“Masculine? Feminine? It depends on the situation. Neuter is the only gender that always suits me.”
Claude Cahun claimed their own name at age 24, dropping Lucie Renee Mathilde Schwob in favor of the intentionally gender-neutral Claude. Independance was natural for Claude, whose mother was institutionalized when they were four years old, and who changed schools after dealing with anti-Semitism at their provincial high school in Nantes. Self-portraiture is often adopted as a tool for self-discovery and Claude Cahun began taking self-portraits at 18, and continued throughout their life to push the genre into increasingly surreal and provocative directions.
Cahun’s personas were dramatic and varied—aviator, dandy, doll, body builder, vampires and angels, but the photographs were private ones, often taken by Cahun’s life-partner and fellow gender-neutral artist and writer, Marcel Moore. Though Cahun joined the surrealist art group Association des Écrivains et Artistes Révolutionnaires, in 1932, and became friends with André Breton and René Crevel, Cahun’s mesmerizing self-portraits were unrecognized until 40 years after their death.
Reed Enger, "Claude Cahun, “Under this mask, another mask”," in Obelisk Art History, Published March 23, 2018; last modified September 23, 2020, http://arthistoryproject.com/artists/claude-cahun/.