Thursday, 16 January 2020

Dora Maar

Dora Maar

at Tate Modern.

Born Henriette Theodora Markovitch in 1907, Dora Maar came to occupy an important place in surrealism. She opened her first photographic studio in 1932 and within a few years she had built a photographic practice of remarkable variety, taking assignments in fashion and advertising. She travelled to document social conditions and made wildly inventive images. By the end of the 1930s Maar returned to painting. She would devote herself to this medium for the remainder of her life. She is however remembered mainly for her surrealist photographs and photomontages.

Untitled (portrait in profile), 1936

Untitled (portrait in profile), 1936

Untitled (portrait in profile), 1936

Untitled (portrait in profile), 1936

In this experimental series shown above, Maar combined one portrait with another that she likely produced for advertising purposes. The darkroom techniques she used here would appear again many decades later, in works she produced towards the end of her life. She created abstracted images by placing objects directly on the photosensitive paper before exposing them to light, and she superimposed negatives, scraped their surface, or corroded them using chemicals.

On assignment:

 In 1931 Maar set up studio with director and film-set designer Pierre Kefer at this family home just outside Paris. Specialising in portraits, nudes, fashion and advertising, the studio was as prolific as the artists were connected. Maar called this her 'worldly period' on account of their glamorous clientele.

Untitled (fashion photograph), 1936

Untitled (Nush Eluard), 1935

The Years Lie in Wait for You, 1935

Around 1934, Maar worked on beauty product advertisements for clients including Ambre Solaire and the hair care brand Petrole Hahn.

She likely made this work to advertise an anti-ageing cream. Maar created the photomontage by sandwiching together two negatives and printing them as one unified image. The woman is Maar's close friend Nush Eluard. The second negative depicts a spider's web.

Untitled (element for fashion photography), 1935

Untitled (fashion photograph), 1932-35

Shampoo or Woman's Hair with Soap, 1934

Untitled (photograph for advertisement), 1935

On the street:

Maar's street photography coincided with one of the most unstable periods of French political life. Following WWI and the 1929 economic crash, unemployment levels were high. Under the Third Republic there was a change of government every few months.

On 6 February 1934, right and extreme-right movements organised a demonstration that became the most violent to take place in Paris since the French Commune of 1870-71. It was followed by counter-demonstrations by left-wing movements - the first time the Socialists and the Communists united, forming the beginnings of the Popular Front political coalition. Their election to government in 1936 marked the beginning of social benefits in France.

Like many of her contemporaries, Maar felt compelled to record the lives of society's most disadvantaged. In 1933, without being commissioned by a newspaper or magazine, she travelled alone to the Costa Brava in Catalonia. In 1934 she went to London. On the outskirts of Paris she photographed 'La Zone', an undeveloped area that was home to about 40,000 citizens.

Political convictions motivated these projects. 'I was very much on the left at 25... not like now', she later said. She signed her name to Appel a la Lutte, the manifesto launched by surrealist poet Andre Breton in response to the riots by the far-right. She also participated in the anti-fascist movement Contre-Attaque.

Untitled (medically unfit), 1934

Untitled (lottery ticket dealer seated in front of Lloyds Bank, London), 1934

Untitled, (ragpicker), 1934

Untitled (the grimace), 1933

Untitled (beggar woman, Barcelona), 1933

Untitled (children playing, Barcelona), 1933

Untitled (headstand, Barcelona), 1933

The everyday strange:

As Maar's political leanings brought her close to the surrealists, their shared outlook soon expressed itself in her work. The surrealist movement aimed to transform human experience. Refusing the constraints of modern society, artists and writers advocated for intellectual, as well as social revolution. At the movement's heart was a rejection of the rational in favour of a vision that embraced the power of the unconscious mind.

In contrast to her documentary photography, in these photographs Maar used crops and dramatic angles to offer a disorienting view of the city. They evoke the immediacy of the chance encounter so prized by the surrealists.

