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Press release

  • 23 November 2004
  • Screen debut for a forgotten heroine

    Claude Cahun

    Claude Cahun, a self-portrait from 1919, courtesy of the Jersey Heritage Trust

    A film about Claude Cahun, one of photography's unsung heroines, is to be screened this month in Jersey, where the artist lived during the Nazi Occupation.


    Playing A Part will show at the Jersey Arts Centre on 30 November.

    Film-maker Lizzie Thynne, who also lectures at the University of Sussex, examines the life and work of Claude Cahun (real name Lucy Schwob, born 1894, died 1954) - rebel, lesbian, Jew and one of the greatest, yet barely recognised, photographers of the 20th century.

    The film, part documentary, part artistic exploration, features archive film footage, Cahun's own words and images and interviews with key critics and contemporaries. Lea Anderson, founder of leading dance group The Cholmondeleys, also collaborated on the work, choreographing the movement sequences based on some of Cahun's stunningly modern-looking photographs.

    Cahun's colourful life was as breathtaking as her photography. Born into a literary French family, she fell in love with her stepsister, Suzanne Malherbe, was part of Andre Breton's Surrealist set in France, aided the Resistance in occupied Jersey and narrowly escaped death at the hands of the Nazis. It is only recently that her life and work have been widely celebrated. Only 300 of her images survived the war and but for the interest of a few dealers they would have been lost to posterity.

    Depicted in one self-portrait as a cross-dressing female dandy with a shaved head and androgynous clothes decades before it was fashionable, Cahun defied and challenged accepted views of men and women, even those of the avant garde Surrealists. She also offered a striking alternative to the blonde glamour of her Surrealist contemporary, Lee Miller. Lee's son Antony Penrose appears in the film, playing his own father, Sir Roland Penrose, in scenes shot at the family home, Farley Farm in Chiddingly, East Sussex.

    The Cahun film has been Lizzie Thynne's passion for several years. Other work includes the award-winning series for Channel 4, Out and Out on Tuesday - the first gay primetime programmes in Europe - as well as shorts for gallery exhibition. She has also published on women's representation and employment in film and TV. Lea Anderson counts the 1998 film Velvet Goldmine, starring Ewan McGregor, among her many distinguished credits.

    Playing A Part was funded by a grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Board and had the support of the Jersey Arts Trust. The film is expected to feature at several festivals, including Cinéma du Reel San Francisco and the London International Lesbian and Gay film Festival. It will also accompany a touring exhibition of Cahun's work curated by Tirza Latimer of the University of California, Berkeley. Lizzie says: "This is an ambitious, experimental piece, but there is a narrative element to it too because Cahun's life was so extraordinary. The aim is to record an almost forgotten woman artist's achievements, her life-long partnership and her bravery." 


    Notes for editors 

    For screening details, contact the Press Office: Maggie Clune or Jacqui Bealing. Tel: 01273 678 888. Email: or


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