Man Ray

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Man Ray, photographed at Gaite-Montparnasse exhibition in Paris by Carl Van Vechten on June 16, 1934
Man Ray, photographed at Gaite-Montparnasse exhibition in Paris by Carl Van Vechten on June 16, 1934

Emmanuel Radnitzky (August 27, 1890November 18, 1976), known professionally as Man Ray, was an American artist who spent most of his career in Paris, France. Perhaps best described simply as a modernist, he was a significant contributor to both the Dada and Surrealist movements, although his ties to each were informal. Best known in the art world for his avant-garde photography, Man Ray produced major works in a variety of media and considered himself a painter above all. He was also a renowned fashion and portrait photographer.

While appreciation for Man Ray’s work beyond his fashion and portrait photography was slow in coming during his lifetime, especially in his native United States, his reputation has grown steadily in the decades since.

In 1999, ARTnews magazine named him one of the 25 most influential artists of the 20th century, citing his groundbreaking photography as well as "his explorations of film, painting, sculpture, collage, assemblage, and prototypes of what would eventually be called performance art and conceptual art" and saying "Man Ray offered artists in all media an example of a creative intelligence that, in its 'pursuit of pleasure and liberty,'" — Man Ray’s stated guiding principles — "unlocked every door it came to and walked freely where it would."[1]



[edit] Biography

[edit] Background and early life

Man Ray was born Emmanuel Radnitzky in Pennsylvania, in South Philadelphia, in 1890, the eldest child of recent Russian-Jewish immigrants. The family would eventually include another son and two daughters, the youngest born shortly after they settled in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, New York, in 1897. In early 1912, the Radnitzky family changed their surname to Ray, a name selected by Man Ray's brother, in reaction to the ethnic discrimination and anti-Semitism prevalent at that time. Emmanuel, who was called "Manny" as a nickname, changed his first name to Man at this time, and gradually began to use Man Ray as his combined single name.

Man Ray’s father was a garment factory worker who also ran a small tailoring business out of the family home, enlisting his children from an early age. Man Ray’s mother enjoyed making the family’s clothes from her own designs and inventing patchwork items from scraps of fabric. Despite Man Ray’s desire to disassociate himself from his family background, this experience left an enduring mark on his art. Tailor's dummies, flat irons, sewing machines, needles, pins, threads, swatches of fabric, and other items related to clothing and sewing appear at every stage of his work and in almost every medium. Art historians have also noted similarity in his collage and painting techniques to those used in making clothing.[2]

[edit] First artistic endeavors

Man Ray displayed artistic and mechanical ability from childhood. His education at Boys' High School from 1904 to 1908 provided him with a solid grounding in drafting and other basic art techniques. At the same time, he educated himself with frequent visits to the local art museums, where he studied the works of the Old Masters. After graduation from high school, he was offered a scholarship to study architecture but chose to pursue a career as an artist instead. However much this decision disappointed his parents' aspirations to upward mobility and assimilation, they nevertheless rearranged the family's modest living quarters so that Man Ray could use a room as his studio. He stayed for the next four years, working steadily toward being a professional painter, while earning money as a commercial artist and technical illustrator at several Manhattan companies.

From the surviving examples of his work from this period, it appears he attempted mostly paintings and drawings in 19th-century styles. He was already an avid admirer of avant-garde art of the time, such as the European modernists he saw at Alfred Stieglitz's "291" gallery and works by the Ashcan School, but, with a few exceptions, was not yet able to integrate these new trends into his own work. The art classes he sporadically attended — including stints at the National Academy of Design and the Art Students League — were of little apparent benefit to him, until he enrolled in the Ferrer School in the autumn of 1912, thus beginning a period of intense and rapid artistic development.

[edit] New York

Living in New York City, influenced by what he saw at the 1913 Armory Show and in galleries showing contemporary works from Europe, Man Ray's early paintings display facets of cubism. Upon befriending Marcel Duchamp who was interested in showing movement in static paintings, his works begin to depict movement of the figures, for example in the repetitive positions of the skirts of the dancer in The Rope Dancer Accompanies Herself with Shadows (1916).[3]

In 1915, Man Ray had his first solo show of paintings and drawings. His first proto-Dada object, an assemblage titled Self-Portrait, was exhibited the following year. He produced his first significant photographs in 1918.

