Claude Cahun: Google honors photographer and provocateur

Yoshiko Yap

Google is honoring the 127th birthday of French author, photographer, and anti-war provocateur Claude Cahun with a homepage Doodle.

Life of Claude Cahun

Claude Cahun was born on October 25, 1894, in Nantes, France, into a prominent Jewish family of authors and journalists. From a young age, Cahun was raised by their grandmother, as their mother suffered from mental illness.

At about the age of 15, Claude Cahun became friends with Marcel Moore, a friendship that grew into artistic collaboration and a romantic relationship between the two. A few years later, the two changed their names together to be gender-neutral rather than feminine. Cahun was especially opposed to the traditional gender binary, deciding at that time to shave their head as a show of rebellion.

Masculine? Feminine? It depends on the situation. Neuter is the only gender that always suits me.

Claude Cahun, Disavowals

Cahun began taking artistic self-portrait photographs around 1912, often making use of surrealism, particularly through the obfuscation or reversal of gender expression. For example, “I am in training, don’t kiss me” pictures Cahun as an overtly feminine bodybuilder. Along with their photography, Claude Cahun was also a prolific author, between short stories, novels, and essays, often in collaboration with Moore.

Much of Cahun’s writing was devoted to speaking out against anti-Semites and particularly Nazis. Not long after Germany occupied the Channel Islands in 1940, where Cahun and Moore were living at the time, the couple turned their full attention to anti-war activism. They created anti-German propaganda including fliers, banners, and pamphlets, craftily dispersed in provocative places like soldiers’ pockets and inside packs of cigarettes.

Tragically, the couple was arrested by German forces in 1944, and sentenced to death for their crimes. While that death sentence was not carried out before Germany was forced out of the Channel Islands, Cahun’s treatment in prison — being not only vehemently anti-Nazi but also of Jewish descent — caused damage they never fully recovered from. Claude Cahun died in 1954.

As Cahun never pursued art for the sake of notoriety, their photography did not receive its due recognition until the 1990s. Since then, Cahun’s work has been acknowledged as being at the forefront of surrealism, as well as an impressive challenge to the oppressive gender and sexual norms of the 1920s, receiving acclaim from the Institute of Contemporary Arts and beyond.

Claude Cahun Google Doodle

Claude Cahun Google Doodle

Today’s Google Doodle for Claude Cahun honors the artist with a brief slideshow, re-creating some of the most iconic looks from their self-portraits, including the previously mentioned weightlifter and one featuring a bold, checkered jacket.

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Google Doodle honors Claude Cahun, photographer, author, and provocateur

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