Man Ray Portraits

Posted on by Laurie Garrett

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Well of course I knew Man Ray was a revolutionary and key part of the Dada movement of the early 20th Century, but Terence Pepper’s book has opened my eyes to another role the great photographer played: Chronicler.  From Marcel Duchamp to Pablo Picasso, Gertrude Stein to Peggy Guggenheim, Man Ray captured them all thru a special Dada lens. If you take this gorgeous book in during a single sitting, as I did, it almost feels as if you’re in the salons of Paris in 1920. A breathtaking photo of Ernest Hemingway captures simultaneously how sexy he was during his Paris days, and dangerous. Ray’s portrait of art patron Guggenheim is lit in such a way that her long draped skirt seems to be made of gold, while her torso and arms cast equally long shadows across a tawdry burlap wall: It seems to say, “Here is our lovely Dada benefactor, who gives us not only money, but ideas and critical backing.” In his portrait of Meret Oppenheim, Ray positioned her naked, behind a massive wrought iron machine, the handle protruding to appear as her penis, and shadows casting ambiguity across the rest of her sexuality: Bold stuff.  In his essay Pepper tells us that Man Ray was more than a portraitist – he was “a great mythologist.” Rifling through these photographs I realized that nearly every image I’d acquired in my mind’s eye of the 1920s Dada scene came from Man Ray pictures.

Sadly, the Man Ray exhibit for which this volume was prepared will not be touring the USA, though if you are fortunate enough to be in London, Moscow or Edinburgh in 2013 you may catch it at the National Portrait Gallery (Feb-May), Scottish National Portrait Gallery (June – Sept) or Pushkin Museum (Oct – Jan 2014).

[Yale University Press  2013]