I first sparked an interest in the work of Cahun when studying my A Levels exploring gender roles and feminism. Upon being introduced to Cahun I researched more about her and her life during the 1920’s and 1930’s in the midst of World War II. Cahun soon became one of my biggest inspiration for not only her work on challenging the gender norms placed on society but also her determination and her passion for not giving a fuck what anyone thought of her. To me, Cahun was a very strong individual and fought for what she believed in without fear and yet she had every reason to hide away and live a quiet life. In a time where women were treated as second class citizens, she was a photographer, artist and writer. Not only that, she was a lesbian in a time where people were still being drugged, sent to prison, and executed for their ‘abnormal’ sexuality all over the world, including Britain, she embraced it. Furthermore, her same-sex relationship was with her half sister giving her another reason to hide away from the spotlight and to try to blend in with everyone else. But she never did that. When war came to France and Germany invaded, Cahun and her partner moved to Jersey, Channel Islands where again Nazi invasion occurred. Instead of hiding she, and her partner, became rebels sneaking notes into soldiers pockets telling them to kill their sergeants. She inspires me to take risks and to stand up for what I believe in, no matter how obscure it may seem to others. To creatively express myself without caution and without fear of failure or judgement.
Further researching into Cahun’s work I found it intriguing how she challenged gender norms and completely disowned the expected roles of being male or female. She almost created a third gender, one where she stood alone. Cahun, most likely unknowingly, created a movement. One to dispel the stereotypes and characteristics society labels on both men and women. How can we really bracket an individual in a category that has become so generalised and so tainted by societal views when and individual has their own unique characteristics that cannot be subjected to exclusively male or female. I am a huge believer in allowing individuality and that gender is an extremely outdated and old way of thinking. We must see one another as individuals and not expect one thing, one image, or a single representation of an entire half of the human race.
I am constantly inspired by Cahun’s fearlessness and find her work captivating, making most viewers uncomfortable but engaged. Her work really forces the spectator to question what they really think of gender and how someone can be both masculine and feminine. I am also writing about Cahun now as she has recently been featured in two magazines (that I am aware of), Porter Magazine and British Journal of Photography. Here Cahun is featured alongside an artist inspired by her work as well as showing the similarities with both artists work. This work will be displayed together in an exhibition at London’s National Portrait Gallery. This excites me as Cahun was never really found in the photography until after her death in 1972 at the age of 60. Her work continues to inspire and I hope that many others will feel the same once they have been introduced to her through this exhibition that will, I hope, give her the exposure to not only the photography world but to everyone.
Cahun’s work speaks volumes to me and the more I engage with gender politics the more I understand her work. I find every image captivating, not in the composition or in how the image was taken but how she commands the spectators attention. Your eye is immediately drawn to her and her presence. For me Cahun becomes an entirely new person in all of her images, she isn’t held back by gender roles or stereotypes, she is simply being herself.
An image that really stood out to me was the one to the left. Firstly, the use of the surroundings with Cahun placed in the very centre of the frame and the added details of the plain furniture in the background really making the checkered pattern of the jacket drawing the spectators attention. Your eye is then brought up to the direct gaze of the subject moving swiftly the her reflection in the mirror. Something about this image captivates me and intrigues me. I want to find out more and to learn more about the person in the image. Her feminine features, eyes and jaw line, along with her masculine ones, short hair and nose, balance one another out making the image more challenging for the spectator as we so often automatically bracket people into male or female. I love that Cahun is staring straight into the camera while looking away from her own reflection. The expression on her face and the strength in her gaze makes me think she is telling the spectator to accept her because she has accepted herself. She stands strong in her pose and leaves the spectator wanting more.
Cahun is one of my biggest inspirations. Like previously mentioned, she has taught me to take risks in my photography and in my own life. To not worry about what others think of me and to just do it. Her work has helped me grow as a person as well as take more risks in my style, the way I present myself and my photographic work.