‘Subtle and uncanny’ … Self-Portrait at the Window, Paris by Dora Maar. Photograph: Image courtesy the artist s estate and Huxley-Parlour

A recent show of the French artist’s 1930s artwork forecasts her move towards surrealism and establishes her place as a central character of modernism

Hotel Facade from Above, Paris, circa 1935

A recent show offers an up-close look at Maar’s early photography interests and her fascination with the subtly unsettling via works produced during the 1930s. The performance foreshadows her subsequent plunge into surrealism, for which she is now well-known. The Huxley-Parlour gallery in London is showing Contact Prints until November 19th. All images courtesy of Huxley-Parlour and Dora Maar/the artist’s estate.

Self-Portrait at the Window, Paris, c 1935

A young Maar took the bulk of the artwork in the exhibition. She was born in 1907 and attended the École des Beaux-Arts before transferring to the Académie Julian in Paris, which at the time was exceptional in that it provided equal educational opportunities for men and women. Maar’s work demonstrates the influence of Henri Cartier-Bresson and Jacqueline Lamba, whose “decisive moment” photography emphasized the significance of location, context, and movement in photographic composition.

Menagerie and Aquarium (Geese, Ostriches, Giraffes and Fish), c 1935

Maar used a portable Rolleiflex camera to capture shots, and because of its mobility, she was able to do so swiftly and without difficulty. While surrealist thinkers like André Breton wrote surrealist texts examining the uncanny quality of cosmopolitan living and its relationship to the psychogeography of the m, surrealist photographers such as Eugène Atget and, later, Brassa, capitalized on the eeriness of empty, Parisian streets to create surreal compositions.

Jacqueline Lamba Stretched Out on the Grass, 1934

a close-up look of Jacqueline Lamba, the wife of surrealist movement pioneer André Breton. In the 1920s, Lamba and Maar became friends during art school and stayed close throughout their careers. After reading Breton’s works, Lamba got attracted by surrealism. Maar was the one to advise that Lamba meet members of the movement at the Café de la Place Blanche in Paris. Lamba looks to be buried in her own thoughts, possibly even sleeping, since her head is cocked to one side.

Rosemonde Wilms in Pablo Picasso’s Room at the Hotel Vaste Horizon, Mougins, summer 1937

Along with Man Ray, Lee Miller, Paul Éluard, Pablo Picasso, and other surrealists, Rosemonde R. Wilms was an essential member of Maar’s group of friends. Wilms, who was both a journalist and the daughter of Russian dramatist Vsevolod Meyerhold, often contributed to La République, Candide, and L’Intransigeant. Additionally, she posed for Man Ray.

Pablo Picasso Painting the Backdrop for the Play 14th of July by Romain Rolland, 1936

Picasso is shown in this image working on the stage background for Romain Rolland’s play Le Juillet 14 at his Rue des Grands-Augustins studio in Paris. French playwright, dramatist, and mystic Rolland earned the Nobel Prize in literature in 1915 for his popularist staging of plays. Maar often captured Picasso in action; her images of Guernica (1937) in progress are famous for their understanding of the composition of the piece.

Kazbek, Picasso’s Dog, Paris, c 1940

Picasso was later instructed by Maar in fundamental photography techniques including the cliché verre (glass plate) technique.

Roofs (Notre-Dame and the Pantheon in the Distance), c 1935

A surrealist oscillation between the mundane and the bizarre may be seen in the Contact Prints book. Maar’s photography is indiscriminate, focusing on silent, hidden detail and including empty Parisian rooftops, chance encounters, and sun-dappled bodies of open water.

Ray of Light Falling in a Bath, c 1935

In Maar’s work, found items and interesting juxtapositions of the ordinary are drawn to the surrealist style, which would later influence her more experimental photomontage. Maar and her colleagues assessed film negatives by making sheets of contact prints before choosing which images to reproduce in the darkroom.

Savoie Cat, c 1935

Conceptually, the contact print offers a close look into Maar’s creative process at a transitional period between editing, selection, and printing. The pieces are also immediately available in terms of their physical form; each two-by-two-inch print is the same size as the film negative itself.

Thanks to The Guardian whose reporting provided the original basis for this story.