Kati Horna’s Surreal Moment in the Spanish Civil War

THE DAILY PIC: At the Americas Society, Horna’s dreamscape captures reality.

THE DAILY PIC (#1665): I don’t often Pic two works by the same artist from the same show, but I’m making an exception for “Told and Untold: The Photo Stories of Kati Horna in the Illustrated Press,” at the Americas Society in New York. Horna’s career spanned every decade from the 1930s to the ’90s, and her styles ranged almost as wildly. Since she’s more than one artist, doesn’t she deserve more than one Pic?

My last column on Horna showed her in Cartier-Bresson mode in Spain in 1937; today’s shows her trying on Surrealism the following year. But whereas the politics in her Decisive Moment were subtle, her surreal double exposure wears its cause on its sleeve. Horna superimposes a female face onto the barred window of a Spanish church, sending a clear (and accurate) message that the women of Spain were kept in thrall by the state religion.

By couching her message in the language of Surrealism, however, Horna tempers its directness with a dose of misdirection. We feel less harangued when we have to work to understand the sermon, and when there is pleasure to be had in its wit.

If the Surrealists have one major fault, it’s that they often fall into a vaporous, oracular dreaminess. Horna solves that problem by using their style to render a true social nightmare. (From Libre-Studio, March 1938; private collection, New York)

For a full survey of past Daily Pics visit blakegopnik.com/archive.

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