Man Ray

Man Ray (1890 – 1976) was the only American to have played a significant role in the development of both the Dada and Surrealist movements (“Man Ray”). In 1913, he became influenced by the works in the avant-garde Armory show in New York City. During this time, his paintings displayed his interest in Modernism through his use of flat shapes and the patterns they created, rather than realistic renderings of subject matters. He befriended Marcel Duchamp in 1915, and switched his focus to Surrealism and Dadaism, as his once static works began to include more movement. Both Ray and Duchamp made many attempts to promote Dada in New York City (“Man Ray – Surrealist Photographer – The Art History Archive.”). It wasn’t until a trip to Paris in 1921, that he began to experiment with photograms (“Man Ray (Emmanuel Radnitzky) | MoMA.”).

Photograms are pictures created by placing objects on photo sensitive paper which are then exposed to light. In his photograms, Man Ray uses shadows to create images, which emphasized the influence of light and shadow rather than the objects and image itself (“Man Ray – Surrealist Photographer – The Art History Archive.”).  By turning everyday objects into visionary, abstract images, he challenges viewers to discover their meaning (“Man Ray | Rayograph | The Met.”).

“Gun with Alphabet Stencils” (1924)

An example of one of his works is a photogram titled “Gun with Alphabet Stencils”(1924). In this picture, Man Ray has placed the alphabet stencils around the revolver like scattered bullets. By having the stencils scatter about randomly, this defies the viewer’s expectations and rational interpretation, as the letters refuse to assemble themselves into recognizable words. The other objects are used to balance the composition while having no literal meaning. (“Untitled Rayograph (Gun with Alphabet Stencils) (Getty Museum).”

“London Transport Keeps London Going”(1939)

London Underground bull’s eye

As for his work in commercial art, Man Ray primarily worked with photographs, some of which was featured in Vogue, Bazaar and Vanity Fair. In 1939, he was commissioned by Frank Pick to create a poster for the London Underground. “London Transport Keeps London Going”(1939) plays on the Underground’s most recognizable trademark, the bull’s eye. He takes its basic shape and likens it to a planet floating in outer space (Eskilson, 149-152).

He is known for being a pioneer in photography during the surrealist movement. His biggest contribution to the art world would be photograms, or ‘rayographs’ (which he decided to name after himself). Although he was not the inventor of photograms, which he believed to be, he was the first to use these ‘camera-less’ pictures in a way that revealed a new way of seeing, by using everyday objects to create enigmatic and dreamlike worlds and images (“Man Ray | Rayograph | The Met.”).



Eskilson, Stephen. Graphic Design: A New History. New Haven: Yale UP, 2007. Print.

Leigh, Brandi. “Man Ray – Surrealist Photographer – The Art History Archive.” Man Ray – Surrealist Photographer – The Art History Archive. N.p., 2007. Web. 23 Oct. 2016.

“Man Ray.” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 23 Oct. 2016.

“Man Ray (Emmanuel Radnitzky) | MoMA.” The Museum of Modern Art. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Oct. 2016.

“Man Ray | Rayograph | The Met.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, I.e. The Met Museum. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Oct. 2016.

“Untitled Rayograph (Gun with Alphabet Stencils) (Getty Museum).” The J. Paul Getty in Los Angeles. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Oct. 2016.


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