Today’s Doodle celebrates the 127th birthday of French author and surrealist photographer Claude Cahun—best-known for their purposefully unsettling yet playful self-portrait photography that challenged the gender and sexuality norms of the early 20th century.
Claude Cahun was born on this day in 1894 in Nantes, France, into a Jewish family. As the grandchild of the influential French artist David Leon Cahun and a child of a newspaper owner, Cahun came of age surrounded by creativity. At 14, they met Marcel Moore, their lifelong partner and artistic collaborator. After moving to Paris to study literature in 1919, Cahun shaved their head and adopted their famed gender-neutral name in revolt against societal convention.
Despite gender non-conformity being widely considered taboo in 1920s Paris, Cahun’s decision to publicly identify as non-binary met with controversy, but they explicitly rejected the public fuss. Cahun explored gender-fluidity through literature and melancholic self-portraiture such as the 1927 series “I am in training, don’t kiss me.” This work depicted the artist costumed as a feminized weightlifter, blurring the line between masculine and feminine stereotypes. In addition to their lifelong artistic work, Cahun worked with others to resist fascist occupation. The French government awarded their efforts with the Medal of French Gratitude in 1951.
In 2018, the Paris City Council named a street in honor of Cahun and Moore in the French capital’s sixth district, where the duo once lived. In addition to increasing focus on their pioneering work in the Surrealist movement and breaking down gender barriers in the photographic arts, Cahun’s work has influenced gender bending celebrities, the modern LGBTQ+ community, and conversations on identity and expression to this day.
Happy birthday, Claude Cahun!