Man Ray

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Like most people with an interest in the popular cultures and arts of the last hundred or so years the name Man Ray is well known to me. His body of photography, particularly that featured in the galleries of London and Paris, seems very familiar but I know little of the artist behind these iconic photos aside from his key roles in Dadaism and Surrealism and his frienship with those including Salvador Dali – see Dominic Baker’s earlier post on Dali’s work here – Salvador Dali by Dominic Baker

Born Emmanuel “Manny” Rudnitzky on 27th August 1890 in Philadelphia, the eldest of four children of Jewish tailor and his wife, Max and Minnie Rudinitzky, who had emigrated from Russia. During Manny’s childhood the family moved to Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The family changed their surname to “Ray” in 1912.

Man Ray’s artistic ability was evident early on. In 1908, following Brooklyn Boys High School, he pursued his art studies at the free thinking and socialist Ferrer School/Modern School and with Alfred Stieglitz – an influential photographer – who owned gallery “291” that featured European Modernists.

The Armoury Show in New York in 1913 featured works by Picasso and Kandinsky that greatly inspired Ray. In 1915 he met French artist Marcel Duchamp – who later described his use of a camera “as a paint brush “ – and together with Francis Picabia they comprised an informal grouping of New York Dada artists. From this era, Ray’s 1921 sculpture “The Gift” was created featuring a tailoring iron with tacks welded to its surface – thus rendering the iron’s true function, useless. Our image below shows his version from 1958 that, like many of his earlier work, were re-created by Man Ray – following his return from the US.

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Europe called and in 1921 Ray moved to Paris where he associated with the Dada and Surrelists artists in the French capital – along with Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway. In Paris he pursued a lucrative career as a portrait photographer – taking photos of James Joyce amongst many others – and as fashion photographer for titles such as “Vogue”. His commercial work provided resources to developed his own style of photography called “rayographs”. These involved Ray placing and manipulating objects on pieces of photosensitive paper.

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In 1924 Ray composed and shot the iconic “Violin d’Ingres” featuring his muse and lover Kiki. Kiki also featured again in “Noire et Blanche”.

By the late 1920’s Ray had a new muse, the fashion model, Lee Miller. In 1929 he produced the stunning “Solarised’ work featuring her profile headshot.

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Our featured image “Glass Tears” dates from 1932.

Man Ray left for California in 1940 where he concentrated on his painting but returned to Paris in 1951 to continue to paint – really his preferred media – to write and sculpt. Aged 86 Ray died in Paris on 18th November 1976.

A friend from the art world once told me that often the most collectible pieces were “self portraits” – because simply it depicts how the artist sees themselves. This mischievous half bearded self portrait of Man Ray comes from 1943

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Photo credits with grateful thanks Man Ray Trust and the Lee Miller Estate

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