MAN RAY DECEIVING APPEARANCES Born in Philadelphia, Man Ray (1890—1976) began his career as a painter, and first took up the camera in 1915 to make photographic copies of his paintings. A frequent visitor to Alfred Stieglitz's "291" gallery in New York, he partici-
pated with Marcel Duchamp in the activities of the New York dada group in the years 1915—20, and at Duchamp's urging moved to Paris in 1921. There he became one of the best-known members of the surrealist group and a frequent contributor to surrealist reviews like La Revolution surrealiste, as well as a successful portrait and fashion photographer. In the 1926 essay "Deceiving Appearances" Man Ray makes clear his own preference for photography that opens up new domains of visual experience. For this reason he recommends that photographic invention be based on poetry and inspiration, rather than on a slavish adherence to visual convention. He argues, indeed, that photography retains its value precisely to the degree that it is not artistic in the usual sense—that is, not bound by aesthetic laws and limitations of any sort. Original publication: Man Ray in Paris 5oir, March 23, 1926. I am not one of those who say: "that watering can is blue, that house is pink," or those who say: "nothing is beautiful but truth, only truth is pleasant." There are better things to do in life than copy. I admire those painters who make the mistake of imitating the famous master- pieces of nature. Isn't it this perpetual mania of imitation that prevents man from being a god? This one imitates in oil, the next in Alexandrines, another in clay! Imitation is merely artistic laws and limitations. I prefer the poet. He creates, and every time man is raised in the moral order, he is a creator, whether of a machine, a poem, or a moral attitude*. As far as painting goes, isn't it amazing that some* painte mitill persist, a century after the invention of photography, in doing what a Kodak can do faster and better? Bonnafs work1 was useful as long a photography wan iniiufliciemt. It is folly to make with oil on canvas images that one ohtmnK better on photographic paper. I maintain that photography is not artistic! Grievance for some, praise for others. A form of expression is only capable of evolution and transformation to the degree that it is not artistic. I am a painter myself, and I have been brought to make use of photographic plates for material reproduction. And I feel that poetry does not lose out in the process. Artists have never set great examples: artists, the primitives? Victor Hugo, an artist? Seurat, an artist? Rimbaud? No, no, no! They never went through a period of apprenticeship. Art is the negation of inspiration, without which a work is without spirit. Besides, photography is not limited to the role of copyist. It is a marvelous explorer of those aspects that our retina never records, and that, every day, inflict such cruel contradictions on the adorers of familiar visions that are so few, whose turn was over before a bold navigator could go around the world. I have tried to capture those visions that twilight, or too much light, or their own fleetingness, or the slowness of our ocular apparatus rob our senses of. I have always been surprised, often charmed, sometimes literally "enraptured." Photography, and its brother, the cinema, join painting as it is perceived by any spirit conscious of the moral needs of the modern world. 1. Leon-Joseph-Florentin Bonnat (1883-1922) was a French painter of historical and biblical scenes and of portraits noted for their photographic verisimilitude.
MAN RAY THE AGE OF LIGHT In this essay, written at a time when experimental approaches to photography had been increasingly eclipsed by documentary and reportage photography, Man Ray (see p. 11) defends his own amalgam of dada and surrealist attitudes
toward the practice of photography. The photographic image can only find its audience, he asserts, if it encourages the awakening of desire and aims at its lyric expression. To achieve this end the photographer must give free rein to the subconscious and must search for the limits of outrage. Dismissing the increasing professionalism of photographers during the 1930s, Man Ray insists, in true dada fashion, that "a certain amount of contempt for the mate- rial employed to express an idea" is necessary for its purest realization. Original publication: Man Ray, "The Age of Light," in Man Ray: 104 Photographs 1920-1934 (Paris/Hartford, Conn.: James Thrall Soby, 1934). In this age, like all ages when the problem of the perpetuation of a race or class and the destruction of its enemies is the all-absorbing motive of civilized society, it seems irrelevant and wasteful still to create works whose only inspirations are individual human emotion and desire. The attitude seems to be that one may be permitted a return to the idyllic occupations only after meriting this return by solving the more vital problems of existence. Still, we know that the incapacity of race or class to improve itself is as great as its incapacity to learn from previous errors in history. All progress results from an intense individual desire to improve the immediate present, from an all-conscious sense of material insufficiency. In this exalted state, material action imposes itself and takes the form of revolution in one form or another. Race and class, like styles, then become irrelevant, while the emotion of the human individual becomes universal. For what can be more binding among beings than the discovery of a common desire? And what can be more inspiring to action than the confidence aroused by a lyric expression of this desire? From the first gesture of a child pointing to an object and simply naming it, but with a world of intended meaning, to the developed mind that creates an image whose strangeness and reality stirs our subconscious to its inmost depths, the awakening of desire is the first step to participation and experience. It is in the spirit of an experience and not of experiment that the following autobiographical images are presented. Seized in moments of visual detachment during periods of emotional contact, these images are oxidized residues, fixed by light and chemical elements, of living organisms. No plastic expression can ever be more than a residue of an experience. The recognition of an image that has tragically survived an experience, recalling the event more or less clearly, like the undisturbed ashes of an object consumed by flames—the recognition of this object so little representative and so fragile, and its simple identification on the part of the spectator with a similar personal experience, precludes all psychoanalytical classification or assimilation into an arbitrary decorative system. Questions of merit and of execution can always be taken care of by those who hold themselves aloof from even the frontiers of such experiences. For, whether a painter, emphasizing the importance of the idea he wishes to convey, introduces bits of ready-made chromes alongside his handiwork, or whether another, working directly with light and chemistry, so deforms the subject as almost to hide the identity of the original, and creates a new form, the ensuing violation of the medium employed is the most perfect assurance of the author's convictions. A certain amount of contempt for the material employed to express an idea is indispensable to the purest realization of this idea. Each one of us, in his timidity, has a limit beyond which he is outraged. It is inevitable that he who by concentrated application has extended this limit for himself should arouse the resentment of those who have accepted conventions which, since accepted by all, require no initiative of application. And this resentment generally takes the form of meaningless laughter or of criticism, if not of persecution. But this apparent violation is preferable to the monstrous habits condoned by etiquette and aestheticism. An effort impelled by desire must also have an automatic or subconscious energy to aid its realization. The reserves of this energy within us are limitless if we will draw on them without a sense of shame or of propriety. Like the scientist who is merely a prestidigitator manipulating the abundant phenomena of nature and profiting by every so-called
hazard or law, the creator dealing in human values allows the subconscious forces to filter through him, colored by his own selectivity, which is universal human desire, and exposes to the light motives and instincts long repressed, which should form the basis of a confident fraternity. The intensity of this message can be disturbing only in proportion to the freedom that has been given to automatism or the subconscious self. The removal of inculcated modes of presentation,
resulting in apparent artificiality or strangeness, is a confirmation of the free functioning of this automatism and is to be welcomed. Open confidences are being made every day, and it remains for the eye to train itself to see them without prejudice or restraint.
