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Noire et blanche, 1926, Man Ray


 

       

M A N  R A Y

 
 

Glass Tears
 and Masks!

   

 

Born Emmanuel Radnitzky in 1890 in Philadelphia, the American painter, writer, and photographer Man Ray moved to Paris in 1921 and from his studio at 31 rue Campagne Première in the heart of Montparnasse created some of the most memorable photographs of the twentieth century.  Photographs beautiful and moving but mysterious and surreal as well, images that remain with one.  Les Larmes (and the name, Glass Tears, as it is sometimes called in English, even more lovely -- with its connotations of transparency, or alternately, pretense) in which five large drops of water or glass, diamond-like baubles of light, dot a close-up of a woman's face like huge tears, long eyelashes and huge expressive eyes looking upwards….

 


Les Larmes (Glass Tears), 1930-33, Man Ray

 

Noire et blanche is equally famous, equally iconic.  The photograph first appeared in 1926 in the May edition of French Vogue and was titled Visage de nacre et masque d'ébène before appearing several months later in the Belgian Surrealist magazine Variétés under the title Noire et blanche.  Interesting as well that Man Ray did not title his work Noir et blanc, French for Black and White, but chose the feminine forms of both words; emphasizing that his composition is not about color, but about two feminine faces.  It appeared also in Art et decoration that same year, where Pierre Migennes noted most poetically: "The same sleep and the same dream, the same mysterious magic seem to unite across time and space these two female masks with closed eyes: one of which was created at some point in time by an African sculptor in black ebony, the other, no less perfect, made up yesterday in Paris."

 

The photo is Surrealistic in that it juxtaposes images to suggest a meaning, hidden or apparent, or as Emmanuelle de l'Ecotais said of the photograph - it gives expression to one of Man Ray's fundamental aims: provoquer la refléxion!  Man Ray had been influenced by West African art, like Picasso and Brancusi before him finding inspiration in African sculpture, particularly the mask. Picasso had his own African period (from 1907-1909), one thinks of the stylized and distorted figures of his famous Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, of Brancusi's beautiful oval heads….

 

A reverse print of Noire et blanche exists as well, inverting both the position of the masks and the color scheme, a playful variation on the part of Man Ray, a photographer both mysterious and inventive….images to keep with one this Halloween weekend!

 

Tags: paris  surrealism  photography 

 

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