Boiffard and Nadja

The third chapter in City Gorged with Dreams looked closely at André Breton’s 1928 book Nadja, one of the central texts of surrealism. In particular, it concentrated on the photographs of Paris made for the book by Jacques-André Boiffard and asked if these were indeed, as claimed, the product of ‘a voluntary banality’.

An opportunity to write further about Nadja came in 2005, when I guest-edited with David Bate an issue of History of Photography on ‘Surrealism and Photography’, 29:2 (Summer 2005).

My own contribution was an essay entitled ‘Her Eyes of Fern’, which looked at the other major set of photos in Nadja: the portraits. These included pictures by Man Ray and the commercial photographer Henri Manuel as well as an ambiguous image of Nadja’s eyes added to the second edition in 1963.

A PDF of the essay can be downloaded from Taylor & Francis Online at:

Soon after his work on Nadja, Boiffard left the surrealist group around Breton and his subsequent pictures appeared in the journal Documents (1929-30), edited by Georges Bataille.

In 2006, Documents was the subject of a major exhibition at the Hayward Gallery, London, entitled Undercover Surrealism, and I was invited by the curators Dawn Ades and Simon Baker to contribute a short text on Boiffard to the catalogue.

Finally, I cannot leave out a short notice of City Gorged with Dreams in the Art Newspaper, in which Nadja was misprinted as Madja. Images of the film in which Madonna stars as Nadja herself are irresistible (or perhaps it is rather an episode of The Simpsons).

P PIcture from Nadja for Boiffard page