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Playing a part: the story of Claude Cahun

posted on 2023-06-07, 19:57 authored by Lizzie ThynneLizzie Thynne
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  • Published


Film on DVD distributed by author



Department affiliated with

  • Media and Film Publications


The first biographical study in English of Claude Cahun (1894-1954), and her partner/stepsister, Marcel Moore (1892- 1972) who together pioneered the use of photography to radically de-stabilize the genre of auto-portraiture and the representation of gender within it. The research aim was to investigate how a record of significant women artists, long absent from the canon, could be combined with formal strategies which disrupt simple identification. This is achieved by making links between Cahun/Moore's images and the means by which their life and work is explored. While much earlier work on Cahun sees her as a sole creator, the film proposes that her 'self-portraits' are products of collaboration with Moore, for whom they can be seen as a form of performance. Original investigation of primary sources - letters, photographs, and oral testimony - illuminate the centrality of the couple's relationship as well as links between Cahun's real life performances and those in her images. Thynne utilizes the mimicry and doubling which are also key to Cahun/Moore's disorientation of the viewer. Interview set-ups echo the style of the portraits, two performers appear as Cahun; the poses and mise-en-scene of still images are re-staged in moving ones. The form of biographical documentary is expanded using contemporary dance sequences devised with choreographer Lea Anderson, to comment on the artists' techniques. The connections between these sequences and the other material used (stills, actuality and film archive) encourage reflection on the process of biographical and cinematic narrative. The film's completion was funded by an AHRB Research Grant and Jersey Arts. Presentations at international festivals and conferences include Film de Femmes (Creteil, 2006); NFT (2006); Cerisy (2005); IAPL (Rotterdam, 2002); reviewed in The Art Book, 14:1, 2007 ( and Journal of Media Practice vol 7, no2, 2006. Portfolio available containing scripts, notes, reviews and reflective writing.

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