Man Ray was one of the prestigious artists of the Montparnasse district, it was in Paris that he discovered “solarization“, his photographic technique which made him famous.

Man Ray in Montparnasse

Emmanuel Radnitsky, known as Man Ray, arrived in Paris in the early 1920s. On the advice of Marcel Duchamp, the New Yorker came to the French capital to build an artistic career. There he quickly frequents the Dada band and he paints the portrait of many personalities. It is at this time that he meets the famous Kiki de Montparnasse with whom he falls in love. He was her companion for more than five years. Man Ray has settled in this district chosen by artists, where ideas, the taste for creation and the taste for freedom are blazing. Kiki is a bit the soul, or rather the most daring expression of a bohemian in full effervescence.

kiki de montparnasse by Man Ray
Le Violon d’Ingres by Man Ray

Writing with light

One day, he meets Cocteau, takes his picture. Portraits follow one another, then fashion photography. At the same time, he explores the possibilities of this art which consists of writing with light. It was in Paris that one of his most important discoveries took place. One night when he was developing fashion photos, he says, he casually placed a few glass objects on a sensitive paper left in the printing tray. Then he lights up. “Before my eyes, an image forms. Not the simple silhouette of objects as in a conventional photograph, but twisted shapes, modified by the refraction of the glass more or less in contact with the paper, and which stand out against a black background.” Man Ray has just taken his first photo without a camera. He baptizes it “rayograph” and the technique will remain, like solarization, one of his most admired specialties.

Man Ray’s most famous photo

Man Ray wants to convince Kiki to pose naked in front of his lens. He drags the young woman into his studio, indicates the pose, drapes a kind of turban over her head, a fabric at the bottom of the hips, takes the photo then, on the print , adds with the help of a stencil, in graphite and ink, the two soundholes of the violin. Thus was born one of Man Ray’s most famous photos.

A poetic touch

In Montparnasse, for twenty years, Man Ray revolutionized photographic art. The great artists of his time pose under his lens, such as James Joyce, Gertrude Stein or Jean Cocteau. From 1922, Man Ray collaborates with Vogue offering his images to illustrate the magazine. In 1934, he joined Harper’s Bazaar. These are then fashion photographs but integrating an artistic and poetic touch.

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