Man Ray (1890- 1976), født Emmanuel Radnitzky, var en amerikansk dadaistisk og surrealistisk fotograf og filmregissør. Man Ray grunnla den amerikanske avdelingen av dada-bevegelsen sammen med Marcel Duchamp i New York, men flyttet i 1921 til Paris etter å ha erklært dadaismen i Amerika for død. I 1924 ble han en del av surrealistbevegelsen i Paris. Fra sitt atelier i kunstnerstrøket Montparnasse produserte Man Ray en lang rekke arbeider som revolusjonerte fotografiet i første halvdel av 1900-tallet.
Rundt 1921 begynte Man Ray og Laszlo Moholy-Nagy å lage såkalte «rayographs» og «fotogramer»: De la ulike objekter på sensitivt fotopapir og belyste disse ved hjelp av fotografiske fremkallingsapparater. På denne måten fikk Ray/Moholy-Nagy frem tingenes skygge og tekstur, og skapte helt unike fotografier. Begge valgte ofte ulike maskindeler som objekter. Det var den tilsynelatende automatikken i prosessen som virket tiltalende for deres dadaistiske og surrealistiske holdninger.
Man Ray var sønn av en skredder, og objekter knyttet til skredderfaget dukker ofte opp i hans oeuvre. I 1934 poserte kunstneren Meret Oppenheim for Man Ray. Resultatet ble en serie i dag svært anerkjente fotografier som viste Oppenheim stående naken ved en trykkpresse. Man Ray regisserte også flere viktige avantgardistiske kortfilmer.
The 1920s and 1930s saw a close relationship between celebrity portraits and fashion. Modernist photographers including Irving Penn, Man Ray, George Platt Lynes and Edward Steichen, photographed artists, writers, musicians and Hollywood stars including Salvador Dalí, James Joyce, Gertrude Stein and Jean Cocteau. Featuring in magazines such as Vogue, Vanity Fair and Harper’s Bazaar, these portraits were instrumental in shaping the celebrity’s public image. Rather than focusing on the sitter’s occupation and status, the images were innovative in their pose, composition and cropping, as seen with Penn’s corner portraits. Presenting well-known figures in unexpected or even abstract ways created iconic images rather than mere likenesses.
Man Ray’s artistic career spanned painting, sculpture, film, prints and poetry, working in styles influenced by cubism, futurism, dada and surrealism. In 1930 he said that ‘painting is dead, finished’, and moved towards photography. He is perhaps most recognised for developing the photographic method of solarisation and inventing a technique using photograms (developing directly onto photographic paper rather than onto film) which he dubbed as ‘rayographs’. Creating surreal and experimental work, often of famous figures such as Lee Miller and Dora Maar, Man Ray became a key figure within modernist photography.
One of the darkroom processes practised by modernist photographers was the photogram. The process dates back to the development of ‘photogenic drawing’ by William Henry Fox Talbot in 1834. The technique involves placing objects onto the surface of a light-sensitive material, normally paper or fabric, and exposing it to light, revealing a negative representation of the object to create an x-ray-like image.
As attention shifted to lens-based techniques, the process fell out of fashion. However the beginning of the twentieth century saw a resurgence in its popularity and modernist artists repackaging the process under various names. Christian Schad’s work became known as ‘schadographs’, Man Ray coined the term ‘rayograph’ and László Moholy-Nagy adopted ‘photogram’. Simple to produce, this pared-back approach to photography had radical results.
The intensity of the avant-garde movement in New York from 1910 to 1920 was fertile ground for the artistic vision of the American-born Man Ray. Through Stieglitz’s gallery 291 Man Ray met Marcel Duchamp and Francis Picabia, whom he was later to join in Paris in 1921. He was already established as a commercial photographer and artist when he was accepted into the coterie of the emerging surrealist group led by André Breton. Working seamlessly between a career in professional portrait photography and contributions to dada and surrealist circles in Paris, Man Ray invented his camera-less photographic technique ‘rayography’ in 1922. His experiments in solarisation, cliché verre (scratching into the negative) and the uncanny ability to epitomise Breton’s conception of ‘convulsive beauty’ – the extraordinariness of the ordinary – made him an influential, if indirect, associate of the surrealists.
‘Untitled (solarised portrait)’ is an example of Man Ray’s solarisation technique and ability to use light and chemicals to present the real as meta-real. The enhanced outline of the profile implies the head as ‘object’, yet the cool light flattens the features.