“It has never been my object to record my dreams, just the determination to realize them.”
In the contemporary world, there are numerous public figures that have emerged as household names in abbreviated terms. MJ, Cher, Prince, Ichiro, and LeBron are all such examples. But few, with the exception of perhaps Prince, have pulled it off as eccentrically and adamantly as Man Ray did, starting one hundred years ago. Born Emmanuel Radnitzky in Philadelphia but mostly raised in Brooklyn, the Radnitzky family changed their surname to Ray amidst pronounced anti-Semitism during the early 1900s. Already nicknamed Manny, the future artist decided to truncate it further, leaving it to be simply Man Ray. For the majority of his life, Man Ray would neither speak about his past nor admit his name had ever been anything else.
An avant-garde artist in numerous mediums, Man Ray’s photography career didn’t distinguish itself until he was into his thirties and living in Paris. There he would be the photographer for the artistic elite, such as James Joyce and Jean Cocteau. Other, more ordinary works would be commercial fashion projects, tracing back to his lineage as a tailor’s sun. But most of his time would be dedicated to pieces of Surrealism and Dadaism. The abstract, Dadaist-clashes against accepted artistic sensibilities were abhorred by critics but celebrated by modernists whom had been left with a sour aftertaste from World War I. Meanwhile, his surrealist works were often subtle adjustments of basic images, yielding surprisingly effective results. One such example was Violon d’Ingres, where Man Ray painted f-holes onto the back of model Kiki de Montparnasse. Originally a work by Ingres, the simple addition by Man Ray – as noted by the Getty Museum – brought attention to Kiki’s naturally violin-esque shape while also illustrating the oft-fine line between objectifying and appreciating the female form.
During his time in Paris, one of his most noted colleagues would be Lee Miller. Miller, who had sought out Man Ray to become his assistant, would become both Man Ray’s lover and muse. Together they would experiment with, amongst other techniques, solarization and rayographs. The rayographs, made by placing objects on photosensitized paper and exposing it to light, were an abstract revelation that, according the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, raised Man Ray to the grounds tended by his avant-garde contemporaries in the painting world.
After World War II forced him to return to the United States, Man Ray would marry his second wife Juliet Browner. The pair had met only a few days after his arrival in Los Angeles. France still held his heart, however, and he would return when able. In 1976, Man Ray succumbed to a lung infection while in Paris. Combined with his photographic works, ARTnews magazine cited his influence as a creative liberator in painting, film, sculpture, collage and other forms of conceptual art as reason to their dubbing him on of the 25 most influential artists of the 20th century.