Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Trip to Man Ray's Exhibition 'Man Ray - Portraits' At The National Portrait Gallery, London.

Born Emmanuel Radnitzky, 1890-1976. An American modernist artist, spent most of his career in Paris, significant to the Dada and Surrealist movements. His work covered a variety of media - painting, photography (fashion and portraiture), photograms (which he titled Rayograms in reference to himself).
'Man Ray Self Portrait with Camera', 1932, by Man Ray himself.
This exhibition was being held 7 February - 27 - May 2013. I had a rough idea of what to expect because I have looked at his work already and notcied a lot of the photography (which this exhibition focuses on) was portraiture, and by the title of the exhibition this was obvious what to expect, which was the opposite to Teller's being named 'Woo.' which didn't give a clue. The exhibiton focuses on Ray's work in America and Paris, between 1890-1976. It highlights a range of his contemporaries including photographs of his friends and celebrities such as Marcel Duchamp, Pablo Picasso, Kiki de Montparnasse, Lee Miller and Catherine Deneuve featuring over 150 works from international museums and private collections. It demonstrates Ray's use of techniques in darkroom photography and early use of colour.

When I first walked into the exhibition it was very cramped, full of people and I saw that by looking around, the room was very small, it was more like a corridor, I could see lots of photographs (approx. 20 on each wall), they were all rather small (A4 or smaller) and also quite spaced out so that each one was kept separate. They were framed in glass frames for protection and this also helped give them value, it made them seem more important. I also notcied the layout more, when I had finished looking I noticed the work goes in a chronological order, starting from the early works. Also that the whole exhibition was kept to the one room, it was a winding shape, narrow with works on both walls, almost representing a timeline of his works. Each photograph had its title, size and year written by them, also a brief paragraph on the reason for the photograph and who the person is. Here are a few of my favourites that I saw along the exhibition.
'Kiki Wearing hat and scarf of Gazelle Leather', 1924, gelatin silver print, North/Central America.
Kiki de Monparnasse (Paris), born Alice Ernestine Prin, an actress, model, night club singer, aritst, memoirist and painter.
'Barbette', 1926, double exposure dark room portrait, Los Angeles. Barbette means performer, this is clearly shown by the fact she is portraying a ballerina here. The name of this women isn't given.
'Solarised Portrait of Lee Miller', 1929, solarised in the dark room, Paris. Ray took a particular interest in Miller, he had various photographs he had taken of her. Born Elizabeth Miller, Lady Penrose, an American photographer, she was a successful fashion model before her fine art/fashion photography took over.
'Irene Zurkinden', 1932, dark room print. Zurkinden was a was a Swiss painter.
'Erotique Voilee (Meret Oppenheim)', French for 'veiled erotic', 1933, dark room print, Meret Oppenheim was an artist and Ray used her as a model here. Ray was 43 when he produced this work, I noticed his work change from mainly portraiture with friends and aquaintances to fashion with models for campaigns and reasons towards this stage in his life. This piece is held in the Museum of Modern Art in Paris. I think the meaning can tie in with moral, social and cultural issues. This is because of women having no equal rights at this point in time, morals as they are today weren't the same because women didn't work, were seen as the house wives who stayed at homes, this was also a social problem because of people of the world and communities having these opinions to put this into place in the British /French/American culture. The meaning connected with the work is partially hidden, the grease on her shows signs of working and getting dirty, her nakedness has a sex appeal to it for mean but also shows women how they aren't meant to be seen, very shocking at this day and age. The wheel also looks very machine like, something that would be associated with men and working hard which women weren't seen doing. Also, the idea of seeing a women as an object could be bought up, it could be a man forcing her to do this for his own satisfaction. Shapes that geometrically fit together can be seen, they are rounded and soft but are a contrast and look quite harsh compared to her body because of the paleness and the bold black shapes covered in grease and dirt. We are aware that action has taken place because of the dirt on her arms shows work from movement and the stance is as if she is quite tired out.

The piece has been framed as a medium shot, we can see what her expression is and the dirt and her body clearly but also it doesn't cut out the parts of her body we need to see and the machinery. The shapes are rounded on her body and the machine which keeps them both in harmony with eachother but also focuses on the formal element of shape and colour to contrast them, they also create tone from the shadows they make of different shades of greys and black. The tone also helps create realism and depth rather than using a use of lines it is basic shape. The arrangement is pleasing, Ray has kept her in the centre so she is what we see first and are drawn to first. He has balanced a pale background and a pale body by using shadow and created a harmony with harsh shadows and an idea somebody else is there because of the dark shadow on the left side of the photograph.

The photograph has been posed, nakedness and location also positioning of grease has been planned and set up to shoot. I think that the technical process in the darkroom could have involved some burning around the face and arm to balance it out with the dark shadows. The camera is in focus and there are no enhancements or depth of field. Editing hasn't been used because it is a print from the darkroom although it looks as if there could be a light brownish filter over it, slightly sepia. Lighting is dramatic which creates a stronger effect because of the contrast.

The work creates quite a working mood, a feeling of labour and physical movement, also quite a strong look on females. It compares women to men in good and bads ways I've explained. Words that effectively desribe this work could be labour, femininity, power, strength. Ray could have been feeling the vunerability of the model in the narrative, a mans scene and she is baring all, I like it because of the strange and artistic way it presents these meanings.

This trip really inspired me on how to see quality in a portraiture photograph, I felt that all of the photographs really captured the flawless surface and grains you can see microscopically from a darkroom print. You can instantly tell the era that they are from because of this. The slight sepia effect on some of them really captures the vintage and olden effect.

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