Abandoning conventional painting, Man Ray involved himself with Dada, a radical anti-art movement, started making objects, and developed unique mechanical and photographic methods of making images. For the 1918 version of Rope Dancer he combined a spray-gun technique with a pen drawing. Again, like Duchamp, he made "readymades" - objects selected by the artist, sometimes modified and presented as art. His Gift readymade (1921) is a flatiron with metal tacks attached to the bottom, and Enigma of Isidore Ducasse is an unseen object (a sewing machine) wrapped in cloth and tied with cord. Another work from this period, Aerograph (1919), was done with airbrush on glass.[3]

In 1920 Ray helped Duchamp make his first machine and one of the earliest examples of kinetic art, the Rotary Glass Plates composed of glass plates turned by a motor. That same year Man Ray, Katherine Dreier and Duchamp founded the Société Anonyme, an itinerant collection which in effect was the first museum of modern art in the U.S.

Ray teamed up with Duchamp to publish the one issue of New York Dada in 1920, but he soon declared, "Dada cannot live in New York", and he moved to Paris in 1921.

It was in New York in 1913 that Man Ray met his first wife, Adon Lacroix. They married in 1914, separated in 1919, and were formally divorced in 1937.

[edit] Paris

In July 1921, Man Ray went to live and work in Paris, France, and soon settled in the Montparnasse quarter favored by many artists. Shortly after arriving in Paris, he met and fell in love with Kiki de Montparnasse (Alice Prin), an artists' model and celebrated character in Paris bohemian circles. Kiki was Man Ray's companion for most of the 1920s. She became the subject of some of his most famous photographic images and starred in his experimental films. In 1929 he began a love affair with the Surrealist photographer Lee Miller.

Salvador Dalí and Man Ray in Paris, on June 16, 1934 making "wild eyes" for photographer Carl Van Vechten
Salvador Dalí and Man Ray in Paris, on June 16, 1934 making "wild eyes" for photographer Carl Van Vechten

For the next 20 years in Montparnasse, Man Ray made his mark on the art of photography. Great artists of the day such as James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, Jean Cocteau and Antonin Artaud posed for his camera.

With Jean Arp, Max Ernst, André Masson, Joan Miró, and Pablo Picasso, Man Ray was represented in the first Surrealist exhibition at the Galerie Pierre in Paris in 1925.

In 1934, Surrealist artist Méret Oppenheim, known for her fur-covered teacup, posed for Man Ray in what became a well-known series of photographs depicting Oppenheim nude, standing next to a printing press.

Together with Lee Miller — his photography assistant and lover — Man Ray reinvented the photographic technique of solarization. He also created a technique using photograms he called rayographs.

Man Ray also directed a number of influential avant-garde short films, known as Cinéma Pur, such as Le Retour à la Raison (2 mins, 1923); Emak-Bakia (16 mins, 1926); L'Étoile de Mer (15 mins, 1928); and Les Mystères du Château du Dé (20 mins, 1929).

[edit] Later life

Later in life, Man Ray returned to the United States, having been forced to leave Paris due to the dislocations of the Second World War. He lived in Los Angeles, California from 1940 until 1951. A few days after arriving in Los Angeles, Man Ray met Juliet Browner, a trained dancer and experienced artists' model. They began living together almost immediately, and married in 1946 in a double wedding with their friends Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning. However, he called Montparnasse home and he returned there.

In 1963 he published his autobiography, Self-Portrait, which was republished in 1999 (ISBN 0821224743).

He died in Paris on November 18, 1976, and was interred in the Cimetière du Montparnasse, Paris. His epitaph reads: unconcerned, but not indifferent. When Juliet Browner died in 1991, she was interred in the same tomb. Her epitaph reads, together again. Juliet set up a trust for his work and made many donations of his work to museums.

