Man Ray
Year, Birthplace 1890, United States
Year, Place of death 1976, France
Man Ray was the firstborn son of a Russian Jewish immigrant family who had settled in New York in 1897. His enthusiasm for the arts was evident from a young age, encouraged by visits to museums and galleries. He wanted to become a painter. In 1908, he was awarded a scholarship to study architecture, but he turned it down. He frequented the freethinking Ferrer Center and 291, the gallery founded by photographer Alfred Stieglitz. In 1912 he moved to Ridgefield, New Jersey, where he worked as a commercial artist. His discovery of the European avant-garde at the 1913 Armory Show was a revelation. He started to paint in a cubist style and had his first exhibition at the Daniel Gallery in 1915. When he married, in 1914, he adopted the name Man Ray. Meeting Marcel Duchamp in 1915, with whom he shared a passion for chess, was a key event. Together the two artists, who would become lifelong friends and collaborators, founded an American branch of dadaism. He took part in the soirées that took place at the home of Walter and Louise Arensberg, where he mixed with Duchamp, Charles Demuth, Georges Bellows, Joseph Stella, William Carlos Williams and the French expatriates Francis Picabia, Edgar Varèse and Jean Crotti. Man Ray invented constantly – in his collages and in his paintings and objects. He took up photography and worked on film projects. He created the famous iron studded with nails (Cadeau [The Gift], 1921). After a number of unsuccessful artistic endeavours, such as a publication on New York Dada, in 1920, Man Ray concluded that ‘Dada cannot live in New York’. He arrived in Paris in 1921 where he was welcomed by Duchamp. That very night, Duchamp introduced him to his friends Louis Aragon, Philippe Soupault, Paul Éluard and Gala, André Breton, Jacques Rigaut and Théodore Fraenkel. Later he met Hans Arp, Georges Ribemont-Dessaignes, Max Ernst and Tristan Tzara. He installed himself in Montparnasse, where Jean Cocteau introduced him into his circle of acquaintances. He met and fell in love with the singer and model Kiki de Montparnasse, who was the subject of many portraits and appeared in his first experimental films (Le Retour à la Raison [The Return to Reason], 1923 and L’Etoile de mer [The Starfish], 1928). Now a professional photographer specialising in fashion, his reputation in the field quickly grew. His nude studies of Meret Oppenheim, made in 1934, are some of the twentieth century’s most beautiful photographs. He was also the favourite portrait photographer of his dadaist friends and, later, the surrealists. Man Ray continued to experiment and developed a photogram technique that he called ‘rayograms’: he directed a light source at objects, some of them transparent, which were placed on light sensitive paper. With varying degrees of density according to the length of exposure, the paper recorded the objects’ outlines, shadows and refraction patterns. He took part in the activities of the surrealist group from 1924, the year his photographs were published in the La Révolution Surréaliste magazine, and showed his works at the group’s first exhibition at the Galerie Pierre in Paris, in 1925. His paintings demonstrated an affinity with the work of Giorgio de Chirico and Max Ernst. He continued to invent objects, such as the famous Objet indestructible [Indestructible Object] of 1923, a metronome with the image of an eye attached to the tip of the pendulum. Subsequently he perfected the technique of solarisation, which consists of an extreme overexposure which gives objects a contoured effect and luminous quality, a technique accidentally discovered by his assistant, Berenice Abbott. Man Ray made many photographs of the famous model Lee Miller, who was also a photographer and his partner between 1929 and 1932. In 1940, after the French defeat, Man Ray managed to escape to Lisbon, from where he departed to the United States. After spending a few days in New York, he headed to the West Coast with the intention of leaving for Tahiti, where he planned to remain until the end of the war. However, after meeting Juliet Browner, he decided to move to Los Angeles. He continued to produce paintings, notably larger versions of earlier works, which were exhibited by Bill Copley in 1948, at his Beverly Hills gallery. Man Ray returned to Paris in 1951 and continued to work with a destructive, dadaist, humour, associating objects and titles, and refusing to be bound to one style or technique. He received the Gold Medal for Photography at the Venice Biennale in 1961. In 1972 the Musée national d'art moderne in Paris mounted a retrospective of the artist. His gravestone bears the inscription: Unconcerned, but not indifferent. AC