Man Ray @ National Portrait Gallery

From Dada to Surrealism, throughout the visual and literary arts, everyone from Picasso to James Joyce were photographed by Man Ray. For more than fifty years, the artist captured the faces of his age to immortalise them in photographs which continue to be greatly revered today. Now the National Portrait Gallery are showcasing more than 150 spectacular photographs in a spectacular exhibition.

The show documents the artist’s photographs chronologically, following Man Ray’s journey from Paris to New York to Hollywood and back to Paris again and what a journey it must have been! Man Ray had associated with both the literary and artistic avante garde and the display follows like a who’s who of culture for the mid twentieth century. On display are Jean Cocteau, Juan Gris, Georges Braque, Matisse, Aldous Huxley, Marcel Duchamp, Andre Breton and Virginia Woolf to name but a few. Many of these images would have been taken for magazines and advertisements. The artist’s sitters are mostly looking directly to camera, fully aware the image is being taken, showing direct interaction with artist and viewer.

Also on display are many photographs of the women in Man Ray’s life. From the infamous Violin D’Ingres, a nude image of Kiki Montparnasse, back to camera with the marks of a violin on her back to the classical beauty of fellow american photographer Lee Miller. Also shown are Ady Fidelin and the artist’s eventual wife, Juliet Browner.

The National Portrait Gallery succeeds in showing us how Man Ray went about cropping and editing his images. We see his markings on negatives where he has chosen to crop an image and also the development of rayographs, solarisation and trials at using colour. What is most surprising is how small some of the images are as many have been reproduced to be more than five times the size of what we are expecting.

Some of the most memorable photographs include an image of Barbette taken in 1926 which depicts a transvestite Parisian dancer glaring at the camera and then floating in the air dressed as a woman in the distance. Also of note is the 1968 portrait of Catherine Deneuve where the actress is pictured wearing some of the artists own objects: large gold spirals in her ears. However my favourite images are a sears picturing the Maharaja and Maharanee of Indore in London. Here the couple are pictures intimately, as man and wife, stripped of their regalia in plain clothes and a bare bedroom.

Not only does the National Portrait Gallery treat us to over 100 stunning images from a truly great photographer but we also learn and see close hand the evolution and development of photographic art. A must see for the visually obsessed, if only for the artists portraits!

Man Ray Portraits are on display at National Portrait Gallery until 27 may

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Lizzy Vartanian Collier aka Gallery Girl is a writer and curator based in London. Her work has been featured in publications including Dazed, Hyperallergic and Vogue Arabia. She was curator of Perpetual Movement during AWAN Festival 2018 and in 2019 had a residency at the Lab at Darat Al Funun in Amman, Jordan. She has also worked with Armenia Art Fair for its inaugural edition and previously worked as an editor at I.B.Tauris Publishers. In 2019 she co-founded Arsheef, Yemen’s first contemporary art gallery. She has given workshops at Manara Culture in Amman, Jordan and Victoria and Albert Museum in London, UK. As of 2020 she is currently in law school, with the ambition of greater understanding the intersection between art and the law.

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