About the School

  • Man Ray. Man Ray’s Studio. c. 1925. Gelatin silver print, 6 1 16 x 8 9/16" (15.4 x 21.8 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Gilman Collection, Gift of The Howard Gilman Foundation, 2005. © 2014 Man Ray Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris

    In 1921 Man Ray (born Emmanuel Rudnitsky, in Philadelphia) moved to Paris. As he and artist Marcel Duchamp had previously tried to create a chapter of Dada, the fractious European art movement, in New York, Duchamp and the circle of Dadaists in Paris welcomed him with open arms. They showed his recent paintings and, to help him make his way, spread the word of his talent as a portrait photographer. Gertrude Stein, Jean Cocteau, Louis Aragon, André Breton, Tristan Tzara, and many other writers and artists of the Dada-Surrealist group took him up, as did the American expatriate community, finding his portraits excellent—and his humor and clever, ever-evolving art a refreshing tonic in keeping with the irreverent effervescence of the times. And Man Ray found what he sought, a receptive community of like-minded souls.

    Renting a ground-floor studio in a block of artists’ flats at 31 bis rue Campagne-Première, in the heart of Montparnasse, he became a central figure in the cultural scene of that cosmopolitan district of artists and expatriates. Tzara and Duchamp lived nearby for a time, the Jockey bistro and nightclub where Kiki belted out her bawdy songs was on the corner, and a couple of blocks farther on were the big sidewalk cafés where the artists congregated. The quarter was bubbling with bohemian activity and Man Ray’s ground-floor living and work space, which doubled as his portrait studio, became another nexus. The photographic lab installed in the loft was also a center of activity, a closet-sized “cottage industry” complete with assistants.

    This studio has sometimes been called a school, but it was nothing like a proper school. Like many successful photographers, Man Ray simply needed help with his equipment and with developing film and finishing prints, and within a year of arriving he had found young people to help him. Four of them went on to become famous photographers in their own right: Berenice Abbott, an American who had studied sculpture in Paris and Berlin and was struggling to survive; Jacques-André Boiffard, a French medical student who became a Surrealist and lived for long periods in Man Ray’s studio; Bill Brandt, a German who put in some time before leaving to live in London; and Lee Miller, a beautiful young American who posed for portraits and fashion shoots, and who became Man Ray’s collaborator in films and photography, as well as his lover.

    Man Ray was no professor, for he taught only by example; in the tradition of apprenticeship, his assistants just watched until they learned, and then they helped. Disdainful of fancy technology, he showed them that what counted was not the camera but instead the vision of the person behind it. With this understanding, he could see that the photographs made by an old man who lived up the street were remarkably modern, even surreal, though his technique was old-fashioned. Buying some prints from this neighbor, whose name was Eugène Atget, Man Ray shared them with his friends, among them a young American film enthusiast named Julien Levy (later of the Julien Levy Gallery, New York) who, like Berenice Abbott, was smitten with the images. After Atget’s death, his life’s work was acquired by Abbott, in association with Levy, and published in the monograph Atget: Photographe de Paris, in 1930. Today it is in the collection of The Museum of Modern Art.

    —Maria Morris Hambourg

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Hans Richter travels frequently to Paris and meets Man Ray, who introduces him to the Surrealists
Berenice Abbott is Man Ray's assistant; Man Ray familiarizes Abbott with the work of Eugène Atget
George Hoyningen-Huene and Man Ray collaborate on a portfolio of fashion photographs, which is later sold to a New England department store
Jacques-André Boiffard works as an assistant to Man Ray, who teaches him photography
Fall 1928
Berenice Abbott and Julien Levy buy Eugène Atget's archive from André Calmette
At location: Berenice Abbott
Lee Miller is Man Ray's assistant and lover
Bill Brandt works as an assistant to Man Ray for a few months
Marianne Breslauer travels to Paris, where she meets Man Ray
Paul Citroen travels to Paris, where he meets Marianne Breslauer and Werner Rohde
Member of the Association des Ecrivains et Artistes Revolutionaires (AEAR)

Walther Artists

Walther Photographs

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