Man Ray – The Dada of Them All

Day 112 of Colourisation Project – August 27

Challenge: to publish daily a colourised photo that has some significance around the day of publication.

Man Ray, born Emmanuel Radnitzky in Philadelphia USA on this day, August 27 in 1890 was a modernist photographer, painter and filmmaker who carved out his career in Paris, France. He also had the distinction of being the only American to play a major role in both the Dada and Surrealist movements of the early 20th century.

Man Ray considered himself a painter above all else, however it was for his fashion and portrait photography that he was best known.

Man Ray & Salvador Dali

Photographer: Carl Van Vechten – Salvador Dalí & Man Ray (r) 1934 – Coloured by Loredana Crupi

Man Ray was the eldest child of Russian Jewish immigrants. After moving to Williamsburg, in Brooklyn New York, the family changed its name from Radnitzky to Ray in response to the ethnic discrimination and anti-Semitism that was prevalent at the time. He chose to use ‘Man Ray’ as his combined single name.

As a student, Man Ray was inspired by Alfred Stieglitz, whose gallery in New York he spent many hours in and Marcel Duchamp, a French-American painter and sculptor, whom he met in 1915. Around this time his focus shifted from Cubism to Surrealism and Dadaism.

After the breakup of his five year marriage to Belgian poet Adon Lacroix, Man Ray moved to Paris in 1921 and settled in the Montparnasse quarter, the bohemian hub of artistic endeavours. Here his creativity thrived mixing in Parisian circles of Dadaism (a radical anti-art movement) and Surrealism.

Dadaism, a nihilistic art and literary movement flourished in Europe early in the 20th century. Taking its name from the French nickname for ‘rocking horse’, it challenged existing notions of art and literature by flouting conventional aesthetic and cultural values.

Shortly after arriving in Paris, he met and fell in love with Kiki de Montparnasse (Alice Prin), the celebrated nightclub singer and artists’ model known as ‘Queen of Montparnasse’. They were together for most of the 1920s and she was the subject of some of his most famous photographic images. She also starred in his experimental films; Le Retour à la Raison (1923 – Return to Reason), in which he applied the rayograph technique to motion-picture film, creating patterns with salt, pepper, tacks, and pins, and L’Etoile de Mer (1928 – Star of the Sea).

Man Ray directed a number of avant-garde short films between 1923 and 1929, creating classic Surrealistic works like Anémic Cinéma (1926 in collaboration with Duchamp), Emak Bakia (1926), as well as Les Mystères du Château de Dé (1929 – The Mysteries of the Chateau of Dice).

For nearly 20 years in Montparnasse, Man Ray led the life of a distinguished photographer becoming internationally famous in both fashion and portrait photography. He completed a virtual photographic record of the celebrities of Parisian cultural life during the 1920s and ’30s. Famous portraits of his associates include a veritable who’s who of the art and literary scene; James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, Georges Braque, Pablo Picasso, André Breton, Balthus, Marcel Duchamp, Joan Miró, Henri Matisse, Salvador Dalí, Francis Poulenc, Jean Cocteau, Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, Bridget Bate Tichenor, and Antonin Artaud, just to name a few! International magazines such as VogueHarper’s Bazaar and Vu commanded a lot of his time and talent for fashion photography.

Man Ray never quite overcame his own prejudice that photography rated below painting as an art form, however these photographic commercial endeavors supported his fine art efforts, and his work in several other mediums including sculpture, painting and film.

In 1929, he met the Surrealist photographer Lee Miller, who became his photography assistant as well as his lover and muse. Miller had already made her fame as a celebrated New York fashion model and photographer.  Together they revived the photographic solarization technique creating a type of photogram he called ‘rayographs’ and which he described as ‘pure dadaism’. The solarisation effect was already known to Daguerre and is one of the earliest known effects in photography.

In 1932, Miller returned to New York and established her own portrait and commercial photography studio.

In 1940 Man Ray was forced to escape the German occupation of Paris during the Second World War and fled to Los Angeles where he lived for the next 11 years.  In Los Angeles Man Ray met Juliet Browner, a trained dancer and yes, you guessed it, an artists’ model. They married in 1946 and in 1951 they returned to Montparnasse, which for Man Ray, was always home. Man Ray’s time back in New York was unrewarding…he felt he had never really gained acceptance there as an artist. On the opposite coast in Los Angeles, which he once described as a ‘beautiful prison’, he found a degree of respect for him as a pioneer of modernism in the various art forms.

During the next quarter century Man Ray continued painting and experimenting and continued to exhibit his art with shows in New York, London, Paris and other cities.

In 1961 he was awarded the Gold Medal at the Photography Biennale, Venice, and the German Photographic Society Cultural award in 1966.

In 1963 he published his autobiography, Self-Portrait, which was later reprinted in 1999.

Man Ray died from a lung infection on November 18, 1976, in his studio in his beloved Paris,  He was 86 years of age. His body was interred in the Cimetière du Montparnasse. His epitaph reads ‘unconcerned, but not indifferent’. Juliet Browner organized a trust for his work and donated much of it to museums. When she died in 1991, she was interred in the same tomb and her epitaph reads ‘together again’.

In 1999, ARTnews magazine named Man Ray one of the 25 most influential artists of the 20th century, citing ‘his groundbreaking photography, his explorations of film, painting, sculpture, collage, assemblage and prototypes of what would eventually be called performance art and conceptual art.’


“I paint what cannot be photographed, that which comes from the imagination or from dreams, or from an unconscious drive… I photograph the things that I do not wish to paint, the things which already have an existence.”  –  Man Ray

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