Front / Recto

  • Title Untitled
  • Negative Date 1921–22
  • Print Date 1921–22
  • Medium Gelatin silver print
  • Dimensions Image 9 5/16 × 5 7/8" (23.7 × 15 cm)
  • Place Taken Paris
  • Credit Line Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Mrs. Leon Dabo, by exchange
  • MoMA Accession Number 1648.2001
  • Copyright © 2015 Estate of Claude Cahun
  • Description

    Born into a family of literati, Lucy Schwob was known as a writer, an actress in small vanguard theater productions, and an outspoken member of the lesbian community of Paris between the two world wars. She and her half-sister, Suzanne Malherbe, became partners in life, love, and art, and took the ambiguously gendered pseudonyms Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore for their collaborative theatrical and photographic works. A dozen of their photocollages illustrated Aveux non avenus (Disavowals), of 1930, a surreal, autobiographical mosaic of Cahun’s personal reflections and references to Charles Baudelaire, her uncle Marcel Schwob, Maurice Maeterlinck, Oscar Wilde, and others who lived and wrote against the grain. This remarkable text essentially advocates radical personal freedom, dwelling on the themes of narcissism, dandyism, theatricality, identity, and otherness—which are also the themes of the photographs.

    The photocollages in the book were the more public side of their photographic work. As disconcerting as the book, and as welcome in their cheeky castigation of normalcy, are the photographs that form the larger part of their oeuvre; they predominantly depict Cahun, and sometimes Moore, in a variety of masculine, androgynous, and feminine personas in minimally staged tableaux in their home. They were produced collaboratively, privately, and evidently exclusively for one another, or as Cahun said of Moore, each one’s “other me.”[1]

    Although it could have been made in the neighborhood lab that Cahun and Moore frequented, this print was more likely produced in their home darkroom. Before vertical enlargers became common darkroom equipment, cameras could be turned into enlargers through lateral projection, by securing a negative to the front of the lens and then focusing light through the open back of the camera and through the lens and negative, like a spotlight, to project an image onto unexposed photographic paper. The artists selected and exposed the area of the negative they wanted by changing the distance from the camera to the paper and using the size of paper necessary to contain the enlarged image area. In the case of this untitled photograph, a sheet was torn in half; the paper, among the thinnest of any print in the Walther Collection, would have been easy to tear, even in a darkened room. The only clues to the Enlargement technique are the softness of the details and the crisp white circles at the corners of the print, where the exposure was blocked by the thumbtacks that pinned the paper to the easel. After Cahun and Moore processed and dried the prints, they snipped off these thumbtack “shadows” by clipping the corners. (Under magnification, the edges of the telltale white semicircles are clearly visible.)

    The cropped image, published in Aveux non avenus, shows just Cahun’s head and upper body; in the full image she appears full-length as a dandy in a man’s evening suit, her stance brazen, with hand on hip and improper cigarette in hand. In spite of the fact that it was a crime for women in France to wear trousers at that time, Cahun—like Sylvia Beach, Adrienne Monnier, and others in Paris’s nascent lesbian community—often wore them, in an act of defiance that was both political statement and an expression of her rebellious nature. Cahun’s self-possession, at once saucy and matter-of-fact, is evident in the all the portraits she made with Moore. As a group these works are a most remarkable demonstration of the confessional capacities of the small camera and a major, early masterpiece of the uniquely private theater of the self that photography makes possible.

    —Lee Ann Daffner, Maria Morris Hambourg

    [1] “Autre moi.” See Julie Cole, “Claude Cahun, Marcel Moore, and the Collaborative Construction of a Lesbian Subjectivity,” in Norma Broude and Mary Garrard, eds., Reclaiming Female Agency: Feminist Art History after Postmodernism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005), p. 345.

Back / Verso

  • Mount Type No mount
  • Marks and Inscriptions Inscribed in pencil on sheet verso, top right: 1900/202h 20. Inscribed in pencil on sheet verso, bottom right: cc36554c [with small doodle].
  • Provenance The artists; to the estate of Claude Cahun (Suzanne Malherbe), Isle of Jersey, Channel Islands, 1954 [1]; sold through Langlois Auction House, St. Helier, Isle of Jersey, to John Wakeham, Isle of Jersey, 1972 [2]; to Zabriskie Gallery, New York, 1986 [3]; purchased by Thomas Walther, 1995 [4]; purchased by The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2001.
    [1] Adam J. Boxer, e-mail to Simon Bieling, June 22, 2005; and Louise Downie, ed., Don't Kiss Me: The Art of Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore (New York: Aperture Foundation, 2006), p. 7.
    [2] Downie, ed., Don't Kiss Me, p. 7; and MacGill/Walther 2001(3), p. 5.
    [3] Downie, ed., Don't Kiss Me, p. 7; and Virginia Zabriskie, Zabriskie: Fifty Years (New York: Ruder Finn Press, 2004), p. 62.
    [4] Zabriskie Gallery invoice no. 08321, February 22, 1995, annotated with Zabriskie catalog no. CC36554.


  • Surface Sheen Semireflective
  • Techniques Enlargement via lateral projection
  • PTM
    View of the recto of the artwork made using reflectance transformation imaging (RTI) software, which exaggerates subtle surface details and renders the features of the artwork plainly visible. Department of Conservation, MoMA
  • Micro-raking
    Raking-light close-up image, as shot. Area of detail is 6.7 x 6.7 mm. Department of Conservation, MoMA
    Raking-light close-up image, processed. Processing included removal of color, equalization of the histogram, and sharpening, all designed to enhance visual comparison. Department of Conservation, MoMA

Paper Material

  • Format Unknown
  • Weight Single weight
  • Thickness (mm) 0.16
  • UV Fluorescence Recto negative
    Verso negative
  • Fiber Analysis Softwood bleached sulfite 25%
    Rag 66%
    Bast 9%
  • Material Techniques Developing-out paper
  • XRF

    This work was determined to be a gelatin silver print via X-ray fluorescence (XRF) spectrometry.

    The following elements have been positively identified in the work, through XRF readings taken from its recto and verso (or from the mount, where the verso was not accessible):

    • Recto: P, S, Ca, Zn, Sr, Ag, Ba, Pb
    • Verso: Al, Si, P, Ca, Fe, Zn, Sr, Ba, Pb

    The graphs below show XRF spectra for three areas on the print: two of the recto—from areas of maximum and minimum image density (Dmax and Dmin)—and one of the verso or mount. The background spectrum represents the contribution of the XRF instrument itself. The first graph shows elements identified through the presence of their characteristic peaks in the lower energy range (0 to 8 keV). The second graph shows elements identified through the presence of their characteristic peaks in the higher energy range (8 to 40 keV).

    Areas examined: Recto (Dmax: black; Dmin: green), Verso or Mount (blue), Background (red)
    Elements identified: Al, Si, P, S, Ca, Ag, Ba
    Areas examined: Recto (Dmax: black; Dmin: green), Verso or Mount (blue), Background (red)
    Elements identified: Fe, Zn, Sr, Ag, Pb

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