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Untitled (rayograph with a screen)
Silver print after the original rayograph
8 3/4 x 6 3/4 in (22.2 x 17.1 cm)
Swann Galleries - New York
Courtesy of Swann Galleries (Auction, Oct 22, 2009, Photographs & Photographic Literature, Sale 2191 Lot 99)
With Man Ray's "31 bis. Rue Campagne" hand stamp and the number "3," in colored pencil, in an unknown hand, on verso.
This rayograph was included in Man Ray's 1922 portfolio Champs Delicieux (introduction by Tristan Tzara) which featured 12 photographs, and is considered his first definitive statement on the medium. In order to produce an edition of 40 copies, Man Ray's original rayograph (which is typically a unique object), was re-photographed to create a negative. Given the notations on print verso, the photograph offered here is believed to be a proof print for this portfolio, and bears an early Paris hand stamp.
Though the photogram is a precursor to modern photographic practices, and was explored by artist and scientist William Henry Fox Talbot, for Man Ray the discovery of the process (which he subsequently referred to as a "rayograph") was an accident. Developing portraits in a hotel room, he placed some objects on photographic paper and turned on the light, creating contrasting silhouettes of black and white. Like other photographers before him, the direct relationship between the object and resulting image fascinated the artist. He primarily used utilitarian or familiar household objects, including his hands, pubic hair, light bulbs, glasses, keys, vises, combs and doilies. The layering, shifting, and occasional transparency facilitated by these recognizable forms gave his compositions a dimensionality and animation that Jean Cocteau called "phantasmagorical."
In this modernist image, the pattern of the mesh screen is reminiscent of a printer's dot matrix, which contrasts visually with the clean parallel lines of the industrial objects depicted. The grid-like background and overall effect alludes to Man Ray's experience as a technical illustrator.
Man Ray created rayographs for short period of time. The companion portfolio images, which are bold black-and-white compositions that reflect his mastery of light and form, are perhaps more direct comparisons with nineteenth-century studies. However, Man Ray's willingness to experiment and push the boundaries of this elegant technique further, make this a moving homage to Talbot's abstracted study of lace, which is offered as Lot 1 in this sale.
The hand stamp is identified as "M2" in historian Steven Manford's book, "Behind the Photo, The Stamps of Man Ray."