Man Ray, born as Emmanuel Radnitzy, once said, ‘I paint what cannot be photographed. I photograph what I do not wish to paint’. He was primarily known for his photography, which bridged both the Dada and Surrealist movements. He spent a great part of his life living as an immigrant in Paris and during this time, worked with several mass media. This in turn, induced his love for creative, artistic expression and he set foot into the world of modernist art. From painting to photography and sculpting to collages, Man Ray has done it all. Through his career, he received a number of contracts for pictures and commercial work, which were featured in international household magazines such as ‘Vanity Fair’, ‘Vu’, ‘Vogue’ and ‘Bazaar’. He was the only American personality to be a part of the Paris Surrealist movement and has impacted many in both, America and France, through his large body of works and photographs. As a modernist artist, many of his works exhibit abstract inspirations in both, non-concrete and simplified forms. He also constantly experimented with different methods of creating art, which made him one of the forerunners in the modernist segment. Scroll further for more information.
Childhood & Early Life
Emmanuel Radnitzky was born to Russian-Jewish immigrants in South Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He had a brother and two sisters and shortly after the family relocated to Brooklyn, New York, they changed their surname to Ray in order to avoid discrimination.
His family was into the garment business and from a very young age, Ray was involved in the tailoring processes, which would eventually go on to inspire his love for art.
He studied at Brooklyn’s Boys’ High School from 1904 to 1909 and he would often visit museums to study the works of Old Masters. He was offered a scholarship to study architecture, but he refused it and chose to pursue a career as an artist instead.
Although his family was disillusioned by his choice of career, they reordered their house in order to provide a room for Man, which he would convert into his studio. In the course of the next four years, he painted and made a modest living as a commercial artist and technical illustrator.
He attended art classes, which were of little interest to him. When he joined the Ferrer School in 1912, his artistic imagination began to develop at a phenomenal rate.
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During his stay in New York, he would frequently visit shows and galleries that showcased contemporary works. He showcased his first gallery of paintings and drawings in 1915 and the following year, a collection titled, ‘Self-Portrait’ was exhibited.
He developed a passion for photography and soon enough, displayed his first photographs, in 1918. He was engaged in the Dada movement, which required him to make objects and develop new methods of making photographic images.
In 1920, he showcased one of his earlier works of kinetic art while helping Duchamp with ‘Rotary Glass’. The same year, he founded the ‘Societe Anonyme’ along with Katherine Dreier and Duchamp.
In 1921, he moved to Paris where he fell in love with Kiki de Montparnasse. She became the subject of many of his famous photographic images and also agreed to be cast in his experimental films.
Through the next two decades, he became an extremely celebrated photographer and a number of personalities including Bridget Bate Tichenor, Gertrude Stein and James Joyce agreed to be photographed by him.
Through the 1920s, he directed a number of unconventional short films including ‘Emak-Bakia’, ‘Le Retour a la Raison’, ‘Les Mysteres du Chateau de De’ and ‘L’Etoile de Mer’.
He created an object with the photograph of an eye and called it ‘Object to be Destroyed’. This is highly regarded as one of his major works. His works were showcased in the first Surrealist exhibition with Jean Arp, Andre Masson and Pablo Picasso, in 1925.
In 1934, Meret Oppenheim posed nude standing next to a printing press for a series of photographs shot by Man Ray. All though controversial, these photographs were critiqued and admired for the fine detailing.
During World War II, he returned to the United States and lived in California from 1940 to 1951. In the next decade, he published an autobiography titled, ‘Self-Portrait’, which was once again re-published posthumously.
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‘Solarization’ is a type of graphic print that can change the actual image clicked into a different tone/color, either partially or fully. This was rediscovered and reinvented by Man Ray and his partner, Lee Miller, when an exposed plate of film was accidentally developed under light. Although many 19th century photographers stumbled upon this technique, none went ahead with further developing the technique, which Ray is largely credited for.
While trying to cultivate photo prints in a dark room, he fortuitously discovered a modus operandi called ‘photogram’; a procedure of photography via light-sensitive paper. He nicknamed this style as ‘Rayogram’ or ‘Rayograph’ and built on this technique for more than four decades.
Awards & Achievements
In 1999, he was posthumously named ‘one of the 25 most influential artists of the 20th century’ by ARTnews magazine.
Personal Life & Legacy
He married poet Adon Lacroix in 1914 and separated from her five years later. However, the couple officially divorced only in 1937.
He fell in love with Kiki de Montparnasse, who remained his companion through the 1920s and starred in his experimental films and became the subject of many of his shoots.
In 1929, he had an affair with photographer, Lee Miller but broke it off after a couple of years.
Once in Los Angeles, he married Juliet Browner, a trained dancer, in 1946, who stayed with him till his death.
He passed away on November 18, 1976 due to a lung infection and was buried at the Cimetiere du Montparnasse.
Man Ray’s legacy is a long-standing one. After his death, many of his works were donated by his wife to museums and she organized a trust for his work.
Recently, his photograph, ‘Noire et Blanche’ was highlighted in the U.S. Postal Service’s ‘Modern Art in America’ stamps.
This famous modernist artist and photographer wedding with Juliet Browner was a double-wedding affair with friends, Dorothea Tanning and Max Ernst.