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Ray, Man

Ray, Man, American, 1890-1976

A tireless experimenter with photographic techniques who participated in the Cubist, Dadaist, and Surrealist art movements, Man Ray created a new photographic art which emphasized chance effects and surprising juxtapositions. Unconcerned with "Craft," he employed solarization, grain enlargement, and cameraless prints (photograms) which he called "Rayographs" - made by placing objects directly on photographic paper and exposing them to the light. Man Ray was, with Moholy-Nagy, the most significant maker of cameraless photographs in the 1920s and 1930s.

As a painter, sculptor, and filmmaker, as well as a photographer, Man Ray brought his diverse techniques to bear upon one another in the attempt to create "disturbing objects. His life and art spoke of freedom, pleasure, and the desire for extended awareness and means of expression. His work has been a significant influence on Bill Brandt and Berenice Abbott (both of whom studied with and assisted him), and more recent photographers using multi-media techniques.

Man Ray was given that name by his family when he was 15, and wished to be known only by that name. He was born in Philadelphia, and later moved with his family to New York City where he attended the Academy of Fine Arts and the Ferrer School. He had an early desire to become a painter, studied architectural drawing and engineering, and began his career as a graphic designer and typographer.

In 1910 he met Alfred Stieglitz at the 291 gallery and became acquainted with the work of important modern artists Stieglitz exhibited. Man Ray took early portraits in a style influenced by Stieglitz as well.

He was given a one-man show of paintings at Charles Daniel's gallery in New York in 1915. The same year he met Marcel Duchamp who encouraged his making assemblages and collages. Around 1920 he began photographing his paintings for record purposes, but soon started to explore the photographic medium for its own sake. He became a member of New York's proto-Dada group about this time along with Duchamp, Francis Picabia, and others.

Man Ray moved to Paris in 1921 where he made his living as a professional fashion and portrait photographer while pursuing more creative work on the side. He became internationally famous as the photographer of Parisian artists between the wars. He made portraits of the entire intellectual elite: Breton, Joyce, Eliot, Schoenberg, Matisse, Ernst, Artaud, Stein, Brancusi, and Hemingway, to name a few.

Soon after his arrival in Paris, Ray made his first Rayograph. He participated in the first international Dada show held in Paris, was a member of the Surrealist movement from 1924, and exhibited at the first Surrealist show in Paris in 1925. In 1932, his work appeared in the major Surrealist exhibition at New York's Julien Levy Gallery. He was included in the Museum of Modern Art's Fantastic Art, Dada and Surrealism show in 1935.

Ray fled Paris before the Nazi occupation in 1940 and settled in Hollywood where he continued to work and teach for the next 10 years. Photography took second place to painting for the rest of his career, although he experimented with color photography in the late 1950s and early 1960s.


Books on Man Ray:
Man Ray: Photography and Its Double, by Emmanuelle De I'Ecotais.

Man Ray: 1890-1976, by Kate Ware

In Focus: Man Ray

Man Ray (Great Modern Masters), by Marina Vanci-Perahim.

Man Ray, by Jed Perl.


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