MAN RAY ON PHOTOGRAPHIC REALISM The French title of this essay, Sur realisme photographique is a word play that suggests the contending forces of realism and surrealism in photography. Published during the period of the French Popular Front, when artists and writers were repeatedly encouraged to place their talents at the service of a politically engaged social realism, Man Ray's text echoes the stubbornly independent attitude that had been voiced by surrealists like Andre Breton regarding the subordination of art to political demands. Man Ray defends the prerogatives of the artistic imagination, derides attempts to harness art to
social or commercial tasks, and finally offers a ringing defense of surrealism as the only art able to express the true nature of an era of turmoil. Original publication: Man Ray, "Sur Ie realisme photographique," Cahiers (Tart, no. 5-6 (1935). What painter, however emancipated, however revolutionary and sure of himself—what painter face to face with a photograph has not had an instant of misgiving or intimidation, feeling that he himself is outside reality? That photograph, itself less substantial than the paper it is printed on, can evince a force, an authority, which, like certain
words, goes well beyond the force and the authority of any material work. I understand that force as the immediate necessity for social contact, on which the photograph depends. As do words, it demands dissemination and attention from the masses without delay. Painting can wait—even in neglect and incomprehension—certain that some day it will be discovered, recognized; whereas photography, if it does not take its place as an immediate fact, loses its force forever. Nothing is sadder than an old photograph, nothing arouses so much pity as a soiled old print. They have tried to revive old films, admirable old films, films that had been made with great effort, and at great sacrifice; but it became clear that those films belong to a past beyond our jgrasp, a past impossible to bring forward into the present. And so we have to admit that a photograph, by its dependence on the social situation, is made for its own immediate age, and in the face of that obligation the photographer's personality takes second place. The intensity of his vision of the age can heighten the force of the message, but one shouldn't confuse that message with the photographer's personality, which can't have the same freedom as the poet's or painter's. During the fifteen years I've been making photographs I have used only one of my eyes to capture the documents of our time; with the other (which I saved for personal, uncorrupted needs), I passionately observe the ineptness or adroitness of those who have tried to use photography for their own ends. The impartiality with which—sometimes grudgingly—I have always placed that eye at the service of all social or personal strengths and weaknesses has come not from a lack of conviction, but from the hope that, since photography cannot shut itself off in isolation like painting, some day I would find the collaboration which would spark a great enlightenment. I must confess that my patience has really been put to the test. Even when I was my own collaborator, I lapsed into pointless exercises that had a bad effect on me. For example, two or three tries quickly convinced me that vertical architecture (churches, skyscrapers) is not photogenic. An apple, a nude, offer more possibilities, because their social value is infinitely greater. Those who had the most selfish reasons to take advantage of photography—the publications acting from obscurely mercenary motives which tried to bend me to their own needs, the searchers after clever gimmicks who showed up in the hope of profiting from my technical discoveries arid found nothing new that could be converted into what they were looking for—all of them wasted their efforts with me. If one didn't have complete confidence in the automatism of this eye and the way it functions with a social consciousness imposed by its own physiology, its power was frittered away in feeble attempts. But when no fetters were imposed on the camera, the results, with very few exceptions, fully justified the confidence placed in it. Surrealism has so far been the only force capable of bringing luminous, impressive, true forms out of the darkroom. It has never been afraid of going too far, it has never betrayed our authentic impulses, it has never acted with tact or circumspection. We know to what lies an entirely aesthetic preoccupation can lead "beauty" and "morality," to the point where the length of the beard is taken as an index of intellectual strength and virility. Only complete contempt for all formulas, aesthetic or timorous, joined to a total familiarity with the craft, can serve a new social condition and show its worth. Perhaps someday photography—if we allow it to—will show us what painting has already shown us, our true portrait, and will give to the spirit of revolt that exists in every truly living, sensitive being a plastic and enduring voice of its own. Translated by Robert Erich Wolf