Ecological Automatism: Photography and Non-Human Creativity in Minotaure (1933-1939)

The review Minotaure published its first issue in 1933, nine years after the poet and critic André Breton officially inaugurated the Surrealist movement with the publication of the Manifesto of Surrealism (1924). As Surrealism entered the 1930s, many members of the movement became increasingly critical of the promises of what Breton called “pure psychic automatism” (or creativity in the absence of consciousness) as the best method for generating creative impulses. One interest that emerged in response to the perceived shortcomings of “pure psychic automatism” was an increased consideration of plants, animals, and insects as creative agents. Many of the most important texts articulating these new notions of thought-in-nature were published in Minotaure. Such texts include Roger Caillois’ exploration of biomimicry in insects, Max Ernst’s probing of the mysteries of forests, and André Breton’s analysis of coral’s uneasy status between plant and mineral. These essays were all accompanied by photographic illustrations. This dissertation considers how ecological actors were assigned agency in Minotaure and how the accompanying photographs were marshaled as evidence of non-human creativity.