Ray, in black and whiteMan Ray was a versatile surrealist artist who resisted being defined as a photographer. Still, that is how he is best remembered ― though as a photographer who was dauntlessly experimental.
A chance to see some of Ray’s photographs is now available at Kim Young-seob Photo Gallery in Insa-dong.
Born Emmanuel Radnitsky in Philadelphia in 1890, Ray pursued surrealism and dadaism in other media, including drawing. In the Insa-dong exhibition, 35 works are on display, including the famed “Violin of Ingres” and “Tears of Glass,” along with portraits of contemporaries like Marcel Duchamp and Salvador Dali.
Philadelphia-born and Brooklyn-raised, Ray pursued his art mostly in Paris until he died in 1976.
He developed an interest in photography only after his first surrealist exhibition in 1915, at which he picked up a camera to reproduce the posters. After struggling for a few years, he had a breakthrough as a fashion photographer for Harper’s Bazaar in Paris, and soon climbed to acclaim, enjoying a reputation as a surrealist and dadaist photographer.
Once he got a handle on the camera, Ray let his experimental spirit lead him, and he developed new techniques.
One was what he called the “rayograph.” Instead of shooting an image with a camera, he would place materials that he wanted to photograph on photo paper in a dark room and directly expose them to light.
Another signature technique was solarization, in which, after taking a photo, he had the image exposed to light again, which blurred details and left the outlines of the forms more pronounced.
In the Insa-dong exhibition, many photographs using this solarization technique are on display, including the artist’s self-portrait. “Mr. Ray just happened to be so good at dealing with the medium called a camera, which suited his surrealist interests just right,” said Lee Jang-uk, the gallery’s curator.
Many of the models of the photographs were both his muses and his lovers. The famous “Tears of Glass” is an exception; in the photo, which Ray took after breaking up with his lover and assistant Lee Miller, he juxtaposed eight small glass balls ― resembling tears, but clearly not real tears ― on a woman’s face. (The model was not Miller, despite the photo’s inspiration.) It became one of his best-known works.
Another eye-catching photo is “The Violin of Ingres,” a photo of a nude woman seated with her back to the camera, made to resemble the musical instrument.
In “Untitled,” Ray features the head of a woman on a sculpted marble torso. Such play with images was his specialty, as a member of the surrealist movement.
If you don’t find his portrait of Marcel Duchamp at the exhibition, look for it under the name of Rose Selavy. This was a name Duchamp sometimes used when dressed as a woman.
The prints in the exhibition are being offered for sale, at prices ranging from 7 million won ($5,800) to 10 million won.
by Chun Su-jin