During his career Man Ray allowed few details of his early life or family background to be known. He even refused to acknowledge that he ever had a name other than Man Ray. He was in fact born Emmanuel Radnitzky in South Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. in 1890. In July 1921, he went to live and work in Paris, France and settled in the Montparnasse quarter. Shortly after arriving in Paris, he met and fell in love with Kiki de Montparnasse (Alice Prin), an artists’ model and celebrated character in Paris bohemian circles. Kiki was Man Ray’s companion for most of the 1920s. She became the subject of some of his most famous photographic images and starred in his experimental films, Le Retour à la Raison and L’Étoile de mer. In 1929, he began a love affair with the Surrealist photographer Lee Miller.
With Miller, his photography assistant and lover, Man Ray reinvented the photographic technique of solarization. He also created a type of photogram he called “rayographs”, which he described as “pure dadaism”. Man Ray directed a number of influential avant-garde short films, known as Cinéma Pur. He directed Le Retour à la Raison (2 mins, 1923); Emak-Bakia(16 mins, 1926); L’Étoile de Mer (15 mins, 1928); and Les Mystères du Château de Dé (27 mins, 1929). Man Ray also assisted Marcel Duchamp with the cinematography of his film Anemic Cinema (1926), and Ray personally manned the camera on Fernand Léger’s Ballet Mécanique (1924). In René Clair’s film Entr’acte (1924), Man Ray appeared in a brief scene playing chess with Duchamp.
Man Ray was forced to return from Paris to the United States due to the Second World War and lived in Los Angeles, California from 1940 to 1951. A few days after arriving in Los Angeles, Man Ray met Juliet Browner, a first-generation American of Romanian-Jewish lineage. She was a trained dancer and an experienced artists’ model. They began living together almost immediately. The two married in 1946 in a double wedding with their friends Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning. Nonetheless, he called Montparnasse home and returned to live there.
He died in Paris on November 18, 1976 from a lung infection. He was interred in the Cimetière du Montparnasse in Paris. Ray’s epitaph reads “unconcerned, but not indifferent”.
Coproduction by Le Centre Georges Pompidou – Paris Premiere – Les Films du Tambour de Soie with the participation of La Cinquieme et France 3. Commentary by Jeremy Nicklin
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