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Man Ray Photo

Man Ray

American Photographer, Sculptor, Painter, and Filmmaker

Movements and Styles: Cubism, Dada, Surrealism, Futurism

Born: August 27, 1890 - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Died: November 18, 1976 - Paris, France

Man Ray Timeline


"To create is divine, to reproduce is human."
Man Ray
"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."
Man Ray
"A camera alone does not make a picture. To make a picture you need a camera, a photographer and above all a subject. It is the subject that determines the interest of the photograph."
Man Ray
"A creator needs only one enthusiast to justify him."
Man Ray
"I would photograph an idea rather than an object, a dream rather than an idea."
Man Ray
"It has never been my object to record my dreams, just the determination to realize them."
Man Ray
"Don't put my name on it. These are simply documents I make."
Man Ray
"Regardless of the form in which it is ultimately presented, the object is intended to amuse, encourage, bore, be thought-provoking, but never to arouse admiration for the technical perfection usually called for by a work of art. I say, the world is full of extraordinary craftsmen, but there are only a few practical dreamers"
Man Ray

"Nature does not create works of art. It is we, and the faculty of interpretation peculiar to the human mind, that see art."

Man Ray Signature


Man Ray's career is distinctive above all for the success he achieved in both the United States and Europe. First maturing in the center of American modernism in the 1910s, he made Paris his home in the 1920s and 1930s, and in the 1940s he crossed the Atlantic once again, spending periods in New York and Hollywood. His art spanned painting, sculpture, film, prints and poetry, and in his long career he worked in styles influenced by Cubism, Futurism, Dada and Surrealism. He also successfully navigated the worlds of commercial and fine art, and came to be a sought-after fashion photographer. He is perhaps most remembered for his photographs of the inter-war years, in particular the camera-less pictures he called 'Rayographs', but he always regarded himself first and foremost as a painter.

Key Ideas

Although he matured as an abstract painter, Man Ray eventually disregarded the traditional superiority painting held over photography and happily moved between different forms. Dada and Surrealism were important in encouraging this attitude; they also persuaded him that the idea motivating a work of art was more important than the work of art itself.
For Man Ray, photography often operated in the gap between art and life. It was a means of documenting sculptures that never had an independent life outside the photograph, and it was a means of capturing the activities of his avant-garde friends. His work as a commercial photographer encouraged him to create fine, carefully composed prints, but he would never aspire to be a fine art photographer in the manner of his early inspiration, Alfred Stieglitz.
André Breton once described Man Ray as a 'pre-Surrealist', something which accurately describes the artist's natural affinity for the style. Even before the movement had coalesced, in the mid 1920s, his work, influenced by Marcel Duchamp, had Surrealist undertones, and he would continue to draw on the movement's ideas throughout his life. His work has ultimately been very important in popularizing Surrealism.


Man Ray Photo


Man Ray was born as Emmanuel Radnitzky in 1890 to a Russian-Jewish immigrant family in Philadelphia. His tailor father and seamstress mother soon relocated the family to the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, where Ray spent most of his childhood. His family changed their surname to Ray due to the fear of anti-Semitism. His name evolved to Man Ray after shortening his nickname, Manny, to Man. He kept his family background secret for most of his career, though the influence of his parents' occupations is evident in many of his works.

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Man Ray Biography Continues

Important Art by Man Ray

The below artworks are the most important by Man Ray - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

The Enigma of Isidore Ducasse (1920)
Artwork Images

The Enigma of Isidore Ducasse (1920)

Artwork description & Analysis: This early, assisted readymade (a found object slightly altered) was created a year before Man Ray left for France. Marcel Duchamp's influence and assistance are evident in this Dada object, in which a sewing machine is wrapped in an army blanket, and tied with a string. The title comes from French poet Isidore Ducasse (1846-70) and the imagery comes from a quote in his book Les Chants de Maldoror (1869): 'Beautiful as the chance meeting, on a dissecting table, of a sewing machine and an umbrella'. Chance effects were important to the Dada artists, and the piece is very much in that spirit, but it also prefigures the Surrealists' interest in revealing the creative power of the unconscious. The original object was created and then dismantled after the photograph was taken. Ray did not reveal the 'enigma' under the felt and intended the photograph as a riddle for the viewers to solve with the title providing a hint.

