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 until his death in 2002 (except for an extended visit to New York in 1965, when he created his classic Children of Harlem series). 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: Sexus and 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 ¾ 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. Often 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.)
Following Cadoo’s first New York exhibition at the Janos Gat Gallery in 2001, his photographs were exhibited at various institutions, such as the Houston Museum of Fine Art (Edith Piaf) and the de Menil Collection (Children of Harlem). Both museums have a large selection of Cadoo’s work, and so does the Getty in Los Angeles.
– Glenn O’Brien