Today, I have been working on finishing a midterm paper. Our assignment is to choose 2 art theory lenses and apply them to one artist’s work. Without even giving it a second thought, I knew I wanted to look at Claude Cahun’s photography and use feminist and queer theory to explore her work. I didn’t really think about why I wanted to use her work or what I wanted to say, I just knew instinctively that she was the right artist and that those were the right lenses. I love her work, and I knew that, but it just seemed like such an automatic choice that I felt the need to reflect a bit. On the surface, her work has very little to do with my own. I do not work in self-portrait (although some literalists claim she didn’t either) or identify as lesbian, and right now I am not even working black and white or in traditional gelatin silver print. So what was it that drew me to her in this particular moment in time?
As I was writing today, I had a crystalizing moment and suddenly just GOT it. You know the kind of moment I mean, when you put all the pieces together in a way your brain probably understood ages ago but that you have never been able to bring together all at once. I love Claude Cahun’s work because she takes these easily recognizable and decipherable tropes and then injects other layers of meaning and reinforcement that go way beyond a casual glance at the image. For instance, she made several self-portraits that dealt with duality of identity (usually masculine/feminine) and the lighting reinforces her point so elegantly with what she illuminates and what she leaves unknown (dark). Every prop, every drape of fabric, every facial expression and bodily gesture supports her idea. I am so in awe of that. Nothing in the image is extraneous; everything has a purpose. I think that is where I am trying to get in my current project, and why I keep changing and rearranging my images; an effort to use all elements of the image to reinforce the idea and cut out everything else. In short, I want to be Claude Cahun when I grow up.