From Studio to Street: The UrbanPhotography of Man Ray
Dada and Surrealist photographer Man Ray is rarely associated with street photo-graphy, a genre popular with artists and writers of the 1920s and 1930s. Yet his work demonstrates a closer connection to this area than has previously been acknowl-edged. From the early Dada constructions to the later photographic depictions of Paris and New York, the city played a crucial role in Man Ray’s artistic output. Thisessay explores Man Ray’s urban photography not as an uncharacteristic shift of concerns, as some critics have argued, but rather as an extension of the aestheticapproach taken in his more famous studio-based works. It explores the influence of Euge`ne Atget, whom Man Ray claimed to have ‘discovered’, and argues that thelatter draws on the older photographer’s compositional structures, pushing theminto more abstract, formalist territory.
Man Ray (1890–1976), Euge`ne Atget (1857–1927), urban photography,street photography, city, flaˆnerie, Paris
Man Ray is rarely associated with the field of urban photography, and so the title of this article may initially seem to be something of an anomaly. His status as one of themost important photographers of the twentieth century rests largely on his studio-based works and on the techniques of rayography and solarisation with which hisname became synonymous. Occupying a crucial position within the movements of Dada and Surrealism, his intricately composed photographs transform and manip-ulate reality in a controlled environment, often relying heavily on the creativepotential of artificial light.It is from this perspective that Man Ray’s explorations into the photographicmedium appear somewhat removed from the various representations of the city produced by a number of his contemporaries. He even overtly positioned himself inopposition to external landscape photography, saying: ‘I think that, instead of producing a banal representation of a place, I’d rather take my handkerchief out of my pocket, twist it to my liking, and photograph it as I wish’.
Nonetheless, the city played a crucial role in Man Ray’s life and career, and numerous references to itappear in photographs throughout the 1920s and 1930s. Unfortunately, these imagesare rarely presented in exhibitions or collected volumes of Man Ray’s work, and, assuch, are accorded very little importance within his oeuvre more generally.
As weshall see, most accounts consider the city photographs in terms of a fleeting phase,representing an uncharacteristic shift of concerns from studio to street. The presentarticle explorestheseimagesinrelationtoManRay’svision ofthecity,particularlyinterms of his attention to the underlying formal patterns and structures of his urbansurroundings. It aims to show how Man Ray’s aestheticisation of the city creates animportant link with his studio-based approach and reveals a more fluid interactionbetween the two spheres than has previously been acknowledged.
1 – ‘Je trouve que, plutoˆt que de donner unerepre
sentation banale d’un site, il estpre
rable de sortir mon mouchoir de mapoche, de le tortiller a`mon gre
, et de lephotographier comme il me convient’. JeanAdhemar and Julien Cain,
L’Exposition del’œuvre photographique a`la Bibliothe`que Nationale
, Paris: Bibliothe`que Nationale1962, 10.2 – The two major exceptions are Jean-Hubert Martin (ed.),
Man Ray, Photographs
,London: Thames and Hudson 2001, and therecently published John P. Jacob (ed.),
ManRay: Trees & Flowers – Insects & Animals
,Go¨ttingen: Steidl 2009. The latter is mostimpressive in its bringing together of some300 lesser-known photographs from theMan Ray Trust, some of which are publishedfor the first time. A great majority of theseimages show subjects in natural, exteriorsettings, and thus offer an importantcomplement to his more frequently reproduced studio works.
History of Photography, Volume 34, Number 1, February 2010ISSN 0308-7298
2010 Taylor & Francis
D o w n l o a d e d b y [ D a r t m o u t h C o l l e g e L i b r a r y ] a t 1 2 : 1 4 1 5 A p r i l 2 0 1 3