Man Rayed for Life

Another style in which I wish to compose a photograph similarly was surrealism.  I was particularly drawn to Man Ray and Umbo for different reasons even though they both are considered surrealist photographers.  I was fascinated with Man Ray’s negative manipulations such as under and over-exposure and his camera-less photographs, described by Tristan Tzara as:

Things to touch, to eat, to crunch, to apply to the eye, to the skin, to press, to lick, to break, to find, things to lie, to flee from, to honor, things cold or hot, feminine or masculine, things of day or night which absorb through your pores the greater part of our life, that which expresses itself unnoticed, that which matters because it does not know itself and spends itself without reckoning… in our childhoods lost inside or ourselves and unspeakably loaded with drams like geological layers that serve us as bed sheets… And this continuity possesses its own world which fills the land of beaming shadows with the most beautiful memories of caresses, of the dead of emotions—so that one can never keep silent enough on the face of this earth.  These are projections surprised in transparence, by the light of tenderness, of things that dream and talk in their sleep.[1]

Man Ray, Rayograph, 1922. Gelatin silver Print.

Polly Nance, Lennon as a Rayograph, 2011. Digital image, 5 x 7 inches.

I attempted to construct Lennon in accordance to the formal qualities of Man Ray’s Rayograph, with dramatic contrasts of lights and darks so that the photograph would appear like a negative.  Lennon as a Rayograph is my attempt to turn her ordinary baby belly into something more.  To me, this photograph resembled a swollen pregnant belly adorned with a jewel-charm necklace.  I struggled with these Man Ray compositions because many were so highly sexualized and abstract, but I feel as if formally I have achieved a Man Ray quality to my photograph within the dramatic overexposed lighting.

In order to achieve this, however, I had to place Lennon in the bathroom with the lights off and flash the camera at her belly.  I also tried to play with Man Ray’s use of shadows in many of his photographs and found it fascinating that he would photograph through fabric.

Polly Nance, Lennon through Fabric, 2011. Digital image, 5 x 7 inches.

Lennon through Fabric is an attempt to formally capture Man Ray’s technique while still managing to capture a faint image of Lennon behind the fabric.  I found this technique added a dramatic feel to the composition, but I similarly had to turn off the lights in order to render this effect.

Umbo, Self-Portrait at the Beach, 1930. Gelatin silver print, 11 7/16 x 8 9/16 inches.

By some incredible chance, I somehow managed to capture another surrealist photographer’s style, Umbo like in his Self-Portrait at the BeachLennon with a Camera Shadow is a zoomed in composition that isolates Lennon’s delicate face and highlights her beautiful eyes.  The shadow that is cast upon her chin is a reflection of me holding the camera and successfully alludes to Umbo and use of doubling to construct a surrealist photograph in terms of the supplement.[2]

Polly Nance, Lennon with a Camera Shadow, 2011. Digital image, 8 x 10 inches.


[1] Tristan Tzara, “When Things Dream,” Photographs by Man Ray 1920 Paris 1934 (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1974): 84.

[2] Rosalind Krauss, “The Photographic Conditions of Surrealism.” October 19 (Winter 1981): 35.

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