[edit] Quotations

[edit] By Man Ray

  • "It has never been my object to record my dreams, just the determination to realize them." (Julien Levy exhibition catalog, April 1945.)
  • "There is no progress in art, any more than there is progress in making love. There are simply different ways of doing it." (1948 essay, "To Be Continued, Unnoticed".)
  • "I have never painted a recent picture." (1966 essay.)
  • "To create is divine, to reproduce is human." ("Originals Graphic Multiples," circa 1968; published in Objets de Mon Affection, 1983.)
  • "When I saw I was under attack from all sides, I knew I was on the right track." (1972 interview, published 1973 in Man Ray by Sarane Alexandrian.)
  • "I paint what cannot be photographed, that which comes from the imagination or from dreams, or from an unconscious drive. I photograph the things that I do not wish to paint, the things which already have an existence." (Undated interview, circa 1970s; published in Man Ray: Photographer, 1981.)
  • "I have been accused of being a joker. But the most successful art to me involves humor." (Undated interview, circa 1970s; published in Man Ray: Photographer, 1981.)
  • "Many so-called tricks of today become the truths of tomorrow." (in reference to solarization, in Self- Portrait by Man Ray, published 1963, as cited by William L. Jolly in Solarization Demystified, 1997)

[edit] About Man Ray

  • "MAN RAY, n.m. synon. de Joie jouer jouir." (Translation: "MAN RAY, masculine noun, synonymous with joy, to play, to enjoy.") — Marcel Duchamp, as the opening epigram for Man Ray's memoir Self-Portrait, 1963.
  • "With him you could try anything — there was nothing you were told not to do, except spill the chemicals. With Man Ray, you were free to do what your imagination conjured, and that kind of encouragement was wonderful." — artist and photographer Naomi Savage, Man Ray’s niece and protégée, in a 2000 newspaper interview.
  • "Man Ray is a youthful alchemist forever in quest of the painter's philosopher's stone. May he never find it, as that would bring an end to his experimentations which are the very condition of living art expression." — Adolf Wolff, "Art Notes", International 8, no. 1 (January 1914), p. 21.
  • "[Man Ray was] a kind of short man who looked a little like Mr. Peepers, spoke slowly with a slight Brooklynese accent, and talked so you could never tell when he was kidding." — Brother-in-law Joseph Browner on his first impression of the artist; quoted in the Fresno Bee, August 26, 1990.

[edit] References

  1. ^ "The Century's 25 Most Influential Artists", ARTnews, May 1999.
  2. ^ Francis Naumann; Conversion to Modernism: The Early Work of Man Ray; Rutgers University Press; ISBN 0-8135-3148-9 (2003).
  3. ^ a b "Man Ray." Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd ed. 17 Vols. Gale Research, 1998. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Thomson Gale. 2007. http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/BioRC Document Number: K1631005476
  • Sarane Alexandrian; Man Ray; J. P. O'Hara; ISBN 0-87955-603-X (1973).
  • Neil Baldwin; Man Ray: American Artist; Da Capo Press; ISBN 0-306-81014-X (1988, 2000).
  • A. D. Coleman; "Willful Provocateur"; ARTnews, May 1999.
  • Milly Heyd; "Man Ray/Emmanuel Radnitsky: Who is Behind the Enigma of Isidore Ducasse?"; in Complex Identities: Jewish Consciousness and Modern Art; ed. Matthew Baigell and Milly Heyd; Rutgers University Press; ISBN 0-8135-2869-0 (2001).
  • Francis Naumann; Conversion to Modernism: The Early Work of Man Ray; Rutgers University Press; ISBN 0-8135-3148-9 (2003).

