Man Ray was a pervert
Man Ray (American 1890-1976) was a pioneer of visual arts. He contributed to the development of experimental photography, fashion photography and portraiture. Man Ray wanted to cause commotion as well as surprise the audience. Most of all however, he wanted to express himself in the truest way possible, regardless of what was “acceptable” in the public eye. Because of this, the Rayograph, and his daring photographs, Man Ray is considered to be one of the most influential artists of the twentieth century.
Man Ray’s contribution to the image of the female in 20th century art, as well as the importance and originality of the Rayograph is discussed in Between You and Me: Man Ray’s Object to Be Destroyed, Art Journal. v. 63 no1, Spring 2004, p. 4-23 by Janine Mileaf, The Great photographers Man Ray 1984 by Janus, and In Focus Man Ray Photographs from the J. Paul Getty Museum 1998 by Katherine Ware. All of these authors have a significantly different approach to interpreting the art of Man Ray.
Katherine Ware will argue that Man Ray created out of a desire to provoke and to experiment, and that he may, or in fact did objectify women through his art. Conversely, Janus who described Man Ray’s attitude towards women as that of admiration, will argue that Man Ray’s art is pure but not necessarily pioneering. Janine Mileaf, by contrast, argues that Man Ray’s portraits of women are “…mix of violence and eroticism” (Mileaf p. 7, 2004.) In other words a result of his tragic upbringing and the problems related to it.
It is evident in a picture, “Blanc et Noir”, taken by Man Ray in 1929 (see appendix A) that his own history of childhood abuse has contributed to his art (Mileaf p.9-10 2004). In a Freudian sense Man Ray became the abuser instead of the abused. By his own testimony, Ray was sexually gratified through punishing women( Mileaf p.5 2004). He sexually abused his ex-wives, who had new lovers at the time, at several occasions. This goes to show that Man Ray indeed objectified women. The woman’s body became a means of communication between two men. A way of showing to the woman’s new lover that Man Ray, had touched her. By contrast, Janus explains about a portrait of Kiki de Montparnasse 1924-1926 (see appendix B), “Kiki, his (Man Ray) lover, in one of the many photographs he took of her, also appears to be enjoying her serene sexuality” (p.8 1984). The keywords are “serene” and “enjoy”. Janus interprets Man Ray’s portraiture, or at least this portrait, as a healthy sexual relationship. Janus speaks of Ray’s art as pure and positive of women. He does not mention objectifying women in any kind of way. This is further illustrated in a portrait of Meret Oppenheim 1929 (see appendix C). “Meret Oppenheim offers her body in its splendid nudity like a modern Venus”(p.8 1984). This is despite of the fact that Man Ray’s, in many ways disturbing and revealing autobiography had been published at the time. Katherine Ware is more objective in her interpretation of Man Ray’s view of woman. About Violon d’ingres 1924 (see appendix D), she states that the picture “…maintains a tension between objectification and appreciation of the female form”(p.40 1998). She sees something amusing in the picture, but still acknowledges the absence of her arms as disturbing. There is a parallel to be drawn between Janine Mileaf’s view and that of Katherine Ware. They both illustrate the woman as an object, or more correctly, as an instrument of communication. Not necessarily as an admirable piece of art, but an object to be played and used.
The Rayograph (see appendix E), is an abstract form of photography which was developed by man Ray. The Rayograph is a process of exposing objects to photographic paper and achieving depth, and different forms, only by using light. Janus, however, consideres this to be a “…natural development by another darkroom technique – that of the Sabattier effect, or solarization…(p.6 1984)” Janus in a way, does not see this as equally revolutionizing as Man Ray himself: “I have freed myself from the sticky medium of paint and am working directly with light itself”(Man Ray quoted in IN FOCUS Man Ray “photographs from the J. Paul Getty Museum p.28 1998). Katherine Ware acknowledges the creativity of the Rayograph, but merely comments it as a subversion of the photographer’s role in creating images (p. 28 1998).
The most powerful and best-founded argument is presented by Janine Mileaf. She uses Freud’s theory of sexual development in childhood to illustrate how and why Man Ray’s image of the opposite sex was like it was, and how this urge was sublimated in his art. Also, it explains to a degree, why Man Ray was abusive of women. Janus’s theory seems more like a subjective admiration and glorification of a nevertheless great artist. He seems to lack a critical and an analytic eye. Katherine Ware presents the best explanation of how Man Ray’s art evolved, as her texts were most objective of the three. The female authors, Mileaf and Ware, have in my view been able to scrutinize and analyze the art of Man Ray and the persona of this artist in the most objective and convincing way. Janus’s praise is hardly substantiated, he fails to see beyond the artist’s name. In a way it seems that he is intimidated and almost afraid to criticize such an influential artist as Man Ray. Whether Man ray objectified women or not, he managed to bring the sexuality of woman into mainstream photography and whether he wanted it or not, contributed in this way to the advancement of feminism.