Thursday, February 19, 2009

Rayograph spotting at Heritage

Feb. 19, 2009
Posted by Noah

When I was in high school here in Dallas – at the Arts Magnet just up the street from our World Headquarters here on Maple Avenue –I developed a full blown obsession with Man Ray. My friends and I were turned on to the Dadaists by a teacher, and we loved what we saw. There was something in Man Ray’s tweaking of tradition, however, that set me afire. In subsequent years, as I studied and lived in New York and Paris, I sought out all the Man Ray I could. From his old neighborhood in Williamsburg to the cafes and bars that he haunted with the likes of Duchamp and Dali in Montparnasse. I just wanted to be able to say I had walked in those footsteps – the first of many pilgrimages I have undertaken in my adult life.

Through the years, however, life has taken over and the time to read endless biographies and dig through databases and microfiche machines at libraries for obscure magazine articles is something of a vague, pleasant pre-parenthood memory. There is, though, a lot in the April Vintage Photography auction that has allowed me to briefly re-kindle my 20 year old obsession with Man Ray, and for that – today – I am thankful. It’s a 1963 silver gelatin print of Untitled, a 1926 Rayograph – Man Ray’s special name for his unique process art photographs. It’s a beauty for sure.

The artist was a great painter and photographer, but it was in his Rayographs that he truly blurred the line and forged something new, something that was neither Dada nor Surrealism, but simply great art. He was, literally, painting with photography, and redefining the rules of perception as he went.

“It’s obviously a later print” said Lorraine Anne Davis, Heritage’s Director of Vintage Photography – and a much revered appraiser of photography, “but it’s a single print from the only set of Rayographs that Man Ray signed, and it was done at the request of Helmut Newton, from whose estate it came.”

Excuse me, but that is amazingly cool. Helmut Newton, one of the best and greatest American portrait and nude photographers – he was in the vanguard of the generation that came after Man Ray – asks the greatest avant-garde photog of the previous generation to do something he never does, that is sign a portfolio, and Man Ray obliges. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall for that conversation.

It should be noted that there are a trio of excellent Helmut Newton photos in the upcoming photography auction, including two Polaroids, and they’re everything you either love or hate about Newton. He had a real thing for very tall women in moments of stylized extremis. Check them out here.