Why this Artist is a Model for Creative Accomplishment

A female pioneer of surrealist photography

Christopher P Jones
4 min readMay 2, 2023

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Detail of ‘Untitled (Harvard)’ (1935) by Dora Maar. Photograph: © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2019. Taken from the Dora Maar exhibition at Tate Modern, London 2019

The story of Dora Maar — French photographer, painter and poet — is a lesson in perpetual creativity.

For a long time, Maar has been known as the muse for Picasso’s painting Weeping Woman. But as a female photographer working in a field dominated by men, she not only broke boundaries for “modern women”, she also made innovative and pioneering art.

Born in Paris 1907 to a French mother and a Croatian father, Maar’s earliest wish was to become a painter. It was a pursuit she would return to later in life, but when it came to a career, she chose to pursue photography instead.

This was an age when photography was coming into its own.

Fashion and beauty magazines required new photographers to fill their pages. Maar’s images began appearing in print, from clothing magazines to cosmetic advertisements.

By the time she was 25, having mastered the technical side of the medium, Maar had established a career in commercial photography. During the 1930s she opened her own studio in Paris with art director Pierre Kéfer. She also shared a darkroom with the influential Hungarian-French photographer Brassaï.

At the same time as her early assignments for fashion magazines, she stole away from the studio and took shots in the streets of Paris and London, capturing the faces of the urban poor and bourgeois middle-class alike.

Not only did Maar excel by the opportunity of becoming a photographer, she also pushed the boundaries of her chosen art form, exercising her insatiable creativity in a context where she had already established herself professionally. Where most people would be content to stay on the familiar path, she also continued to move beyond it.

Experimental Instincts

Detail of ‘Untitled (Hand-Shell)’ (1934) by Dora Maar. Photograph: © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2019. Taken from the Dora Maar exhibition at Tate Modern, London 2019.

Where Maar’s creativity really took flight was in the Surrealist techniques of photomontage that she began to experiment with during the mid-1930s. The results were unpredictable and captivating.

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