8 Surrealist Photographers You Should Know, from Dora Maar to Man Ray
In 1924, with
Anti-authoritarian and anti-Fascist, the Paris-based movement drew a wide range of artists. Their varied practices have inspired diverse subsequent movements, from
Lee Miller, who is often remembered as
Raised in Buenos Aires and Paris, at age 19 Dora Maar settled more permanently in the French capital. There, she became a classmate of
French artist Claude Cahun defied authority and the status quo both personally and politically. She was a founding member of the Surrealist group Contre-Attaque, which opposed Hitler and fascism. While living on the Nazi-occupied Channel Islands during World War II, she and her lover Marcel Moore, who was also her stepsister, created and distributed anti-Nazi flyers, for which they were sentenced to death (though the penalty was never carried out). Joining Surrealism early, in the 1920s, Cahun also challenged misogyny, homophobia, and antisemitism within the group itself, as a gender-nonconforming, Jewish artist. Insisting on the gender category of “neuter” for herself, she created performative, proto-feminist photographs—many of them self-portraits—that play with identity, combine traditionally masculine and feminine attributes, and deconstruct the concept of the self.
From a carousel in shadow to a grinning mannequin in a pageboy hat, Florence Henri’s subjects become unsettling in slightly off-kilter compositions. Originally trained as a painter, she made her foray into photography as a student at the Bauhaus in the late ’20s, and stated later in life, “What I want above all is to compose the photograph as I do with painting.” Acclaimed for her tightly orchestrated images, she is hailed not just as a Surrealist but also as an innovator in the ’20s photography movement New Vision, which treated the medium as a directed and illuminating reflection of the world. Stemming from her early exposure to
Man Ray moved to Paris in 1921 and became a leading member of the city’s
Before he became one of the foremost Surrealist photographers, Maurice Tabard snapped fashion photographs for the likes of Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue in the 1920s. Later that decade and in the ’30s, while assisting Ray, he delved into solarization, infrared photography, and double exposure, creating strange, often-layered works that meld fantasy, reality, beauty, and distortion. Composition (1929), for example, combines multiple negatives to forge a palimpsest of a nude woman, enveloping hands, and a nondescript architectural space. The image evokes a dreamlike, nearly spiritual metamorphosis. A solarized portrait from around 1930 is similarly disorienting; what at first appear as squiggles in various shades of grey resolve themselves into the subject’s facial features upon closer inspection.
Closely connected to Dada artists like explained that he aimed to “creat[e] new desires.”
Belgian artist René Magritte is known primarily for his thought-provoking paintings, but as a recent exhibition at New York’s Bruce Silverstein Gallery stood to show, he was also a prolific photographer. Never exhibited while he was alive, a trove of his photographs and films was discovered a decade after his 1967 death. Included are family photos, snapshots of his life in Brussels, and posed shots featuring himself and his Surrealist friends. In many of the last category, Magritte experimented with images and compositions that he later translated into now-well-known paintings, such as subjects who mask their faces behind objects or turn their backs to the viewer. As he once stated of the nature of perception and the visible world, “Everything we see hides another thing.”
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