It is perhaps appropriate to note here that there is no satisfactory and simple definition of the word photography that is not a tautology: e.g., photography is the process by which photographs are made. Whether one attempts a more meaningful definition in terms of chemistry, optics, or graphic traditions, the result will surely exclude works that are, by tradition, parentage, and common sense, photographs. Actually, the word photography stands for a family of processes united by the fact that they produce images through the agency of natural energies.
Man Ray's picture is made without using a camera or a lens. In the strict sense it should not be called a print (not even a monoprint) since it is not transferred from a matrix. It was made by exposing a piece of photographic paper to the light of a bare bulb, which cast onto the paper the shadows of intervening objects. The blackest areas are those that were exposed longest to the light; the whitest areas occur where no light struck the paper. Man Ray made this picture by exposing the paper at least three times, casting, in turn, shadows of the two heads, the hands, and the two vaselike rectangular forms.
It is impossible to say which planes of the picture are to be interpreted as existing closer or deeper in space. The picture is a visual invention: an image without a real-life model with which we can compare it.
The issue of transparency was of interest to artists in all media during the early twentieth century. Transparency implies spatial ambiguity: The wall of a modern glass building is simultaneously window, skin, and mirror. The multiple perspectives and spatial inversions of Cubism, the time-lapse studies of the Futurists, and the montages of film-makers like Podovkin, all challenge the idea of solid and continuous forms existing in a discrete Euclidian space. The photogram was an ideal tool for the exploration of the new nonsculptural space. Moholy-Nagy called it "the most completely dematerialized medium which the new vision commands."
Making photograms was also fun. The final image was never precisely predictable; unexpected gradations in tone created imaginary vistas that were surprising and delightful. For Man Ray, to whom art was a sublime kind of play, the technique was perfect.
from "Looking at Photographs" by John Szarkowski
Rich selection of various techniques include over and under exposure, shooting through fabric, superimposing images, and zeroing in on tiny details. Photographs are divided into general subjects, female figures (mainly nudes); women's faces (including Gertrude Stein); celebrity portraits (Dali, Derain, Matisse, Picasso, and others); and rayographs, cameraless compositions created by resting objects on unexposed film.
This catalog, which presents more than 200 works and compares and contrasts images with biographical details, is divided into three main sections: Man Ray's formative years spent between New York and an artists' colony in Ridgefield, New Jersey; the Paris period; and the period spent between Hollywood and Paris, France-the city he ultimately chose to adopt as his home.
- Of course, there will always be those who look only at technique, who ask "how," while others of a more curious nature will ask "why." Personally, I have always preferred inspiration to information.