[edit] Man Ray references in popular culture

  • Man Ray's surrealist art inspired the R.E.M. song, "Feeling Gravity's Pull", on Fables of the Reconstruction. It contains the lines, "It's a Man Ray kind of sky. Let me show you what I can do with it."
  • Man Ray and his work are the inspiration for the song "Man Ray" by the British indie band The Futureheads, the closing track on their self-titled debut album. The song includes the line: "Touch each other in black and white."
  • The name of the band Man-Raze is partially a reference to Man Ray.
  • The music video for the song "Otherside" by the Red Hot Chili Peppers features the lips from Man Ray's famous painting, The Lovers. The protagonist in the video uses the lips as a pair of wings to escape from his own shadow.
  • The Sheffield band, The Long Blondes, features a track "Madame Ray" on their debut album, Someone to Drive You Home, which was inspired by Man Ray's lover, Lee Miller. It also refers to the solarization technique rediscovered by her and also used by Man Ray in his photographic work.
  • The American band "Damon & Neomi" used Man Rays work "Tears" as the cover for their album "More Sad Hits".
  • William Wegman, the famous photographer of weimaraner dogs, named his first and most-photographed dog Man Ray.
  • A Seattle-based band by the name of Man Ray released their CD "Casual Thinking" in 1997, under the Mercury/Tim Kerr label, and used Man Ray's pictures in the CD's artwork. The band later changed their name to "Shiro" and is now believed to be defunct.[citations needed]
  • In the 1980's, Thomas Dolby released a video for his song "She Blinded Me With Science" which featured a woman in a back-baring dress who had two f-holes on her skin near her waist and hips, creating the image of a cello. This same concept of using a back view of a female marked with f-holes to create the image of a stringed instrument was used earlier by Man Ray in his photograph Le Violon d'Ingres
  • Doug Wright's 1989 stage play "Interrogating the Nude" depicts Man Ray as one of its characters. The play implies that Man Ray had a homosexual relationship with Marcel Duchamp, although there is no evidence to suggest this was actually the case.
  • There is a nightclub called the "Man Ray" in Paris, 32 Rue Marbeuf near the Champs-Elysee.
  • Poet Derek Adams wrote a series of biographical poems about Man Ray, published as "unconcerned but not indifferent - the life of Man Ray" in 2006 by Ninth Arrondissement Press.

[edit] External links

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Photothèque numérique
Noire et blanche 1926
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Le Violon d'ingres 1924 Appel
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My thesis is a voyage into the mind, into the subconscious. I have chosen the artist Man Ray as one of the symbols of this surrealist voyage, for he travelled physically so he could complete his interior journey. His physical and spiritual journeys coexist as one, and so Man Ray’s formation and art fit into the theme of voyage. Surrealists thought that the unconscious was the best source for grand ideas and thoughts, and this is exemplified when we look at some of the great art they left to mankind. They believed that experiencing one’s own dreams was more important than experiencing life when one was completely awake. Although Man Ray worked in many mediums, I have chosen to focus mainly on his photography.

The photographic collage on the cover of this Thesis is my creation and design. It is an attempt to symbolize a spiritual Voyage using the medium of the surrealists. It actually represents a recurring dream of mine, of a person with great wings. The angel-like girl symbolizes the flow of thoughts and images during the artist’s journey into the unconscious. The man in the balloon is the artist trying to capture these thoughts, freeing them into the open and into reality, just as a surrealist captures thoughts and images. In this case Man Ray is the artist in the balloon, with his own ideas, personal apparitions, and hallucinations.


"Dadaism was an international nihilistic movement that lasted from 1916 to 1922; it was born from the widespread disillusionment engendered by World War I. ‘Dada’ is a nonsense word. It expresses a certain spontaneity because it is similar to an infant’s first words. However the true origin of this name is unknown. Dadaism attacked conventional standards of aesthetics and behaviour; it encouraged the role of absurdity and of the unpredictable in the artistic world- in figurative arts, in literature and in cinema. It assaulted and scoffed society’s institutions with the intent to break them down."1 "In the 1920s society was practically drowning in its own superficiality of values and lifestyle, only believing in the absolute power of technological and scientific progress. The Dadaists’ provocative, teasing, and ironic forms of expression roused the bourgeois from their sluggishness."2 "They forced them to question everything in life. The Dadaists took an object and presented it in a totally different way. Confronted with these art works the spectators realized the absurdity of their life style and their values."3

Surrealism, a new movement composed of all the original members of the Dada group, was built with more self awareness and organization.4 "A fundamental factor for all the surrealists emerged: Freud and his discovery of the unconscious and his psychoanalytical techniques. Breton, the charismatic leader of surrealism, was fascinated by these discoveries and started to systematically study Freud’s new works, thus considering the unconscious the true generator of written and artistic works."5 In 1924 Breton published his first Surrealist manifesto. The constructive element of this declaration was its advocacy of new sources for inspiration in writing and the other arts, such as the subconscious and the dream world. A surrealist gallery was opened; many of the artists showed their Dada works, which fitted in well with the surrealists’ work. Many of the Dadaists were called Pre-Surrealists.6 "Surrealists valued the technique of ‘free association’ and of ‘automatic writing’- a spontaneous monologue, quick, without reasoning and censoring. The method of the automatic writing, in literature, represents the need to fuel creativity directly from the unconscious."7 After the second surrealist manifesto, surrealism began to expand internationally. ‘Transform the world’ said Marx, ‘Change life’ said Rimbaud: to the surrealists these sayings meant the same thing.8


