Man Ray (Emmanuel Radnitzky)

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Man Ray (Emmanuel Radnitzky). Rayograph. 1923. Gelatin silver print, 11 9/16 x 9 1/16" (29.4 x 23 cm). Gift of James Thrall Soby. © 2014 Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

Audio Program excerpt

Inventing Abstraction, 1910–1925

December 23, 2012–April 15, 2013

Curator, Ann Temkin: A photogram is made by placing an object on light sensitive paper, which is then exposed to light, creating a negative image of the object. Camera-less photographic images of subjects like leaves or flowers had been produced since the 1830s, but around 1922, almost simultaneously, artists such as El Lissitzky, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and Man Ray all began experimenting with photograms.

Curator, Leah Dickerman: Man Ray in particular embraced their irrationality, their reversals, the way that you could have a white shadow, for instance, or space would be turned inside out. And he embraced, too, the lack of control that an artist had in making photograms—the little bit of chance that was involved in creating an image.

Even though they're tied to objects, photograms don't necessarily depict them. They're traces of their physical presence in the world. It's a sign of something that’s been rather than making an image that looks like something else.