Always in search of artistic (and personal) freedom, and as skilled with the camera as the paint brush or pencil, Man Ray never allowed himself to be restricted by artistic convention. He chose whichever medium was the most suited to his subject, and frequently invented techniques if nothing appropriate was already in existence. Man Ray stated in 1935 that “the means are chosen to emphasize the idea. … [the artist] may even invent a means or a style to suit the occasion. It may be called a trick at first, but the tricks of today may become the truths of tomorrow” (quoted in Man Ray: Writings on Art, ed. Jennifer Mundy, Los Angeles & London, 2015, p. 395).
Man Ray initially trained in New York to be a painter, but dissatisfied with other photographers’ reproductions of his work, he picked up the camera in 1915. From that point on, and over the following sixty years, his creative output was arguably defined by the different possibilities offered by painting and photography. As he put in an interview in 1975: “I finally decided that there was no comparison between the two, photography and painting. I paint what cannot be photographed, something from the imagination, or a dream, or a subconscious impulse. I photograph the things that I don’t want to paint, things that are already in existence” (“Interview with Paul Hill and Tom Cooper”, Camera, no. 2, February 1975).
Technical innovations abound throughout Man Ray’s work. In 1917, in New York, he began to use a mechanical airbrush to create strange painted compositions filled with objects of an almost photographic realism. In 1922, by now in Paris, he created by chance his first cameraless photographs that he named Rayographs and later described as “painting with light”. Around 1929 he perfected solarisation, the photographic technique he used to great acclaim to give an otherworldly quality to portraits.
Man Ray’s name as a photographer in 1920s was established by the rich, monochrome hues he achieved in his Rayographs. Yet he always looked forward in search of new tools he could use. As he wrote in his autobiography, “it was inevitable that the continued contact with painters should keep smoldering in me my first passion – painting. […] Ideas came to me that demanded a more flexible medium for their expression than the rigidity of the camera. To be sure, I had used photography as freely as I dared, or rather to the limits of my inventive capacities, but color was lacking” (Man Ray, Self Portrait, Boston and London, 1963, p. 254).
His experiments with colour photography began to have results in the early 1930s, particularly the complex carbon bromide (carbro) technique that involved three separate photographs made using red, blue and green filters. He recalled that “it took hours, everything went wrong, the register, the dyes, etc.” (quoted in Man Ray: Writings on Art, op. cit., p. 399). Yet by 1934, he felt sufficiently confident with the results that he used a carbro image as the cover of his seminal photographic album – part-manifesto, part-retrospective – Man Ray Photographs 1920-1934 Paris.
The difficulties he encountered may have prompted Man Ray to state in the 1935 that “when colour photography will have been made as simple as the black and white art, I shall adopt it with the same feeling of readiness and inevitability” (quoted in Man Ray: Writings on Art, op. cit., p. 126). The present work, dated 1935, is the result of yet another innovation in the artist’s search for colour. In a closely-cropped composition of a woman’s face, reminiscent of an uncropped version of his great early 1930s photograph Larmes de Verre (Glass Tears), Man Ray uses coloured crayons to transform the back and white photograph into a polychromatic image, the bright red lips forming the focal point, so evocative of his seminal painting A l’Heure de l’observatoire – les amoureux (Observatory Time – The Lovers). He does not seek to hide the technique, freely admitting his conceit with inscription on the mount “Hand colored (on black + white)”. In a humorous nod to the fact that at that time photographs were frequently retouched during the printing process, Man Ray inscribes the back of the mount “Photographie Retouchée”.
Another hand-coloured print, virtually identical to the present work, formerly in the collection of photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, was sold earlier this year, establishing a record price for a Man Ray photograph. Unlike the Mapplethorpe print, the present work is mounted as a presentation copy, inscribed by Man Ray.
"Color will probably do more to enable photography to catch up with painting than any original presentation of black-and-white. I’m sure that in a short time black-and-whites will seem as primitive as the silent movies. It is not a question of superiority, it is simply necessary to have more and more color. ... And above all, I insisted that there be color even when it seemed unnatural and far-fetched. But I am not ready to show them, I still consider them experiments." (Man Ray, 1957, quoted in Man Ray: Writings on Art, op. cit., p. 399)
Please call 1-800-555-5555 to order a print catalog for this sale.
Online Registration to Bid is Closed for this Sale. Would you like to watch the live sale?Watch Live Sale