National Pavilion UAE - On Surrealism | Man Ray (1890-1976) by Nidal Touma
  • On Surrealism | Man Ray (1890-1976) by Nidal Touma


    Dear friends and Blog Followers,

    As I share with many of you a passion toward Photography, and I also appreciate the movement of Surrealism; I find it very interesting, and I hope some of you will share the opinion.

    I recently prepared a paper on the relation between Photography and Surrealism; the challenges of expressing Surrealism through the art of Photography, and I used the example of the famed photographer Man Ray known for his avant-garde photography

    I’m glad to share my little article with you, which I hope you will like, and maybe we can talk about it more next time we meet, to show and discuss our photographs… as I’m sure we all will make great photographs in Venice.

    Since the early development of the invention of Photography in the 1830s, the focus was on finding a “mechanical” tool to capture the most realistic image of Nature. And the endeavor of pioneer photographers such as Daguerre, Talbot, Bayard was to overcome the barrier of necessity for long exposure time, aiming to freeze time and momentarily document the scene.

    In mid-19th century and toward its end, “Documenting” remained the main target and common practice of Photographers. This is evident in works of: Nadar, Baldus, Salzmann. and at that time Photography was looked at as “mechanical art”, because it was an art produced with the help of a mechanical tool; be it the camera, and because of the mechanical nature of the technical process of photography as well.

    The name “Camera” derives from the Italian name of first ancestor of nowadays’ camera; “Camera Obscura” (meaning dark box or dark room). Which employ a mechanical process of drawing the lines of a reflected image, formed when light passes through a hole in a wall or in the front side of a dark box, to be projected on the opposite wall of the room or the opposite side of the box.

    This etymology emphasizes more the mechanical character of Photography, and justify why it’s considered as its second nature.

    At the beginning of 20th century many avant-garde movements emerged -Surrealism was one of them- and they quickly found their way to appear in works of photographers/artists.

    However , if we examined the movement of Surrealism in particular, and its relation with Photography, we might come to touch the emblematic paradox between the “mechanical” nature of Photography as a reality copying tool, and the “dreamy” nature of Surrealism as an automatic expression tool of the psyche, hence derived the name; sur-real (French for over real ).

    This contradiction will pose new challenges to the photographers to discover the new artistic movements through the art of Photography while challenging its limits and freely expressing their ideas. For that end they deployed a variety of techniques such as Solarization *(look the footnote) to overcome the barriers, and live the authentic spirit of the avant-garde.

    One of the most prominent photographers who witnessed and strongly participated in the avant-garde movements is the American artist Man Ray (1890 – 1976), who spent most of his career in Paris. He produced major works in a variety of media, and was best known in the art world for his avant-garde photography, he was a renowned fashion and portrait photographer as well. Ray is also noted for his work with photograms, which he called “rayographs” in reference to himself

    The featured work Solarization presents a woman in an intimate meditative moment. Man Ray used the technical effect of “Solarization”* to introduce the surrealist character to the photograph, and to challenge the “mechanical” nature of Photography.

    The surrealist nature is also evident through the contrast created by the way the arms embrace the face; suggesting intimacy, while their extorted position; expresses convulsiveness and indicates an artificial pose.

    Solarized parts of the hair form a shape of a halo around the face and shoulders, which -together with the darker background- gives a clear contrast pattern, and creates a feeling of subtle movement around the firmly fixed face in the center.
    The halo mildly veils the erotic nature of the photo as well, alternatively it brings a new spiritual character to the image, though with an emphasized realism -due to the sharpness of the arms which gives them a strong presence.

    Juxtaposing movement and stagnation, intimacy and convulsiveness, solid realism and dreaminess, and the strong contrast of light and dark… is what gives an evident surrealist character to the composition; to be a picture of calm beauty surrounded by firm realism and circumstantial magic

    * Solarization is a technical phenomenon in photography, in which the image recorded on a negative or on a photographic paper is wholly or partially reversed in tone.

    It’s performed in the dark room halfway through the developing process, the picture-still under development- is exposed to a chosen amount of light to destroy the latent image in a special way, which causes the dark areas to appear light or light areas to appear dark.


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