Untitled, (Barcelona), 1933


It was not at first obvious to the surrealists how photography could fit into their movement. Whereas they emphasised the spontaneous, and subjective, photography had long been prized as a tool for factual recording.

The answer came in the medium's precarious relationship to reality. If extreme close-ups and unexpected contexts could render the familiar strange, photomontages could create new worlds altogether. Maar's approach and preferred themes - the erotic, sleep, eyes and the sea - aligned perfectly with surrealist ideas. Maar became one of the few photographers included in the major surrealist exhibitions shown during the 1039s in Tenerife, Paris, London, New York and Amsterdam.

Man Ray, Dona Maar, 1936

In 1930, Man Ray politely refused Maar's offer to be his studio assistant, saying there was nothing he could teach her.

Later, their acquaintance grew into friendship through her relationship with Picasso. When Picasso saw this image of Maar in Man Ray's studio, he begged him to trade it for one of his own etchings.

The solarisation technique seen here involves overexposing the print until the tones become reversed. After his assistant Lee Miller accidentally solarised one of his prints, and then started using the technique, Man Ray did the same.

Untitled (Leonor Fini), 1930s

Untitled (Leonor Fini), 1936

Argentinian painter and writer Leonor Fini made decadent imagery in which she challenged male domination. She often represented women in the form of a sphinx.

Though close to many who associated with surrealism, she rejected several of its principles: 'I disliked the deference with which everyone treated Breton. I hated his anti-homosexual attitudes and his misogyny. It seemed that women were expected to keep quiet in café discussions, yet I felt I was just as good as the others'.

Silence, 1935-36

The backdrop for this photograph was taken from a plate by Albert Chevojon depicting the Orangery in the Palace of Versailles. Maar turned the vaulted ceiling upside down and retouched the windows to make them appear closed off. The result is an oppressive space that appears to be in an endless circular motion.

Dora Maar, Jean Moral, Untitled, 1935

Untitled (Hand-Shell), 1934

Untitled (Danger), 1936

Untitled (Forbidden Games), 1935

In the darkroom and the studio:

The conversation

Untitled (Portrait of Pablo Picasso), 1936

Untitled (Portrait of Pablo Picasso), 1936

Pablo Picasso, Portrait of Dora Maar, 1937

Dora Maar, Pablo Picasso, Portrait of Dora Maar, in profile, 1936

Dora Maar, Pablo Picasso, Portrait of Dora Maar, in profile, 1936

The war years:

From 11 May to  4 June 1937, Maar documented the progression of Picasso's painting Guernica. He made this monumental work in response to the 26 April, 1937, aerial bombing of the Basque town one of the worst atrocities of the Spanish Civil War. Until that point, Picasso had never been overtly political, but with Maar his outlook was changing.

Maar's photographs highlight the painting's connection to photography. The black, white and grey palette of Guernica suggests the photo reports of the bombing that Picasso saw in newspapers. Viewing the images of Guernica in sequence Maar recalls the stages of developing a print in the darkroom. 'I think he was inspired by my studio'.

Pablo Picasso, Weeping Woman, 1937

From studies of Guernica came the Weeping Woman, the guise in which Picasso cast Maar over 30 times. Yet for Maar, this was not a portrait but a metaphor for the suffering of the Spanish people during the Civil War.

New landscapes, new surfaces:

In 1942 Maar moved to another studio in Paris which became the setting for a new direction in painting. She made landscapes from the banks of the Seine, a short walk from her front door, and tightly composed still lifes.

The Cage, 1943

Untitled (Still Life), 1941

Untitled (still life with cup and spoon), 1951

Untitled (still life with jar and cup), 1945

La Grand Range, 1958


Though photography still appealed to Maar in her later years, documenting the world outside did not. More exciting, it seems, was what she could create in the darkroom. During the 1980s Maar made photograms by laying household objects or personal items onto photo-sensitive paper, or by tracing light across its surface. These camera-less experimentation testify to her long-held interest in manipulation.

A projection of Abstract Negatives, 1980s

No comments:

Post a Comment