New York Photo Review
Volume 4 Issue 4 January 23 to 29, 2013

The Genetic Wars by Barbara Confino
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Man Ray
Alias Man Ray: The Art of Reinvention

As if encapsulating every seminal urge of early 20th century art, Man Ray was the consummate polymath, trying his hand at everything from painting to collage to objects to photography — and whatever lay between. He once said that he painted what he could not photograph and photographed what he could not paint. True as that might be, as a photographer he was a master of style and manipulation, tugging at the boundaries of a resolutely realistic medium to create works of photographic imagination rarely equaled.

Introduced to Dada circles by his friend Marcel Duchamp upon his move to France, Man Ray was almost immediately accepted into the Parisian avant-garde. It was in Paris that he began to photograph seriously. Initially a solution to the problem of earning a living, photography in Man Ray’s inventive hands became a major conduit between the experimentation of the Surrealists and the dissemination of the printed media. Combining the elegance desirable in fashion with the quirky and erotic edge the Surrealists loved, along with his own penchant for technical experimentation, Man Ray soon became the photographic darling of le beau monde. To be photographed by him was the insignia of success, much the way being photographed by Richard Avedon was for a later generation.

Especially known for his photograms (which he called rayographs), light drawings, and solarizations, whose painterly qualities he often combined with straight photography in his portraits, Man Ray shared the experimental stage in photography with his Bauhaus contemporary, Moholy Nagy. There is a tug of war over who invented the photogram first. Neither, as it turns out, since camera-less photographs were being made from the earliest experiments of Fox Talbert and Anna Atkins with light sensitive paper. Nevertheless Man Ray produced some of the most beautiful examples of the technique, several of which are on display at the Jewish Museum retrospective currently on view in New York. His delight in surrealist juxtapositions can be seen as well, most particularly in the found objects, but also in photographs such as Noire et Blanche. While I am confining this article to a discussion of Man Ray, the photographer, the Jewish Museum should be applauded for presenting a show which explores the full range of his talents, their evolution over time and the historical context within which they flourished.

Man Ray
Alias Man Ray: The Art of Reinvention


Jewish Museum
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Sunday, November 15 to
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Photographs by Norman Borden
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