Niece of the great symbolist writer Marcel Schwob (author of Vies imaginaires), Claude Cahun, was a highly original woman, who considered herself both androgynous and bisexual. By her early twenties, she already had the temperament of a poet and artist, and was involved in various avant-garde trends, allying herself in 1924 with Pierre Morhange and the Philosophies group, and later with Georges Ribemont-Dessaignes and his Bifur review. In 1930, Cahun published a remarkable autobiography, Aveux non avenus, and in 1933 joined up with the surrealists, developing an ardent passion for Andre Breton that would last her lifetime. In a lecture delivered in Brussels on June 1, 1934, titled Qu´est-ce que le surréalisme?, Breton referred to her thus: "A friend, Claude Cahun, in a striking brochure that was just published, Les Paris sont ouverts...sets out to contemplate the des-tiny of poetry by distinguishing between her own necessity and the social facts of her existence," Breton also cited a long passage from the admired text.
Cahun was active in Contre-Attaque—an anti-fascist movement led by Georges Bataille and Breton — as well as in other ultra-leftist organizations. At that time, she began taking extraordinary photographs, both in terms of their technical proficiency and content. Her self-portraits are particularly impressive, as she was tragically unattractive, something she boldly accentuated by shaving her head or drawing geometric shapes on her cheeks.
In 1937 Cahun settled in Jersey, Channel Islands, with her companion, Suzanne Malherbe, a painter, engraver and collagist, who worked under the name Marcel Moore, and together they created photographic tableaux and photo montages.
After joining the French Resistance in Jersey, Cahun and Moore were arrested by the Gestapo in 1944 and released after several months in captivity. Cahun spent her final years in Jersey, having renewed contact with the reconstituted surrealist group in Paris, in 1953. It was not until 1992, with the publication of François Leperlier's biography, Claude Cahun, L'écart et la métamorphose (Jean-vichel Place), as well as an exhibit of her photos at Galerie Zabriskie in Paris, that Claude Cahun's significant contribution to surrealism was recognized.
Born 1894 in Nantes, France; Died 1954 in Saint-Hélier, Channel Islands.