Object wrapped in felt and string - National Gallery of Australia, Parkes (reconstructed in 1971)

Le Cadeau (The Gift) (1921)
Artwork Images

Le Cadeau (The Gift) (1921)

Artwork description & Analysis: This piece was made in the afternoon on the opening day of Man Ray's first solo show in Paris. It was intended as a gift to the gallery owner, the poet Philippe Soupault, and Ray added it to the show at the last minute. But the object received much attention and disappeared at the end of the opening.

Another assisted readymade, Ray took a simple utilitarian object, an iron, and made it evoke different qualities by attaching the tacks. Hence the tacks, which cling and hold, contrast with the iron, which is meant to smoothly glide, and both are rendered useless.

Iron and tacks - The Museum of Modern Art, New York (replica of the lost original)

Rayography (The Kiss) (1922)
Artwork Images

Rayography (The Kiss) (1922)

Artwork description & Analysis: This is one of Man Ray's earliest Rayograms, a process by which objects are laid directly on to a photo-sensitive paper then exposed to light. To create this particular picture, he transferred the silhouette of a pair of hands to the photographic paper then repeated the procedure with a pair of heads (his and his then lover's, Kiki de Montparnasse).

Rayograms gave Man Ray an opportunity to be in direct contact with his work and react to his creations immediately by adding one layer upon the next layer. He used inanimate objects as well as his own body to create his earlier pictures, and the pictures sometimes have an autobiographical quality, with many of his photographs portraying his lovers.

Gelatin silver print (photogram) - The Museum of Modern Art, New York

More Man Ray Artwork and Analysis:

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Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Man Ray
Interactive chart with Man Ray's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
View Influences Chart


Paul CézannePaul Cézanne
Auguste RodinAuguste Rodin
Henri MatisseHenri Matisse

Personal Contacts

Marcel DuchampMarcel Duchamp
Francis PicabiaFrancis Picabia
Pablo PicassoPablo Picasso
Salvador DalíSalvador Dalí
Alfred StieglitzAlfred Stieglitz



Influences on Artist
Man Ray
Man Ray
Years Worked: 1915 - 1976
Influenced by Artist


Bill BrandtBill Brandt
Andy WarholAndy Warhol
László Moholy-NagyLászló Moholy-Nagy
Irving PennIrving Penn
Richard AvedonRichard Avedon

Personal Contacts

Marcel DuchampMarcel Duchamp


Pop ArtPop Art
Conceptual ArtConceptual Art
Modern PhotographyModern Photography

Useful Resources on Man Ray






The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.


Man Ray: American Artist Recomended resource

By Neil Baldwin

Man Ray Recomended resource

By Guido Comis, Marco Franciolli

Man Ray/Lee Miller: Partners in Surrealism

By Phillip Prodger

Man Ray in Paris

By Erin C. Garcia

More Interesting Books about Man Ray
Mercurial Jester, Revealing and Concealing Recomended resource

By Karen Rosenberg
The New York Times
November 19, 2009

Getty Acquires Man Ray Archive Recomended resource

By Stephanie Cash
Art in America
December 15, 2011

Art Review; Emmanuel Radnitsky, Before He Was Man Ray Recomended resource

By Grace Glueck
The New York Times
March 7, 2003

Art in Review; Marcel Duchamp/Man Ray

By Ken Johnson
The New York Times
February 18, 2000

More Interesting Articles about Man Ray
Retour a la raison


Emak Bakia (1927)

A Short Film by Man Ray

L'Etoile de Mer (1927)

Part 1 - Link to Part 2 available on this page

Les Mysteres du Chateau de De (1929)

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Content compiled and written by Jin Jung

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Jin Jung
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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