September 17th, 2005
Man Ray
Prophet of the Avant-Garde

“I do not photograph nature. I photograph my visions.”
–Man Ray

Man Ray, the master of experimental and fashion photography was also a painter, a filmmaker, a poet, an essayist, a philosopher, and a leader of American modernism. Known for documenting the cultural elite living in France, Man Ray spent much of his time fighting the formal constraints of the visual arts. Ray’s life and art were always provocative, engaging, and challenging.

Born Emanuel Rabinovitch in 1890, Man Ray spent most of his young life in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The eldest child of an immigrant Jewish tailor, he was a mediocre student who shunned college for the bohemian artistic life in nearby Manhattan. In New York he began to work as an artist, meeting many of the most important figures of the time. He learned the rudiments of photography from the art dealer and photographer, Alfred Stieglitz, and began to experiment on his own.

In 1914, Man Ray married the Belgian poet, Adon Lacroix, and soon after met the experimental artist Marcel Duchamp. Duchamp was to be one of Man Ray’s greatest influences as well as a close friend and collaborator. Together the two attempted to bring some of the verve of the European experimental art movements to America. The most energetic of these movements was “dada.” Dada was an attempt to create work so absurd it confused the viewer’s sense of reality. The dadaists would take everyday objects and present them as if they were finished works of art. For Man Ray, dada’s experimentation was no match for the wild and chaotic streets of New York, and he wrote “Dada cannot live in New York. All New York is dada, and will not tolerate a rival.”

Having broken with his wife, Man Ray left New York for Paris in 1921—marking a continuous stream of tempestuous and often doomed romances. Through Duchamp, Man Ray met some of the most exciting artists and thinkers in Paris. Though he didn’t speak a word of French at first, he was welcomed into this group and became its unofficial photographer. Among the many models from this period were Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, Salvador Dali, Gertude Stein, James Joyce, and the famous performer, Kiki of Montparnasse. For six years Kiki was Ray’s constant model, muse, and lover.

Among the most famous of his photographs of the time are the many of Kiki. Man Ray’s photographs of Kiki often use the outline of her body to represent other objects. This interest in minimalism and abstraction carried over to Man Ray’s experiments with what he termed “rayographs.” A “rayograph” was made by placing a three-dimensional object or series of objects on top of a piece of photographic paper and exposing it to light. These images lyrically and impressionistically represented objects such as ropes, light bulbs, and thumb tacks. Many artists responded positively to Man Ray’s daring combination of minimalism, chance, and absurdity, and in 1922 he published his first book of them entitled The Delightful Fields.

Throughout the 1930s Man Ray continued to paint, sculpt, and make portraits along with the surrealists, whose freewheeling dispositions were similar to his own. Though deeply immersed in the artistic life of France, World War II forced Man Ray to leave Paris, and he moved to Hollywood. In Hollywood, many expatriate artists, musicians, and writers took up residence. He spent ten years there working as a fashion photographer. With his brave use of lighting and minimalist representation, Man Ray produced fashion photographs unlike any that had come before—and forever changed that discipline.

Man Ray longed, however, to be back in Paris, the city that had nurtured his creative life. So, after the war, married to a young dancer named Juliet Brown, he moved back. He spent the next twenty-five years there, creating paintings, sculptures, films, and photographs. He died on November 18, 1976 at the age of eighty-six. One the great artists and agitators of his time, Man Ray will be remembered not simply for the fascinating and experimental works he left behind, but for the crucial role he played in encouraging the revolutionary in art.

  • gina

    His last name is WRONG.
    it’s Radnitzky.

  • maurey

    true artist

  • Haley

    True artist, true genius. I love his work.

  • freddie

    A scoundrel of the highest order…I love him.

  • manny

    this guy is sexy.
    I’d date him.

  • Henry

    Eliza, Alice & Jessie are awesome!

  • kirsten louise meyer

    ohhh yeaa im better than you!!!
    x

  • :-)

    makes weird photos

  • STEF

    As if Man Ray would come on here and say “im still alive you bastards” and not read what is actually written, his name is spelt wrong for a start., he is a terrific artist so dont ask him oh did you die. dont be so rude.

  • Dyl

    He is my idol!!!!

  • Dyl

    He is my idol!!!! lol where does everyone live? i live in Australia

  • Kixx

    for you really big Man Ray fans…
    http://www.manray-photo.com/catalog/index.php
    have fun ^,^

  • man rays number 1 baby

    man ray is my boyfriend so you shouldn’t be so rude to him. he is in the corner and he is crying and he wont come out. Dont insult my hero. he is so sexy

  • Koshal Hamal

    Man Ray is my favorite artist of 20th century..

