The exhibition aims to shed light on the elusive figure of Ray, who during his long career allowed few details of his early life or heritage to escape into the public domain. Few people, for instance, know that Ray was born Emmanuel Radnitzky to Russian Jewish immigrants, a fact he suppressed to the point of refusing to publicly acknowledge he was ever called anything but Man Ray.
Man Ray Portraits will include over 150 prints from Ray’s career taken between 1916 and 1968, many of which have never been seen in the UK, and will bring together works from the Pompidou Centre, the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Famous for his portraits of friends and lovers, the exhibition will feature photographs from Ray’s Paris hey day of his intimate social circle, which included James Joyce, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Virginia Woolf and Wallis Simpson.
Philadelphia-born Ray cut his teeth as a young photographer in New York to fund his artwork, establishing the New York Dada movement with friend Marcel Duchamp and dabbling in Surrealism along the way. Ray’s friendship with the French artist eventually led to his move to Paris in 1921 and it was during this time that Ray captured his most famous images of his cultural contemporaries and became the first American artist to be accepted by the avant-garde elite gathered in the city.
It was during this epoch of artistic experimentation that Ray developed a type of photogram, a photographic image made without a camera, which he dubbed ‘Rayographs’. He is also credited with perfecting the technique, alongside his lover and collaborator Lee Miller, of solarisation, the photographic phenomenon where the image recorded on a negative is reversed in tone.
Ray left France after the outbreak of WWII and returned to his native US. Although he officially devoted himself once more to painting, Ray continued to take photographic portraits during these years, several of which will have never been seen before this exhibition.
Man Ray Portraits is at the National Portrait Gallery, St Martin’s Place, London, WC2H from 7 February – 27 May 2013.