(Philadelphia, 1890 - Paris, 1978)
Emmanuel Radnistsky, better know as Man Ray, was born in Philadelphia in 1890 in a russian jewish family. In 1897, his family settled in New York and Man Ray, barely aged seven years old, started to paint and draw. His father wanted him to become architect but Man Ray stopped his studies and started doing various jobs: apprenticing in an engraving studio, drawing in an advertising agency and graphic designing. Starting from 1910, Man Ray took drawing classes. He went out and discovered the New York artistic life. He frequented theatres and operas, went to exhibitions and discovered the art galleries of Fifth Avenue, especially the gallery of Alfred Stieglitz, who was the greatest promoter of modern creation in New York and exhibited artists such as Cézanne, Matisse and Picasso since 1910.
In 1913, Man Ray assisted to the Armory Show and saw creations of cubist inspirations. He started painting creations influenced by cubism, including the portrait of Alfred Stieglitz in which we can see his first cubist approaches and researches. But the artist mainly painted landscapes, in which his geometrical constructions were “cézannienne” and the chromatic richness of his works was largely influenced by Matisse. This same year, Man Ray reunited around him artists and poets, and formed an entire artistic avant-garde community. He especially met the Belgian poetess Adon Lacroix (pseudonym of Donna Lecoeur), who later became his wife. Starting from 1914, Man Ray decided to not paint life paintings anymore. His work Man Ray has a unique pattern, a date – 1914 – and a name – Man Ray. The non-figurative elements become more and more present in his works. The artist painted geometrical surfaces, applying vivid – coloured tint areas. Man Ray also tested the aerography technique that consistd of spray painting on support with a pistol. Using this technique, Man Ray makes his first steps towards the Dada movement. The Dada movement wants, by using divers technique, to be outside of academic art. As the Dada movement encouraged it, Man Ray becomes largely guided by his fantasy. His sense of humour was for him the best way to access freedom, and being emancipated from artistic conventions.
While his artworks progressed towards abstraction, concreteness emerges in some of his paintings with the integration of real objects. Man Ray doesn’t divert the object as Marcel Duchamp, he just emancipates them of their everyday life, and creates a new existence. The best word to characterise his creation is “Intuition”. Man Ray proved that the most simple and usual object – such as a flatiron – could become oneiric if we have his eye, as showed his famous creation The Witness of 1971.
In 1915, he exhibited for the first time his paintings and drawings during a solo show in New York. In 1916, he frequented artistic meetings with Marcel Duchamp and Picabia, organised by the poet and modern art collector Walter Arensberg. During this period, Man Ray, Duchamp and Arensberg created the Independents Artists Society.
During the 1920’s, Man Ray revolutionized photography, developing a photogram technique he calls “rayography”. This register technique became a classical way to make photography without camera. The “rayography”, developed by accident at random of photo development, gives to photo a ghost-like aspect. The three-dimensional effects of objects shadows report an unknown reality.
In 1921, Man Ray arrived in Paris and frequented the Dadaist group of André Breton, Soupault, Ernst, Eluard and Tzara. Man Ray then moved to Montparnasse and met Alice Prin, most known under the name Kiki de Montparnasse, later becoming his partner, his muse and his principal model. We can see her in his famous work Ingres Violin of 1924.
In 1922, his photographic production became more and more important and Man Ray painted portraits of numerous personalities such as Meret Oppenheim and Dora Maar, just as his artistic friends Duchamp, Tzara, Artaud, Ernst and Breton. Man Ray also realized fashion photography for the couturier Paul Poiret and later for Vogue. In 1923, Man Ray realized his first movie, Return to Reason. In 1922, in order to earn his life, Man Ray felt obliged to dedicate his creation to photography, and gave up painting for a while. He and Duchamp experimented more and more with photography, and cinematography. The two artists founded the Anonymous Society Inc., a king of contemporary art museum open to public.
In 1924, he was present at the formation of Surrealist Group in Paris. Man Ray participated to group manifestations, events, and to collective exhibitions and frequented artists such as André Breton and Paul Eluard, great figures of Surrealism. He collaborates to the Surrealist review Surrealist Revolution. In 1925 he participated in the first surrealist exhibition in Paris at the gallery Pierre with Jean Arp, Max Ernst, André Masson, Joan Miro and Picasso.
In 1931, Man Ray exposes a photographic negative for the second time by mistake: this is the beginning of his Solarisations. He deals with this result in depth and creates a new photographic technique. His pictures, mostly feminine nudes, became surrounded by a luminous and poetical halo. This solarisation responded to the surrealist demand of fusion between the imaginary and the real. Between oneirism and eroticism, these solarisations satisfied his desire to “photograph dreams”. With his solarisations, Man Ray entered further in Surrealism. He participated in many collectives exhibitions, including in London (International Surrealist Exhibition in 1936 and Surrealist Paintings, Drawings and Objects) and in Paris (Exhibition Surrealist Objects in 1936 and International Surrealism Exhibition at the Beaux-Arts Academy), and also at the exhibition Fantastic Art, Dada and Surrealism organized at Modern Art Museum in New York. In 1937, the gallery Jeanne Bucher organized a solo show for him.
In 1940, during Military Occupation in Paris, Man Ray went back to the United-States, settling in Hollywood. During 1940’s he organised many individual exhibitions in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York. In 1946, he participated in the exhibition Modern Art’s Pioneer in America, organised by the Whitney Museum in New York.
In 1951, Man Ray came back to Paris. From 1953 to 1960, an entire series of personal exhibitions were dedicated to him in Los Angeles, Paris and New York. From 1957 to 1960, Man Ray participated in many exhibitions in tribute to Dada and Surrealism in Paris, Amsterdam and Dusseldorf.
In 1961, at the age of 71 years old, Man Ray received his first reward: a Golden Medal for Photography in the Venice Biennale. In 1966, his first retrospective was organised in Los Angeles at County Museum of Art. During the 1970’s, numerous retrospectives and solo shows were dedicated to him around the world, from the United-States to Japan, including Italy and France. Two years before he died, Man Ray came back to the Venice Biennale in 1976 and showed no less than 176 photographs.
As an independent artist, Man Ray was never far away from aesthetic pressure and artistic ideologies. He never stopped to contribute to improve movements he was interested in, such as Dada and Surrealism, with techniques such as Rayography and Solarisation. Man Ray is the personification of the avant-garde artist: inventiveness, audacity, imaginary and art questioning. Intuitive by using objects, unpredictable by technique or rayography, Man Ray is the witness of an entire artistic period. If Surrealism withstands time and is much present in our mind, this is thanks to his pictures that immortalized surrealist artists of this time, creating surrealist photography.