Born in Philadelphia in 1890, Emmanuel Radnitsky grew up in New Jersey and became a commercial artist in New York in the 1910s. He began to sign his name Man Ray in 1912. He initially taught himself photography in order to have a record of his own works of art, which included paintings and mixed media. In 1915 he met Marcel Duchamp, and with him he left for Paris in 1921. Thanks to Duchamp, he met the Parisian Dadaists. In 1922 Man Ray decided to make a living as a portrait photographer, and he began to make, among other things, photograms, which he called ‘Rayographs’. In the 1920s, he also began making moving pictures which were all highly creative, non-narrative explorations of the possibilities of the medium. Shortly before World War II, Man Ray returned to the United States and settled in Los Angeles from 1940 until 1951.He was disappointed that he was recognized only for his photography in America and not for the filmmaking, painting, sculpture, and other media in which he worked. In 1951 Man Ray returned to Paris. He concentrated primarily on painting until his death in 1976.9


"In the great artistic season of the Parisian surrealist movement photography also had a very important role to play depicting dreams, illusions and fantasies. Photography was not a minor art anymore but was considered as important as painting."10 Man Ray was a very creative art photographer and painter. He first experimented a technique using a spray gun, and called these works ‘aerographs’. These gave the subjects a sort of photographic aspect that Man Ray particularly valued. He loved the rapidity with which they had to be produced and the lack of direct contact with the canvas.11 ""I photographed as I painted, transforming the subject as a painter would, idealizing or deforming as freely as does a painter. ""12 "His was a free and unethical spirit. He vigorously dedicated himself in the destruction of conventional values that photography represented, forcing it to abandon its arrogance and its pretentious demands."13 He said: ""In the instant of shooting photographs, or working in the dark room, I always avoided all fixed rules, I mixed the most absurd elements, I used expired films, I committed hateful crimes against Chemistry and photography, but no one realized it.""14 Up until Dadaism and surrealism photography had followed certain unsaid rules; it wasn’t considered an art, but only as a means of capturing fleeting moments. What was needed was no longer just a technically skilled photographer, but also one with the eye of a painter; somebody who would be capable of taking photography to another level. Man Ray was that somebody.15 He claimed ""The streets are full of admirable craftsmen, but so few practical dreamers.""16 Therefore, in my opinion, any kind of division of his artistic production in photographic portraits, abstract photographs and paintings is highly superficial. These three forms of expression strive to reach the same spiritual mission.

In America he felt isolated from society and felt a strong bonding with nonconformists. Because of this, his ambition to create a personal expressive style grew stronger. He met Marcel Duchamp, who had a terrible reputation for one of his new works that had been ridiculed by the American critics, and found a spiritual affinity in the French artist. Not long after the two artists became conspirators, collaborators, rivals in chess, and friends for life. Both artists elevated prosaic reality to the level of pure art. The American critics were rough on Man Ray’s works as well. Man Ray suffered from this until he decided to move to Paris. He made the long journey across the Atlantic Ocean by ship, arriving in Le Havre on July 22, 1921. In the 1920s Paris was the heart of the international art world. There Man Ray finally found a group that spoke his same ‘language’, artistically speaking. He couldn’t speak French yet, but had no problem entering the group thanks to his strong relationship with Duchamp. Moving away from traditional subjects and techniques, he was encouraged to produce provocative works of art, breaking the rules of traditional aesthetic and challenging the observer’s concept of beauty. In Paris one of his first works was ‘Le Cadeau’, an iron with nails glued to the base. This became one of the symbols of the Dadaist movement, and is one of Man Ray’s first attempts to actively involve the observer. He hoped the public would look beyond the physical aspect of a work and find a more profound meaning. The most conventional subjects were shown in a way to shock the observer.17

