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Picasso and Man Ray

In 1921, Man Ray left New York for Paris, where he found a welcoming group of French and expatriate artists and writers, among them Pablo Picasso.

© 2013 Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.

Although he considered himself a painter, Man Ray had been making and showing photographs since the later 1910s, and within a year of his relocation he devoted himself to photography as an experimental art form and as a means of livelihood. He photographed Picasso in 1922 and throughout the 1930s, and Picasso in turn drew a portrait of Man Ray which was included as the frontispiece to a 1934 catalogue of the artist’s photographic works. When Picasso published a selection of his own photographs in a 1937 issue of Cahiers d’art, Man Ray wrote the introduction.

Tristan Tzara, Man Ray’s close friend and a leader of the Dada movement, introduced the artist in January 1922 to cameraless photographic images made by the German artist Christian Schad. Tzara had dubbed the little works Schadographs, and Man Ray, already inclined toward subversive uses of objects and camera images, adopted both the procedure and the self-referential title: Rayographs were the result. A form of abstraction fashioned from industrial consumer goods (photographic paper and the sundry items placed on them), with direct intervention of the human hand, Rayographs articulated a key Dada interest in homemade, “anti-art” reworkings of industrial and consumer society. Man Ray turned, however, from Schad’s emphasis on grubby detritus and cheap photo papers to more sumptuous gelatin silver sheets, and his Rayographs managed to transform material goods or human body parts into fantastic signs of the real. In this he followed the lead, precisely, of Picasso, particularly his Cubist collages (1912–14), which played with the juxtaposition of real and depicted things and spatial relations to such an extent that art became not a window onto reality but an unreliable language of form.

In the summer of 1922 Man Ray produced, in an edition of forty copies, a portfolio of twelve photographs made from original Rayographs or cameraless prints. The title, Champs délicieux (Delicious Fields) was a pun on the Elysian Fields, the place of heaven for the ancient Greeks. Tzara wrote the book’s preface, a declarative text entitled, “Photography Upside-Down,” a brilliant send-up of conventional art photography and art in general. Man Ray showed his Rayographs to Picasso, and he later remembered their impact: “I saw Picasso here on his knees before a photogram. He allowed that in many years he had not experienced as great a sensation of art as from it. Painting is dead, finished.”