"I want something where the eye and hand count for nothing."
-Marcel Duchamp to Walter Pach, 1914
1922 was an especially important year for Man Ray and, as a consequence of his artistic accomplishments, to all whom followed him for decades afterwards. After having moved to Paris with Marcel Duchamp's encouragement in 1921, Man Ray went on to "discover" a technique of picture making seemingly ready-made for him; part automatic writing, part Rorschach tests, and part shadow puppets. The immediacy of the method seduced the avant-garde of Paris and contributed to his establishment in the circle of the Dada group there. Essentially, a re-invention of photography's most basic function, the photogram, Man Ray dubbed his camera-less images Rayographs, much in the same way Christian Schad had eponymously described his experiments from the late 1910s. By the end of the year he had not only established this work publicly and in print but in December he published his first portfolio, Les Champs Delicieux, with an introduction from Tristan Tzara. With the solarization studies of the next decade, his Rayographs of the 1920s would be his greatest innovations in photography. He continued to create Rayographs until the end of his life.
The photogram technique, placing objects on, above or near unexposed photographic paper in a darkroom and selectively making light exposures, allowed Man Ray to compose images like a painter but remain imbued in the machine art of photography. The ease of producing images this way led to a natural layering of the shadow images. At once ghost-like and real, the Rayographs leant themselves too often to overly complex compositions. Sometimes schematic in design, the most literal representations of his Rayographs tend to feel like x-rays of paintings as opposed to modern images written in a secret language. Unlike Moholy-Nagy, his contemporary working in a similar mode, Man Ray's photograms are not substitutes for, or related to, works executed in other media. By choosing objects close at hand or with some personal significance the Rayographs often take on an autobiographic tone and inevitably relate to each other. Those images created in the first two years of his efforts, 1922-23 seem to be the most effortless, the most ethereal in space. The work offered here is from a small group of similar images from 1923, employing the feminine and coy swatches of lace coupled with a masculine, phallic candle, connected by shadows to a mechanical hinge. Man Ray's anthropomorphic tendencies are established in the work of the 1920s and 30s and the Rayograph offered here is no exception. The lips-like form and the implied movement in the shifting shadows are part of a mysterious analytical code, metaphors with carnal implication.
Since the Rayographs were unique works of art like paintings but fell within the misunderstood medium of photography Man Ray felt compelled to create some means of making it clear that certain works were not multiples. Almost immediately he saw the potential of copying the Rayographs for editioning purposes. Les Champs Delicieux was his first example of this. (Into the 1960s he produced editions of Rayographs.) He began the practice of stamping his Rayographs "Original" to differentiate between the works he created initially and any subsequent prints from copy negatives. Sadly, not all Rayographs were stamped but many were. This particular print bears the "Original" stamp.
Man Ray's last studio address, on the rue Ferou, is written in pencil on the verso, most likely in his hand. It is likely therefore that this Rayograph was held onto by him through World War II and did not leave his possession until the 1950s or later when he returned to Paris.