“Of course, there will always be those who look only at technique, who ask ‘how’, while others of a more curious nature will ask ‘why’. Personally, I have always preferred inspiration to information.”Man Ray

Paint to camera

Man Ray is the name taken by Emmanuel Radnitzky and was never acknowledged by Man Ray as his given name. He was an American painter turned photographer who lived mostly in Paris. He was active in surrealism and the Dada movement. His early influences included the 291 Gallery of Alfred Stieglitz in New York City. Photography entered into his art when he got a camera to document his artwork.

From conventional painting, Man Ray became part of the radical anti-art movement Dada. He published two one-issue magazines on Dada, “The Ridgefield Gazook” and “TNT.” He began to create objects and experiment with unique photographic techniques.

“An original is a creation motivated by desire. Any reproduction of an original is motivated by necessity. It is marvelous that we are the only species that creates gratuitous forms. To create is divine, to reproduce is human.” –Man Ray

Man Ray Self Portrait Solarization
Man Ray Self Portrait Solarization

In Paris

During the 20 years between world wars, Man Ray became a pioneering photographer in Paris. He made portraits of notables like Picasso, James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, Salvador Dali, Jean Cocteau and Peggy Guggenheim. There he also photographed African objects from Paul Guillaume and Charles Ratton. These iconic photos included “Noir et Blanche.” Man Ray scholar Wendy Grossman stated,

“no one was more influential in translating the vogue for African art into a Modernist photographic aesthetic than Man Ray.”

Rayograms and solarization

Man Ray made many images by exposing items placed on photo paper to light. This type of picture is known as a photogram. Ray called the “Rayograms” and considered them “pure dadaism.” Solarizations involve re-exposing a partially developed piece of photo paper to a brief burst of light causing some of the tones to reverse. Man Ray along with his lover and assistant Lee Miller reinvented the solarization technique.

Paris to New York and back again

Man Ray left Paris at the beginning of World War II where he met and married Juliet Browner, an experienced artist’s model and dancer who trained with Martha Graham. Their wedding was a double ceremony that also joined artist Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning. Man Ray had a solo exhibition of his work at the Copley Galleries in Beverly Hills. The range of his art was varied and diverse. After the war, in 1951, Man Ray moved back to Paris with Juliet into a studio near the Luxembourg Gardens. He continued to make art in creative ways across many mediums. His autobiography “Self Portrait” was published in 1963 and republished in 1999.

“It has never been my object to record my dreams, just the determination to realize them.” –Man Ray

Man Ray died of an infection in his lungs in Paris in 1976. Juliet lived until 1999. His work is stored in the Pompidou Center in Paris.

Read more On Photography mini-bios of influential photographers past and present.