dandy, to more conventionally dressed as a civil servant.

But she also often fashioned feminine persona, masquerading all the time in this artifice of dress and make up, using all kind of masks. She believed that identity is actually constructed from such masks. In one of her writings, in the 1930s, she jotted down the following words: "Under this mask, another mask; I will never finish removing all these faces."

5 / 13