Week Forty Five
Jacques-André Boiffard (1902-1961)
Big Toe, Male Subject, 1929

Boiffard was a French photographer, linked closely with the Surrealists. He trained to study medicine, but after meeting Andre Breton in 1924, he became involved with the group known as ‘the bureau of surrealist research’. Based in Paris, this group of writers & artists met to “gather all the information possible related to forms that might express the unconscious activity of the mind.”

He became Man Ray’s assistant until 1929, but was suddenly expelled from the surrealist group for taking photographs of Simone Breton. He then became associated with Georges Bataille and his dissident and short-lived surrealist journal entitled Documents(1929-1930). Bataille is known for his interest in sex, death, degradation, and the power and potential of the obscene. This image captures the nature of Surrealism – being about the body, the fetish and the uncanny (object).

‘Big Toes’ were published in Documents number 6, 1929, with a text by Bataille titled Le Gros Orteil (The Big Toe). There are three altogether – two male and one female. The three toes were seen as disembodied objects floating in the blackness and taking up three whole page in the magazine. Bataille was interested in the nature of seduction, arguing that it can be inspired by ‘ideal beauty and the light’, and also by the opposite – by experiencing the low, base and ugly.

Boiffard did not take many more photographs, and after his father’s death in 1935, he returned to his medical studies. He worked as a radiologist at the Hôpital Saint-Louis in Paris from 1940 to 1959.

Why I like him:
There is very little to read about Boiffard, but a lot about Bataille. I use this image of the Big Toe when I talk about the history of contemporary art, as it symbolises Surrealism for me, in its uncanny nature – I find it fascinating, yet repellant.


Boiffard, Big Toe


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