Although Dora Maar began her career as a painter, she early on decided to pursue photography. In the 1920s and ‘30s, photography was still an emerging artistic field. Associated with advertising and fashion, photography was not thought to threaten the supreme artistic prestige of painting. Pursuing photography thus enabled female artists to bypass the conservative men who dominated the traditional artworld. The connection between photography and fashion also gave photography a flavour of glamour and sensuality. It was for these qualities that photography was taken up by the Surrealists. A leading figure in the contemporary French avantgarde, Maar is probably best known for her provocative surrealist photographs.
In the late 1930s Maar returned to painting but would continue work with photography. In the 1980s she investigated some quite adventurous techniques, for example manipulating negatives and prints to create abstract works. In this late period, she produced photograms: photographic images created without a camera where objects are placed on top of photographic paper that is then exposed to light. Contact Prints contains one photogram from a series of three that Maar made around 1980. This series is a telling example of the photogram’s tactile qualities and of Maar’s enduring surrealist disposition. Compositions (Coral) III shows the silhouette of a piece of coral beside that of a seashell. The difference in the physical qualities of these objects puts them in stark contrast. In the other two works, Compositions (Coral) and Compositions (Coral) II, the coral silhouette is repeated many times on top of itself. This repetition abstracts the pattern of the coral’s internal structure creating an intense and chaotic pattern – completely antithetical to the delicate form of the original object
(By Tom Winter)