Surprisingly this is the first major museum exhibition of artist and photographer Man Ray’s portraiture. Organised in chronological order the exhibition is a retrospective of Man Ray’s surrealist photography, exploring both his innovative portraits and experimentation with photographic processes such as solarisation and ‘rayographpy’. ‘Man Ray Portraits’ covers different periods of Ray’s career, gliding seamlessly from 1916 to 1968, glancing at Man Ray’s time spent alongside Marcel Duchamp, to his Surrealist work in Paris and then glancing forward to his work in Hollywood and finally his travels back to Paris once more.
The exhibition is divided and flows through a series of three rooms, each room an insight into Man Ray’s practice and development as a photographer. From Man Ray’s early surrealist and Dadaist imagery through to his commercial advertising work, all displayed in their original context appearing in archived copies of life magazine and other publications. The walls are adorned with Ray’s hand printed portraits of famous figures, writers, poets, actors and artists from capitals around the world Paris, New York and London. The original prints sit alongside and compliment one another as a documentation of an age of creativity. The exhibition expands on the commonly celebrated achievements of Man Ray and goes beyond his overly published experimentations with solarisation to celebrate and showcase Man Ray’s lesser known skill and artistry for portraiture.
Throughout the exhibition Man Ray’s notorious love of photographing women is evident, classically beautiful portraits of women hang on every wall throughout the collection. These female nudes could be perceived as obsessive, woman after woman, the female form Man Ray’s muse. The curves and contours of the female body accentuated through shadows and etchings. It could be said that Man Ray’s artistic course can be viewed and documented through the display of his successive lovers, from model KiKi de Montparnasse who Man Ray met in a Parisian cafe, to renown artist and lover Lee Miller, to Ady Fidelin and finally his late wife Juliet Browner. These images display his love for the female body but more notably Man Ray’s love and admiration for the women and creatives that shaped his life. Man Ray’s meticulous attention for detail and design, paired with his carefully cast lighting and projected shadows, with his fondness for people (notably nudes), unites as an evident and eminent display of his love of photography.
Man Ray manages to create portraiture that evokes a sense of the individual. A representation of his friends, models and lovers in a manner which encapsulates their persona. A rare and unique photographic skill which Man Ray possesses, each portrait is rendered in a way both photographer and individual are happily represented. Though some of his work has been flattened through familiarity, this comprehensive exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery expands on his influential career and defines Man Ray as an innovative and great portraitist of the 19th Century.
‘Man Ray Portraits’ will be exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery from 7th February through to 27th May.
Music blogged to- 2:54 ‘2:54’ (2012), listen to the album here.