In Paris, in the 1920s, Man Ray began experimenting with photograms, pictures made by placing objects on photosensitive paper and exposing it to light. In these works, which he called “rayographs,” after himself, light is both the subject and medium. In Le Retour à la raison (Return to Reason), the artist extended the rayograph technique to moving images—he sprinkled salt and pepper onto one piece of film and pins onto another and added sequences of night shots at a fairground and a segment showing a paper mobile dancing with its own shadow. The final sequence of the film introduces Man Ray’s legendary model Alice Prin—also known as Kiki of Montparnasse—naked, her body illuminated in stripes of light.
Gallery label from The Shaping of New Visions: Photography, Film, Photobook, April 16, 2012–April 29, 2013.
Man Ray, an avant-garde artist known for his innovative work in photography, has made in this film a series of visual and kinetic experiments in the cinematic form. Weaving abstract and concrete images, positive and negative exposures, static and moving objects, Ray creates a catalog of techniques—including his own “rayographs,” cameraless contact prints of objects on paper and film—that later filmmakers working in the experimental genre would explore and define.
Publication excerpt from Circulating Film Library Catalog, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1984, p. 167.