Emil Cadoo was one of the defining photographers of the Sixties. His semi-storied career perfectly exemplifies that decade’s lust for change and its commitment to experiment. Cadoo’s work ranged from high level photojournalism at Life, to Beat generation portraiture, to artistically ambitious and sexually ambiguous erotica.
Born in 1926 in the Bedford Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, in 1960 Cadoo emigrated to Paris and has lived there ever since (except for an extended visit to New York in 1965, when he created Children of Harlem). Cadoo’s energy and personality put him at the center of the expatriate community and he encountered and photographed many of the most important artistic and literary lights of his time. Like his friend and subject James Baldwin, he found easier acceptance in Paris as an African American and as a homosexual. Paris was also a congenial atmosphere for Cadoo’s interest in erotica; it was there that he created the work he is best known for: his book covers and portfolios for Barney Rosset’s Grove Press and Evergreen Review (a cause célèbre in the fight against artistic censorship).
Much of Cadoo’s work was devoted to creating double exposures⎯photomontages made in the artist’s eye⎯often combining images of statues, the human form and botanical forms, with more abstract images of varying textures. Sometimes the double exposures involved erotica, but he did not exclusively rely on the erotic. (One of his best known images, the cover of Genet’s Our Lady of the Flowers, is a simple, elegant, almost somber montage of foliage and a face.)
– Glenn O’Brien