Man Ray (1890-1976)

Man Ray was an American avant-garde artist and leading figure in the Dada and Surrealist movements. A pioneer in painting, film, and collage, Man Ray is best known for his black-and-white photographs.

Man Ray, Glass tears, 1932

Image source:

Man Ray  was an American visual artist who spent most of his career in Paris. He was a significant contributor to the Dada and Surrealist movements, although his ties to each were informal. He produced major works in a variety of media but considered himself a painter above all. He was best known for his photography, and he was a renowned fashion and portrait photographer.

Early life

Man Ray, born Emmanuel Radnitzky in 1890 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was born to Jewish immigrants from Russia. Ray’s artistic and mechanical ability came out at a tender age. His high school education played a more important role in providing him with a firm grounding in drafting as well as other art techniques. He also educated himself with regular visits to art museums, where he learnt the works of Old Masters like ike Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Titian and Caravaggio. As a student, Ray was inspired by Mr. Alfred Stieglitz, whose gallery he toured regularly, as well as Mr. Robert Henri, who was his high school teacher. At age 25, Ray had his very first one-man painting fair. His friendship with Duchamp, which spanned for 55 years, influenced their work and resulted in joint creative endeavors.

Man Ray and Salvador Dali, Paris by Carl Van Vechten, 1934

Image source:  by

Surrealism period

Man Ray, Aline et Valcour, 1950, oil on canvas, private collection.

Image source: Author: dou_ble_you

Initially, Ray was inspired by cubism and expressionism. But when he met Marcel Duchamp, he started to add some movement to his works. His focus then changed to Dadaism. Dadaism challenged the then perceptions of art and literature, and advocated for spontaneity. Together with Duchamp and Francis Picabia, Man Ray became the leading figure in Dada movement.

In 1920s, influenced by the writings of psychologist Sigmund Freud, the literary, intellectual, and artistic movement called Surrealism sought a revolution against the constraints of the rational mind; and by extension, they saw the rules of a society as oppressive. Surrealism also embraces a Marxist ideology that demands an orthodox approach to history as a product of the material interaction of collective interests, and many renown Surrealism artists later on became 20th century Counterculture symbols such as Marxist Che Guevara. Man Ray was the only member of Paris surrealist movement from the US. Among his popular artistic works at that time was The Gift, the sculpture which had two found objects.

Dada and readymade

Man Ray abandoned conventional painting to involve himself with Dada, a radical anti-art movement. He published two Dadaist periodicals, that each only had one issue, The Ridgefield Gazook (1915) and TNT (1919), the latter co-edited by Adolph Wolff and Mitchell Dawson. He started making objects and developed unique mechanical and photographic methods of making images. For the 1918 version of Rope Dancer, he combined a spray-gun technique with a pen drawing. Like Duchamp, he did readymades—ordinary objects that are selected and modified. His Gift readymade (1921) is a flatiron with metal tacks attached to the bottom, and Enigma of Isidore Ducasse is an unseen object (a sewing machine) wrapped in cloth and tied with cord. Aerograph (1919), another work from this period, was done with airbrush on glass.

Man Ray, The gift, 1921

Image source:


Man Ray, The kiss, 1922

Image source:

Ray Man became popular for the representations of his artistic works. He went on to develop a career as a fashion photographer, capturing images for popular magazines in Paris. While in France, he produced brilliant art works which are today known as Rayogrammes – images created on a piece of photographic paper without a camera; the subject is placed directly on a piece of paper, light is exposed then the image is produced. The shadow of the object is what produces the image, which emphasizes the influence of the light and shadow instead of the importance of the picture itself.

Info sources: