Man Ray - The photographer of surrealism

Margaux Jouault
Publié le 1 February 2023
Man Ray - The photographer of surrealism

Man Ray has left his mark on painting and photography. Museum TV looks back at a versatile artist who greatly contributed to the success of surrealism in France. 

Man Ray in his early days

Man Ray's eye has influenced the world of painting, but also photography. Born in Philadelphia on August 27, 1890, his real name was Emmanuel Radnitzky and he came from a family of textile artisans.

After entering the New York Art School, but without any recognition of his talent, Man Ray quickly left the school. He decided to paint anything and everything, but he tinkered and created various objects, such as Tapestry in 1911. This was his first work signed in his name.

In 1915, Marcel Duchamp fled the war and moved to the United States. He exhibited in Gallery 291, an art gallery that Man Ray frequented. The two artists met in the spring of 1915. A real connection took place between the two painters, who were convinced that they were redefining the definition of the work of art and bringing in a conceptual aspect.

His arrival in France and his training as a surrealist

It was not in the United States that he became successful, but in Paris. He began to be noticed for his Dadaist and Surrealist imprint. Motivated by Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray arrived in the French capital on 14 July 1921. At that time, Paris was in full swing, it was the Roaring Twenties. The American artist met up with André Breton, Paul Eluard, Louis Aragon and Philippe Soupault: they formed the Surrealist movement.

The artist even made four short films between 1924 and 1929. In 1937, he became an illustrator for the collection of poems Les Mains Libres, written by Paul Eluard.  

Photographer and painter: a versatile artist

What brought Man Ray to photography was an observation: unsatisfied with the pictures of his works at exhibitions, he decided to make them himself. At that time, photography was not considered an artistic profession. For Man Ray, it was a way to earn a living.

In 1920, he had a revelation when he took photographs of crumpled sheets. It was then that he became aware of his potential. For the child from Philadelphia, photography was a means of expressing what he could not do in painting and vice versa.

In photography, women and the female body were his favourite subjects. His emotional life influenced his artistic life and vice versa. In his works, such as in Anatomy (1930) and Sans nom, created the same year, he explored sensuality and the expression of human desire.

Man Ray died on 18 November 1976 in Paris, leaving a virtuoso mark on surrealist art through his multidisciplinary personality: "I photograph what I do not wish to paint, and I paint what I cannot photograph".

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