  • &

    hey i was wondering if you did landscaping photography?

  • http://photographerinfo.wordpress.com/2009/05/15/man-rays-avant-garde-photography/ Man Ray’s avant garde photography « Photography -Daily Snaps and Musings

    [...] May 15, 2009 · No Comments Man Ray is famous mostly for his avant-garde photography. Painters will often take an image and use that as a basis for their painting. Man Ray however did what many think was the opposite thing. He turned a famous painting into a photo… An interesting concept. Although he claims to have photographed his visions, it seems many of these visions are more like art pieces.  A good article on him can be found on PBS website. [...]

  • DC

    I like your work RAY

  • kickfliper455

    your work is cool

  • Milly

    Everything I’ve studied about Man Ray says that his birth name was (very slight) variation of Emmanuel RADNITZKY, not Rabinovitch. Rabinovitch doesn’t sound at all like something Ray could stem from, whereas RAdnitzkY does. I think you (people/researchers, at PBS) should do research and change the error, or please let me know if you guys know something I do not. Thanks!!!

  • http://menspankings.blogspot.com/ Dylan Peres

    A great post please keep more coming thanks

  • popfly

    His second wife’s name was Juliet Browner not Brown. Last name Radnitzky not Rabinowitz. When will these errors be corrected?

  • mimi

    This needs to be rewritten. As the person above says, for one, Man Ray’s actual last name was Emmanuel Radnitzky. Also, the characterization of Dada is a bit off. Sorry to be so cranky.

  • Peter

    mmm-m-mm-m-mm
    mmm-m-mm-m-mm
    mmm-m-mm-m-mm
    MAN RAY!

  • Martin Horan

    That people continue to believe that Man Ray was an artist is proof that the Emperor still parades around naked. The whole dadaist movement was run–and is kept going–by a bunch of pseudo-intellectuall phonies.
    One has only to look at the photographs of Alfred Eisensttadt or the paintings of Stanley Spencer (both of whose lives overlapped Man Ray’s) to see at least two examples that there were real, creative artists around then. There still such artists but they continue to be overlooked and ignored for the talentless and the inept. Why? Because the pretentious diletantes who run the show are talentless and inept themselves. So we can expect to see the inane and the mindlessly pointless drivel to masquerade as art, music and literature for a long time to come. The whole of so-called international culture today can be summed up in the immortal words of Shakespeare: A tale told by an idiot full of sound and fury signifying nothing. The fact that much of the bunk passed of as art these days is political is further proof that it is, indeed, bunk.

  • Akira

    – “Manny, whadrya doin’ over there in Paris? This Hitla schmuck is comin’ up these days! Who’s this Kiki de Pontparnasse? Is she a shiksah or what? Come home and help run the store!”

    – “Mamma, whaddya talkin’? I got these goy ova heah eatin’ outta my hands. So many shekels I’m pullin’ in you wouldn believe! They think I’m an ahhtist.”

    – “An ahhtist! Whadrya, mashuganah? We don’t make no ahht!

  • Benipayo

    Thanks for the mini bio of Man Ray. He really was a great artist and influenced many other artist.

  • chuck bodnar

    check out connection between man ray, Dr.george Hodel & the Black Daliah murder in LA 1947. Man Ray was a sleeze bag with NO morals. read it for yourself The Black Daliah Avenger. by Dr Hodels son Steve Hodel.Jusdt fantaqstic by just as sickening.

    CB

  • Joanne Theodorou

    I had the pleasure of viewing this 60 minute docu on Man Ray at MMA, NYC yesterday, July 12th 2011, with Mel Stuart making a generous appearance and accepting questions from the fascinated audience.
    Mr. Stuart, .did you have the MOST FUN making this VHS? Man Ray was indeed an original. Do you own any Man Ray pieces yourself? Thank you to Neil Baldwin, also, well written docu.

  • blah blah blah

    @ gina , Man Rays last name was RADNITZKY but his yougner brother Sam suuggested they all changed there surname to Ray.

  • http://www.saltybaker.com Gaylord Hohnstein

    @Satterwhite529 – thank you

  • DarkandTwistedinthehead

    WOW. he used his lovers body to outline objects.
    LOVE THIS GUY!!!!!

Inside This Episode

  • Prophet of the Avant-Garde

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