Because of economical difficulties he decided to become a professional photographer. He offered his services to other artists, portraying them in outstanding photographs. He immortalized many important artists and writers: Picasso, Braque, Matisse, Cocteau, Proust, Joyce, Hemingway, Eliot, and many others. This gave him the opportunity to become well known and to enter artistic and social circles. At the beginning of the 1920s Paul Poiret offered him a job as a fashion photographer, for he was in search of a different approach to the theme of fashion. In many of Man Ray’s photographs the models appear like veritable statues. After Man Ray’s elegant images were seen, his work was requested by famous magazines like Vogue, Vu, and Vanity Fair. In this period his paintings showed little progress, but his photography had no limits.18 These new financial opportunities encouraged Man Ray to continue incessantly with his experiments in innovative photography- for instance, moving the camera while shooting, or applying gelatin to the lens to obscure them- so he could produce images that would not reflect the ordinary world. He also rediscovered a procedure to produce images without the use of the camera. Positioning an object on a sheet of photosensitive paper and exposing it to the light, he could obtain an image with the outline of the object itself. He felt as though he were free from the stickiness of painting and was finally working directly with light. The images were produced without a negative so each piece was unique and thus had the same value as a painting or a drawing. Man Ray called these creations ‘rayographs’19 and they were often seen as the first example of surrealist photography. However, they were simply works of art permeated with Dadaist values, which were based on the principle of destructive projection of all formal art. Using a new procedure, Man Ray was able to propose a new vision of ordinary objects. Their combinations would create a ‘plastic poetry’: something new, distinguishable, visible and almost palpable. Rayographs weren’t abstract, being the reproduction, by contact, of real objects. There wasn’t any space for the unconscious, because the connection of the objects was well studied. It wasn’t a dream world to be represented, but a real one, even if participant of a different reality.20

One day his assistant and lover, Lee Miller, while working in the dark room, felt a mouse near her feet and instinctively turned on the lights. The ray of light ‘solarized’ the photographs still in the process of being developed. After this ‘accident’ Man Ray started using this particular technique, exposing a negative or a print to the light during development. In this way all the photographic subjects had a kind of characteristic outline. The translucent quality of the solarized images were in great demand for surrealist publications.21 "This technique, together with others (glass negative, photograms, rayographs), is an old technique which was used by photographers in the 1800s, as well as by a handful of Man Ray’s contemporaries in the 1900s."22 Man Ray’s solarized photos have an astonishing effect: they seem like a materialization of the aura. It’s hard to believe that these amazing effects were considered a laboratory accident. Manipulations of this sort set his photographs apart from ordinary snapshots and situated them firmly in the realm of art. "Breton included Man Ray as a visual artist in his ‘Surrealist Manifesto’; he admired his photographs immensely. Man Ray’s juxtapositions of images and rayographs were far from everyday banality; his mental landscapes echoed the surrealists’ ‘automatic writing’."23 ‘Automatic writing’ is like a ‘photograph of the mind’. "Man Ray became a poet par excellence, who wrote with light."24 He developed a poetic vision of objects. To Breton’s eyes , whose aspiration was to produce art in an automatic form, Man Ray was the forerunner of surrealism. However, the American artist, though attached to both Dadaism and surrealism, never considered himself a true member of either group. Man Ray can’t be classified into a specific category of artists or in a particular cultural movement; he is unique.

Better off economically, Man Ray was able to move to Montparnasse, a central district frequented by artists, writers and eccentric personalities who gathered in the numerous ‘bistrot’ (cafés). The emerging artists thrived in the atmosphere of the bistrot. Making art without these particular meeting places was inconceivable. Most of the surrealists’ activities took place in cafés, where there were discussions, continuous comings and goings, forming of friendships (especially with women), but sometimes it was just a perfect place to be in solitude.

