Man Ray’s Rayographs


Man Ray’s great influence on 20th century art covers a range of disciplines including painting, photography, sculpture and film. A key member of the Dada and Surrealist movements, he considered himself to be principally a painter, but in fact made his most significant contributions in the genres of fashion, portrait and camera-less photography.

Man Ray became well-known for his portraits of fellow artists and writers – including George Braque, Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse – but also for his daring, unusual and, crucially, camera-less photographs. He called them ‘rayographs’, after himself. Taking various found objects, Man Ray would place them on light-sensitive photographic paper in the dark, and then expose the paper with bursts of light. This would result in the objects’ silhouettes being left on the newly blackened paper.

He also used burst of light to add further patterns and highlights. This technique was not new, the process having been invented by William Fox Talbot in the 1830s, and the official name for the result was a ‘photogram’. However, it was nevertheless sufficiently innovative to keep Man Ray at the forefront of the Parisian avant-garde, not least because the found and unconnected nature of the objects used fitted into Dada principals. This rayograph, taken in 1924, mysteriously shows letter cards, and an unloaded gun.

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