Born Emmanuel Radnitzky on August 27, 1890 in Philadelphia, PA, Man Ray was an influential artist, best known for his avant-garde photography. He was a leading figure (and the only American) to play a significant role in the Dada and Surrealist movements.
Ray grew up in Brooklyn, New York and showed artistic ability at an early age. He studied drawing under Robert Henri and George Bellows at the Francisco Ferrer Social Center (Modern School). Upon his completion of his classes, Ray lived in the art colony of Ridgefield, New Jersey. There, he illustrated, designed and produced small pamphlets (Ridgefield Gazook – 1915) and A Book of Diverse Writings.
Ray had his first solo show at the Daniel Gallery in New York in 1915 and shortly after became interested in photography. Around the same time, he became friends with Marcel Duchamp with whom he founded the Society of Independent Artists in 1916. In 1920, along with Duchamp, Katherine Dreier, Henry Hudson, and Andrew McLaren, Ray founded the Société Anonyme, a group that sponsored lectures, concerts, publications, and exhibitions of modern art.
In 1921, May Ray moved to Paris where he settled for twenty years. He became involved with Dada and Surrealist artists and writers such as Jean Cocteau, Max Ernst, Salvador Dali, Paul Eluard, Pablo Picasso, and others. While in Paris, Ray worked with different media and produced a variety of works. In 1922, he began experimenting with his version of a photogram which he called a “rayograph” – the process of creating images from placing objects on photo-sensitive paper. Ray likened his technique to painting saying that he was “painting with light”.
In the 1920s and 30s Ray earned a steady income as a portrait photographer and as one of the foremost fashion photographers for Harper’s Bazaar, Vu, and Vogue. In the late 1920s Ray won recognition for his experiments with Sabattier (solarization process) and many of the Surrealists followed his example of using photography in their works.
Man Ray also made his mark in the avant-garde film circles in the 1920s. In “Le Retour à la Raison”, he created his first “cine-rayographs’ – sequences of cameraless photographs. Other films including “Emak Bakia” (1926), L’Etoile de Mer” (1928), and Les Mystères du Château de Dé” (1929) are now classics of the Surrealist film genre.
In 1940, at the beginning of World War II, Man Ray left Paris and moved to Los Angeles where he focused on painting and creating objects. While there, he also met and married Juliet Browner, a dancer and artists’ model. He remained in LA until 1951 when he returned to his home in Paris. He continued working in a variety of mediums, but it was to be his photography that would have the greatest impact on 20th century art. In 1963, he published his autobiography “Self-Portrait”.
Man Ray died in Paris on November 18, 1976. His epitaph at the Cimetière du Montparnasse, reads: “unconcerned, but not indifferent”. Juliet Browner died in 1991 and she was interred in the Ray’s tomb. Her epitaph reads, “together again”. Before her death, Browner had set up a charitable trust and donated much of Ray’s work to museums.