In one of these cafés Man Ray managed to win the heart of one of the most renowned women in Montparnasse. Kiki of Montparnasse was incredibly fascinating and extravagant, showing off her short hair, heavy make-up and rouge covered lips. She was very famous in the bohemian district of Paris, having posed as a model for many painters. Kiki is the subject of some of Man Ray’s most famous photographs. Other than being Man Ray’s muse, she also played an important part in his life, sentimentally speaking; this helped Man Ray’s visibility and prestige in the Parisian society.25

Man Ray was an admirer of the paintings of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres and made a series of photographs, inspired by Ingres's languorous nudes. He photographed Kiki in the same Ingres pose, painting the f -holes of a stringed instrument onto the print and then rephotographing the print. He titled it ‘Le Violon d'Ingres’ , an ironic title as in French ‘Ingres’ is an idiom for ‘hobby.’ The image of the transformation of Kiki's body into a musical instrument maintains a tension between objectification and appreciation of the female form.26


"Man Ray didn’t particularly like cinema, which he considered ordinary and déjà-vu."27 However, investigating the various phases of photography in his days in Paris, Man Ray inevitably turned his attention to moving pictures. His curiosity was aroused by the idea of putting into motion some of the results he had obtained in still photography. He began by making a few sporadic shots, unrelated to each other and without any aesthetic implications or preparations for future development, in the true Dada spirit. Man Ray's four completed films are Return to Reason, Emak Bakia, Starfish , and Mystery of the Chateau.28


The film ‘Étoile de Mer’ (Starfish), produced by Man Ray in 1928, interprets a poem by Robert Desnos for the screen with dream-like images disconnected from each other, alternated with verses. The film is an original form of presenting poetic text, with its own power of suggestion and visual structure.29 The surrealist poet’s works emphasized that there was no dividing line between sleep and the state of being awake. When Man Ray heard the poem, ‘Étoile de Mer’, for the first time, he was struck by it, as it sounded like a scenario for a film. Each line presented a clear, detached image. A woman (who is played by Kiki) sells newspapers in the street. On a small stand beside her lies a pile of papers held down with a glass jar containing a starfish. A man appears and leaves with the woman and the starfish. Then follow images of the man and the woman entering a house, a train in movement, a steamer docking, a prison wall, a river flowing under a bridge, after which various images of the woman appear. Apart from irrelevant phrases scattered here and there, a significant one keeps recurring: she is beautiful, she is beautiful. Although Man Ray’s imagination may have been stimulated by the wine during his dinner, the poem moved him very much, seeing it clearly as a surrealist film. After promising his friend that he would make a film out of his poem, Man Ray devised a way to avoid censorship of the portrayal of nudes. He had to create a certain type of flou. With arduous experimenting Man Ray soaked some pieces of gelatin to put on his lens, obtaining a mottled effect through which the images would look like sketchy drawings or paintings.30 "The alienating effects of the shots are parallel to those obtained by the verbal inventions of the poem:"Nous sommes à jamais perdus dans le desert de l’étenèbre". (We are lost in the desert of darkness)"31


It’s a very short movie, but I think that its briefness is one of its merits, because it is direct and striking. The two characters do not seem to be romantically attached, but with the use of the opaque lens there is a feeling of romance. The starfish appears often throughout the film and I noticed that it would emerge somewhere on the screen every time there was a conflict between the woman and the man. Perhaps it’s because the ‘étoile de mer’ (in French, star of the sea) inhabits liquid depths, but at the same time ‘étoile’ is the star of the heavens, thus the starfish could symbolize eternity and hope. There is hope for pureness between man and woman…….for eternity. To my view, it is the quintessential symbol of lost love. The starfish could also be interpreted as the only part of the woman the man is able to possess. At the end of the film, the woman leaves with another man, and the first one is left alone, the starfish his only hope.


Surrealism, but also Art in general, is a Voyage with a capital V; it is just as valid, or more, as a physical journey. The birth of surrealism was inevitable. Imagination needed to be free from limitations. Man Ray, together with other artists and poets of his time, celebrated the world of imagination, the subconscious, and dreams. "The imagination is not a State: it is the Human existence itself. "

Man Ray

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Man RAY American 1890-1976 worked in France 1921-39, 1951-76 Kiki with African mask 1926 gelatin silver photograph 21.1 x 27.6 cm (image) 22.1 x 28.5 cm (sheet) Purchased through The Art Foundation of Victoria  with the assistance of Miss Flora MacDonald Anderson  and Mrs Ethel Elizabeth Ogilvy Lumsden,  Founder Benefactor, 1983 PH137-1983

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