Man Ray

Man Ray original name Emmanuel Radnitzky (1890 – 1976) born in Philadelphia to a family of Russian immigrants of Jewish origin.

New York

He grew up in New York where he completed his studies. He finished high school but rejected a scholarship in architecture to devote himself to art. In New York, he worked in 1908 as a draftsman and graphic designer. He started to sign his works with the pseudonym “Man Ray in 1912 .” Ray bought his first camera in 1914 to photograph his artworks. In 1915, the collector Walter Arensberg introduced him to Marcel Duchamp, with whom he became close friends. In 1919, he painted his first airbrush images made with an airbrush, a tool that graphic designers often used for retouching. In New York, he and Marcel Duchamp formed the American arm of the Dada movement which had begun in Europe as a radical rejection of traditional art. After a few unsuccessful attempts and the publication of a sole issue of “New York Dada” in 1920, Man Ray declared that “Dada cannot live in New York.”

Man Ray Galerie Pierre Colle in Paris
Man Ray Galerie Pierre Colle in Paris

Paris

In 1920, Duchamp returned to Paris.

Man Ray, who had previously refused to move to France because of World War I, followed him.  In Paris, Duchamp introduced him to the most influential artists in France, including André Breton. Man Ray’s success in Paris was owed to his skill as a photographer, especially as a portraitist. His photographic studio was frequented by upper-crust Paris, looking for a portrait out of the ordinary. Man Ray revolutionized photographic art. Great artists of the era, such as James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, Jean Cocteau and many others, posed for his camera. 

Man Ray Le témoin
Le témoin Man Ray 1971

Rayographs

Man Ray discovered rayographs by chance in 1921. While developing some photographs in the darkroom, a blank sheet of paper accidentally ended up in the middle of the others. Since nothing appeared, he was rather annoyed and placed a series of glass objects on the sheet while it was soaking and turned on the light. In 1922, Man Ray made his first photograms, which he called “rayographs.” A rayograph is a photographic image obtained by placing objects directly on sensitive paper, a seemingly simple procedure, which he used to create highly evocative images.

This made deformed images, almost in relief on the black background. Through his rayographs, a term he invented based on his last name that evokes the idea of luminous design, he probed and exalted the paradoxical, disquieting quality of everyday life.

In 1924, Surrealism was officially born. Man Ray was the first Surrealist photographer.

His innovative art production was parallel with publication of his fashion photographs in Vogue. He fell in love with the famous French singer Kiki (Alice Prin), often called Kiki de Montparnasse, who later became his preferred model for photography. Together with Jean Arp, Max Ernst, André Masson, Joan Miró and Pablo Picasso, he was at the first Surrealist exhibition at the Pierre Gallery in Paris in 1925.

In 1934, the famous surrealist artist Meret Oppenheim, known for her fur-covered teacup, posed for Man Ray in what became a famous series of photos portraying her naked standing near a printing press. There are also many photographs of the Surrealist painter Bridget Bate Tichenor, whose father was a close friend of Ray’s. With the Surrealist photographer Lee Miller, who was his lover and photography assistant at the time, he first systematically used the photographic technique of solarization.

Decantatore Man Ray
Man Ray Decantatore 1972

Last years

The outbreak of World War II forced Man Ray, who was of Jewish origin, to return to the United States. He came to New York in 1940 but soon moved to Los Angeles. In this period, he taught photography and painting in a college and showed his photographs in numerous exhibitions, including at Julien Levy’s gallery in New York. When World War II ended, Man Ray returned to Paris where he lived until his death and continued to paint and take photographs. In 1975, he exhibited his photographs at the Venice Biennale.

In the final years of his life, he returned to the United States often and lived in Los Angeles for several years.

However, he considered Montparnasse his home and always came back to it and died there on November 18, 1976.

He was buried in the Montparnasse cemetery. His epitaph reads: “Unconcerned, but not indifferent.”