Cocteaux

Anne Stillman

Jean Cocteau had a genius for being seen. As an elegant young man, with the cult poet Anna de Noailles on his arm, thanks to an introduction from Proust, he danced the polka at the Bastille Day ball in 1912, careful, first, to alert the photographers. ‘If I were to take a picture of a village wedding,’ a photographer once remarked, ‘Jean Cocteau would appear between the bride and groom.’ Across the span of his life he appears in snaps with Stravinsky, Picasso, Piaf, Chanel, Charlie Chaplin. A picture from 1958 captures an elderly Cocteau bowing gallantly to kiss the hand of a radiant Brigitte Bardot – one eye furtively seeks out the camera’s gaze. He is posed by Man Ray, displaying his beautiful hands; Cecil Beaton photographs him smoking opium, in a sepia haze. He is portrayed by Philippe Halsman as a god with six arms, bearing pen, book, cigarette, scissors: caught between versions of himself, he becomes Cocteaux. As if refracted by these multiple appearances, his person attains a strange, fugitive invisibility.

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