Flicking through the postcard display at Tate St Ives a few weeks back, I came across some intriguing black and white images by a photographer called Claude Cahun, with a really 1920s, Man Ray feel.
Intrigued, I bought the cards, did some research and followed up by buying a book called ‘Don’t Kiss Me; the art of Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore.’
It turns out that the artists’ names were pseudonyms for a truly extraordinary couple – real-life surrealist stepsisters and lovers Lucy Schwob and Suzanne Malherbe, who were friends of the Paris Surrealists before moving on to Jersey, where they lived and worked together on their extraordinary photographs and drawings, playing with gender and identity (decades before Cindy Sherman et al), until their resistance propaganda during World War Two and the Nazi occupation of the Channel Islands led to their arrest.
They both survived, but their work nearly didn't.
All was nearly lost after their deaths until the images were re-discovered by a private collector in an auction house in Jersey many years later – rather like the more recent rediscovery story of Vivian Maier. It's amazing how lesser lights are often so nearly extinguished and in particular how often female art nearly disappears from the official canon.
Two incredible women - and an incredible body of work.