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Dora Maar Reflection Essay

Henriette Theodora Markovitch is the name of a French photographer Dora Maar. She is widely known as Pablo Picasso’s lover and muse. Maar can be easily recognized in Picasso’s 1937 oil painting, Weeping Woman. Considering that Markovitch or Maar’s relationship with Picasso was intense, she was depicted and analyzed by critics as a “damsel in distress in need of saving”, even though Picasso insisted that her melancholy behavior was used as a source of inspiration to depict the “vision imposed on him”. Speaking of vision, besides Maar as a factor to both Picasso’s life and art, she also had a vision. Before Picasso and Maar met (as life drastically changed for her when that occurred), she was a successful photographer and painter.

Cecil Beaton Dora Maar behind one of her works, in her studio at 6 rue de Savoie, Paris 1944 Musée Picasso (Paris, France) © The Cecil Beaton Studio Archive at Sotheby’s
The Weeping Woman, 1937 by Pablo Picasso. Dimensions: 2′ 0″ x 1′ 7″
Period: Cubism
Created: 1937
Medium: Oil paint
Subject: Dora Maar,  Suffering
📸 Courtesy of http://www.PabloPicasso.org

Before becoming an established photographer, Maar trained as a painter in Andre Lothe’s studio, and then in the early 1930s, she turned to photography. There were a few that influenced Maar (like  Louis-Victor Emmanuel Sougez, a photographer ), but one to mainly point out would be Man Ray. It is documented that Ray and Maar’s work was frequently compared to each other. This is the first example of Maar’s artistry overshadowed in a struggle to be recognized separate from her male peers. The art contributed by women artists was rejected, mocked, and socially prohibited. This observation was not unusual, yet commonly approached because the art world was male-dominated.

Man Ray. 📸 Credit: N/A

Since the art world is male-dominated as it was then and like it is now, I took an interest in learning that Maar explored the artistic movement of surrealism. Usually, when surrealism is spoken of or written about, the most known names are recalled such as Man Ray, Lee Miller, David Hare, etc. That said, this would be my first time knowing about Maar’s biography and artistry. I learned that she inquired into “alternative artistic avenues” (François-Xavier Trancart, 2019) like film, urban, and fashion photography. Unfortunately, her photographic body of material began to be recognized in the late 80s, but it is a general acknowledgment to appreciate what is documented to observe of her work.

Previously, I mentioned this would be the first time I learned about Maar. Before I specifically discuss Iurther parts of artistry, her biography must be emphasized. Based on my research,  Markovic or Maar is the only daughter of Josip Markovic (1874-1969) who was a Croatian architect. This piece of information I find to be important because architecture is considered to be an art genre. Architecture is one of the seven long-established categories of the arts. I sense that Maar developed an interest in the arts that could have been an influence on Maar. This is just a loose point in my opinion; but could it have been possible that Man’s father, an architect, contributed to her developing interest in art?

In addition, when Maar returned to Paris with her family in 1926, she enrolled and took courses at the Central Union of Decorative Arts and the School of Photography. This is how she obtained her formal education while she also enrolled at the École des Beaux-Arts and the Académie Julian. Along with other women, she was able to receive the same instruction as the men did. As Aforementioned, Maar trained as a painter in Andre Lothe’s studio where she frequently produced work and met Henri Cartier-Bresson. By the 1930s she worked as an assistant for Man Ray and opened up a studio with Pierre Kéfer in Paris. Sources document that the greatest models at that time were welcomed by her to work in the studio.

In collaboration with the models, she managed fashion, nude, and advertising photo shoots for international publications. To add, she worked with Kéker on more commercial photography for advertisements and fashion magazines which were successful. While pursuing a living as a photographer, her father helped finance her projects so she can thrive.

About the will to thrive, it is engaging to have learned that she was inspired by surrealism to integrate that into her work (most of her work shows the heavy use of mirrors and contrasting shadows). The description of her philosophy about art was based on content that reflects reality and correlates to highlights of intuitions or ideas. Throughout Maar’s career, she had loads of ideas and was highly experimental. She thrived by making a name for herself in many ways, she did not allow herself to become stagnant. Instead, she traveled to catalog harsh social conditions as she created original photographs and photomontages.

Maar’s photographs and photomontages are particular artworks that were incorporated into the major surrealist exhibitions. I like the fact that she took an interest and was part of the surrealist movement. She was one of the few women artists to even be close with the movement. To note, her affiliation with the surrealists led her to experiment with staged images, darkroom experiments, collages & photomontage. Opposite of using magazines and newspapers, she used her images from landscape to street photography to create new juxtapositions of work. A play between reality and imagination, testing the unconscious as her work was described as astounding and otherworldly.

Moreover, experimental photography was a field that quickly expanded at the beginning of her career, and she was able to stably capitalize off it. Eventually, she devoted herself to painting again in the remaining time of her life.

Referring back to her photography work, I would like to describe my likeness to a few of them. First, “Untitled (Shell’s hand)”, 1934’s photomontage, is fascinating to me. From general observation, the technique of photomontage is a practice that I am familiar with, but I wonder how this piece was produced. There are a few theories about production from sources. One source is from Art Blart- the art and cultural memory archive. A few of Maar’s compositions are described as eroticism, well on the verge of it. Untitled (Shell’s hand) is a photo montage that depicts fingers sensually crawling out of a shell and digging into the sand. Sources would be correct to describe her approach through photomontages as mysterious. It simply is. This specific photomontage could very well be erotic, hinting at the symbolism of sex.

Image four of Dora Maar’s “Untitled (Shell’s hand)”, 1934 photo montage. 📸Credit: Photograph by Dora Maar / Courtesy Centre Pompidou / Philippe Migeat / RMN-GP

I think Untitled (Shell’s hand) is quite fascinating to look at. It is odd and destructive to look at. I refer to the black and gray horizontal and downward sky of clouds. That element is very stormy and dramatic in contrast. Another element like the sand is full of texture and grain. The sand draws my eye instantly to it, as the textualized bead-like shell opens up for a hand then a finger to gently dig into the sand. If I had to guess the meaning behind this photomontage (if there is one), the word pleasure would be used to describe it.

Another artwork I took interest in learning about would be Maar’s 1935 photomontage  “Untitled,” 1935. This one is very cool! I like the space and depth within the photomontage. For example, the disorientated element of the hand reaching out in a pinch to grab the foot. The legs of what I assume to be a woman’s body parts are placed far away as a bridge and the body of water is the background. For unknown reasons it just provokes curiosity in me to know more about this piece and try to figure out the mystery of it.

Untitled, 1935, a photomontage that blends Dora Maar’s photographic techniques with Surrealism. 232 x 150 mm, Photo. 📸 © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI / P. Migeat / Dist. RMN-GP Credit: ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2019

Most of Maar’s work is a mystery to digest, but a great one. To mention, the author Richard Kalina of Artnet.com said it best about Maar. She was more than just Picasso’s muse, and to have sold her short simply as so is just a lack of knowledge. She created a substantial amount of art that reflects her brilliance and speaks for itself in which contributes to her legacy.

Based on the guideline for this assignment. My professor required me to: write a two-three page reflection essay on Dora Maar and do a Photography assignment

Guideline: “Use a cell phone or a regular camera to take 5 photos based on 5 different compositions from the video or images by Dora Maar. We recreated her photographs or did something inspired by her photographs. Do the best that you can. Study her work and have fun! ” – Professor DM


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