Born Emmanuel Radnitzky in 1890 Philadelphia to Russian Jewish immigrants. It was in 1912 due to anti-Semitism and discrimination that the family changed their name to Ray while Emmanuel who was nicknamed ‘Manny’ changed his first name to Man and the slowly began to use Man Ray as a combined single name.
It was as a child that Man Ray started showing artistic capabilities and it was while at Brooklyn’s Boys’ High School that showed him basic art techniques along with frequent visits to to the local art museums he studied the works of the ‘Old Masters’. While living at home the family allowed room for Man Ray to have a studio where he worked to become a professional painter while being a technical illustrator at several companies.
His first foray into exhibitions was after his influence from cubism when he say the Armory Show and works of European contemporary artists and in 1915 Man Ray held his first solo show of drawing and paintings and it was three years after in 1918 that he produced his first significant photograph. It was in 1921 the Man Ray moved to Paris, continuing in an avant grade fashion he became famous for his portraits of his associates while also building a career as a fashion photographer for Vogue. He was a photographic innovator, discovering new ways to create interesting images which were called ‘Rayographs’ which were made by placing and manipulating objects on pieces of photosensitive paper.
One of Man Rays most famous photographs was taken during his time in Paris, in 1924 he photographed his lover, Kiki de Montparnasse. It shows her bare back with two black shapes on her back to give the impression of a musical instrument. This interesting and conceptual idea is a brilliant use of the human form, without becoming to abstract and losing the basis of the image Man Ray has given the personification of the model a subtle touch by the simple use of the black shapes. I like the head being turnt to the side, the profile view of the subject adds a personality to the photograph, the apparent ear ring and darkness by the eyes further cements the womanly feel to the subject that gives the shape of the back a more fitting connection with that of an musical instrument.
It was after this that Man Ray also experimented with the technique called the Sabatier effect or also known as solarization, This is caused usually by accidentally exposing the exposed plate of film to a light during the developing process. It was considered that Man Ray perfected this technique alongside his assistant Lee Miller. This delicately beautiful profile captures the essence of the subject and the technique of solarization perfectly. The reversal in tone here shows the control in lighting from Man Ray, the face being lit softly in appearance here but when photographed would have been darker that the neck area, this altered balance of lighting would be against the traditional conception. The image is finished off beautifully with the dark rim light that contrasts the skin tones beautifully and really making the soft skin and hair stand out.
Considered one of the most influential photographers of his generation Man Ray was an artist firmly in both camps of painting and drawing and photography. His work within Dada, a radical anti-art movement and that of his photography combine to show a very complex and talented individual capable of innovations and incredible pieces of art.