The power of Man Ray: photographer, artist, visionary

The power of Man Ray: photographer, artist, visionary

It seems unlikely that Michael Emmanuel Radnitzky – born in 1890 in Philadelphia, but a Parisian by inclination – would have achieved quite the same name recognition had he not adopted the tag Man Ray. He might, though, have still hobnobbed with both Duchamp and the surrealists, taken portraits of Europe’s art elite and then Hollywood stars and, along the way, had a famous relationship with Lee Miller and helped establish photography as a legitimate and powerful artistic medium (even if he remained unconvinced of that). He was 20th century art’s de facto official photographer – particularly of the creative swirl, nodes and networks of Paris between the wars – but as active participant rather than neutral outsider.

Ray had started out as painter and collaborated with Duchamp in New York before decamping to Paris in 1921. There, in a series of remarkable portraits and sort-of-still-lives, and using extreme crops, props, photomontage and experimental lighting and printing (particularly with his X-ray-like ’rayographs’ of found objects), he took photography to new places. He shot Duchamp, Hemingway, Schoenberg, Joyce, Picasso, Peggy Guggenheim, Cocteau, Stravinsky, Matisse, Magritte, Miro, Dali, Schiaparelli, Coco Chanel, Virginia Wolf, Le Corbusier, Ava Gardner, Catherine Deneuve and – an iconic and enduring series and subset – the dazzling and thoroughly modern Ms Miller. He died in Paris in 1976, aged 86.

Incidentally, William Wegman, in tribute, named the first and most famous of his weimaraners Man Ray. Look out for much more on him in our October issue.

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