Photography, like any art form, follows certain trends. One of the most interesting trends that photography students should take note of is the Surrealist movement. Known for the juxtaposition of unexpected themes and objects and overall “surreal” imagery, Surrealism took over almost all the arts, including photography. One of the champions of both Surrealism and the anti-war movement Dadaism was artist and photographer Man Ray.
Man Ray was born in Philadelphia in 1890 as Emmanuel Radnitsky. He shortened his name to Man Ray in 1912 and the change marked a movement towards his life as an icon. Man Ray showcased a number of artistic abilities while in school and he has become well-known for his many artistic displays. It wasn’t until the 1920’s that Man Ray really entered into the world of photography. His first notable works in the photo world were in 1918 when he began experimenting with the creation of images utilizing “photograms”. These are photographs created without the use of a camera but with the placing of objects onto light-sensitive material and then exposing light to it.
Man Ray became famous for his many “rayographs” which were his exploration into photograms with his name infused into the style. He would use sprays and household items to create these amazingly artistic images. He experimented with the light exposure and how long certain objects would get light compare to others, a system comparable to the manipulation of exposure on modern day digital cameras.
Ray would utilize both traditional art forms and photography, but never together. He was quoted in an interview saying, “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.” Ironically, his photography of things that “have an existence” would be placed under the umbrella of Surrealism.
Ray revolutionized the idea of photography by taking a more artistic approach and experimenting with the technology behind photo making. He reinvigorated the photographic technique of solarization which was partly inspired by his work with photograms. Man Ray was an artist who saw everyday objects and found ways to make bold cultural statements about them through a camera’s lens. Photography students with a penchant for the arts can thank Man Ray for opening the door for truly original forms of photography in the main stream.Ray’s images live on today and can even be found online to help inspire an entirely new generation of photography students looking at a degree.
Whether you use a camera or photographic paper, Man Ray has shown what an artist can do within the natural world to create true pieces of art.
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