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Man Ray
Rayograms
 
  

Although who was the first to use photograms1 for artistic purposes has been disputed at various times with Christian Schad (1894-1982)2, Man Ray (1890-1976)3 and László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946)4 all making claims it is difficult to dispute that Man Ray was the most adventurous of the proponents.
 
On his accidental discovery of the "Rayogram" when he placed an unexposed sheet of sensitized paper into the developing tray he wrote:
... as I waited in vain a couple of minutes for an image to appear, regretting the waste of paper, I mechanically placed a small glass funnel, the graduate and the thermometer in the tray on the wetted paper, I turned on the light; before my eyes an image began to form, not quite a simple silhouette of the objects as in a straight photograph, but distorted and refracted by the glass more or less in contact with the paper and standing out against a black background, the part directly exposed to the light.5
Man Ray immediately recognized the potential of the process and the same night he started his cameraless darkroom experiments.
Taking whatever objects came to hand; my hotel-room key, a handkerchief, some pencils, a brush, a candle, a piece of twine - it wasn't necessary to put them in the liquid but on the dry paper first, exposing it to the light for a few seconds as with the negatives - I made a few more prints, excitedly, enjoying myself immensely. In the morning examined the results, pinning a couple of the Rayographs - as I decided to call them - on the wall.6
Tristan Tzara, the leader of the Dadaist movement, visited Man Ray the following morning and saw his experiments calling them pure "pure Dada creations." Tzara certainly knew of the earlier photograms of Christian Schad but it is not known if Man Ray knew of them, and if he did he doesn't admit it in in his autobiography.7] Whatever the truth is Man Ray appreciated the flexibility of light and motion so that the unique rayograms he produced are rich with hidden meanings and he used animated versions of them in two of his early films.8
  1. 1994, Experimental Vision: The Evolution of the Photogram Since 1919, (Denver: Roberts Rinehart, Denver Art Museum)
     
  2. J. Lloyd & M. Peppiatt, 2003, Christian Schad and the Neue Sachlichkeit, (New York: W.W. Norton & Co.)
     
  3. Man Ray, 1963, Exhibition Rayographs 1921-1928, (Stuttgart: L.G.A.)
     
  4. László Moholy-Nagy, 1925, Malerei, Photographie, Film, Bauhausbook 8, (Munich: Albert Langen Verlag), [Painting, Photography, Film]; Renate & Floris M. Neusüss (eds.), 2009, Moholy-Nagy: The Photograms: Catalogue Raisonné, (Hatje Cantz)
     
  5. Man Ray, 1988, Self Portrait, (Bullfinch Press), p. 106
     
  6. Man Ray, 1988, Self Portrait, (Bullfinch Press), p. 106
     
  7. In 1922 Man Ray published a selection of his Rayograms in a portfolio of a 12-leaf book with 12 rayographs plus a loose cover and a loose double leaf introduction - Man Ray, 1922, Les Champs délicieux, (Paris) [The book has an introduction by Dada founder Tristan Tzara.]
     
  8. The two films of Man Ray using animated rayograms were:
     
    Le Retour ŕ la Raison [Return to Reason], (1923)
    Emak-Bakia, (1926)
 
  

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