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Man Ray Portraits Exhibition

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by Sandra Lawson (subscribe)
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Man Ray: More than a Man and a Photographer
Self Portrait with Camera
Self Portrait with Camera (Image courtesy of

It's one thing to read about this exhibition online, but a totally different experience to absorb the amazing collection of photographs that have been collected together at the National Portrait Gallery and curated by Terence Pepper. At the age of 22 Michael Emmanuel Radnitzky reinvented himself as Man Ray, and four years later (1916) he produced both his own Dada self-portrait and made a portrait of Marcel Duchamp.

The exhibition is chronologically divided into five sections: New York 1916-1920; Paris 1921-1928; Paris 1929-1937; Hollywood 1940-1950 and Paris 1951-1976. It also reminds visitors that Man Ray was also a painter, although the NPG focuses on his photographic works.

His identification with the Dada movement is clear throughout the exhibition, and the reason for his initial move to Paris, where he held his first solo exhibition in 1921, and established his first major photographic studio the following year. During this period his love, and muse, Kiki, was an important element of his life and creative output.

The second Paris period, leading up to World War II saw his association with Lee Miller, who went on to become his lover, photographic model, assistant and co-developer of solarisation. The exhibition is promoted with his solarised portrait of Lee, and a poster is available from the gift shop. This was a period when he photographed writers, artists and musicians such as Hemingway, James Joyce, Picasso (who later painted the photographer), Georges Braque, Matisse, Dali, Jean Cocteau, Erik Satie, Stravinsky and Sir Thomas Beecham.

Violon d'Ingres
Violon d'Ingres (1924) Image Courtesy of the NPG website

Solarized Portrait of Lee Miller
Solarized Portrait of Lee Miller (Image Courtesy of the NPG)

He also had many commissions to produce photographs for magazines: Vogue, Harper's Bazaar and Vanity Fair and re-cropped some of his earlier negatives, and made his first colour portrait of Genica Athanasiou in 1932. At this period he was strongly connected with fellow Surrealists, Paul Eluard, Tristan Tzara, Max Ernst and Salvador Dali. They are featured, singly or in groups, often with Man Ray posing in the photos with them. There was also an exhibition in London, leading to his portraits of Virginia Woolf and Aldous Huxley.

To learn a little more about Man Ray, Lee Miller and the discovery of solarisation, spare a few minutes to watch this short film, narrated by Lee's son, Antony Penrose. He also discusses the Lee Miller Triptych, another exhibit at the NPG.

He spent the next ten years in Hollywood, where he met Juliet Browner, with whom he was to spend the rest of his life. His primary interest over this decade was with painting, although he still continued to photograph friends who were involved in film and the creative arts. These include Ava Gardner, a woman he believed to be as comfortable in front of a photographer's camera as she was in front of a movie camera.

Ava Gardner
Ava Gardner (Image Courtesy of NPG website)

The last 26 years of his life saw him back in Paris, where he wrote his autobiography and produced colour portraits of French actors and musicians, including Juliette Greco, Yves Montand and Leslie Caron. His final portraits, commissioned by the Sunday Times Magazine, were of Catherine Deneuve. He died in Paris in 1976, but his works live on to thrill and amaze us.

Catherine Deneuve
Catherine Deneuve Photographed in 1968 (Image Courtesy of

There are also many events associated with the exhibition, and all details are available on the NPG's website.

Outside the National Portrait Gallery
Outside the National Portrait Gallery
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Why? To learn about Man Ray: a pioneering photographer
When: Until 27 May
Where: The National Portrait Gallery
Cost: 14 plus concessions
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