Tag Archives: Man Ray

Photographs Dense with Experience: Eugène Atget’s Paris.

atget paris st

Misty mornings in parks, the shape of statues echoing that of nearby trees; long cobbled streets that invite the eye to wander down them; mannequins in shop windows that appear oddly animate. These are some of the 10,000 images that Eugène Atget (1857-1927) took of Paris in the first quarter of the 20th century, which are both visual documents of the city and carriers of a poetic sense of place. Atget’s photography was a quiet, personal obsession – this was long before the advent of the ‘photo-essay’ in contemporary art, in which a subject or world is photographed multiply and explored in depth. Atget didn’t even consider his work as art although his work was lauded by the Parisian avant-garde, by Man Ray who saw in his work a latent surrealist sensibility, an unexpected evocation of the unconscious life of the city; by Andre Breton who published him in Le Revolution Surrealiste and in his own books.

atget parc cloud

Atget used old photographic equipment with very long exposures so his photographs are often devoid of people. This allows the form of the city to be clearly seen, its architecture and arched bridges, its sweep of streets and stairwells. Yet the empty city still bears a palpable, if mysterious, presence of real lives lived and so invites narratives, stirs the viewer to imagine. Atget’s images also appeal through their nostalgia. They were memory traces of a vanishing world – he worked in the old parts of Paris being bulldozed to make way for wide modern boulevards. John Szarkowski, former director of photography at MOMA in New York, believed that the way Atget blended documentation and a distinct personal vision made him the first real modernist photographer: “The pictures that he made…are seductively and deceptively simple, wholly poised, reticent, dense with experience, mysterious, and true” (from Szarkowski’s Looking at Photographs).

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atget

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Filed under Art, Arts, Black and white photography, Photography, Surrealism

How do you photograph dreams?

man ray profiel and hands 1932

The advent of the avant-garde in the early 20th century had a liberating effect on many photographers. Surrealism in particular was a godsend for those frustrated by the verisimilitude of photographs, by their adherence to realism. Man Ray (1890-1976) was the driving force behind revolutionising photography in this way, turning it into a poetic means to investigate the world and the depths of the human psyche. New techniques like solarization and negative prints produced dream-like transformations that could provoke (at least at that time) a kind of psychic shock. In an interview in 1964, Man Ray observed, “The [solarization] technique allowed me to…get away from banality…to produce a photograph that would not look like a photograph.” His ambition was to photograph dreams and ideas rather than things. Using the new techniques, parts of the body – hands, faces – metamorphosize into dream-like aureoles that are alluring and strange. The lines which trace the shape of the body parts are sensual – almost erotic contours that fingers might map.

man ray  study of hands (negative solarisation) 1931

Man Ray – Study of Hands (negative solarization) 1930

man ray l'oeuf et le coquillage 1931

Man Ray – L’oeuf et le coquillage 1931

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Filed under Arts, Black and white photography, Hands, Photography, Surrealism