Man Ray: The Unwilling Fashion Photographer Who Excelled

Man Ray is today regarded as one of the most innovative photographers of the twentieth century. He reinvented solarization and further developed photograms, which he called “rayographs,” in reference to himself. He also pioneered fashion photography in the 1920s-1940 in Paris but did not want to be known as a “photographer.” He considered himself a painter and artist above all.

Man Ray and Fashion is an exhibition organized by the Réunion des Musées Nationaux – Grand Palais and the City of Marseille, at Musée du Luxembourg, Paris. Man Ray is presented here in a new light as his photography has never been explored from a fashion perspective.

Man Ray was a notable player in the artistic life in interwar Paris and of Surrealism in particular. Man Ray and Fashion is made up of the following sections: From 1920s Portraiture to Fashion Photography, The Rise of Fashion and Advertising, and the heyday of fashion photography: The Bazaar Years.

It displays more than 200 prints of the artist’s black-and-white images alongside magazines, haute couture, and film clips. It demonstrates how fashion influenced his work and how he influenced the fashion industry and almost created fashion photography.

Exhibition poster © Réunion des musées nationaux – Grand Palais, Paris 202 a camera around 1915 merely to record his paintings, but he soon learned to use it artistically.

He moved to Paris in 1921, where his dream was to mix with Dada and Surrealist circles, but that did not go too well.
Man Ray. Pavilion of Elegance, International Exhibition Decorative and Industrial Arts, 1925 platinum proof, exhibition print made from the glass plate negative 23.5 x 17.5 cm Paris, Center Pompidou, National Art Museum, modern / Industrial Creation Center, purchased by order, print Jean-Luc Piété, © Man Ray 2015 Trust / Adagp, Paris 2020

May Ray at first found work by focusing on society portraits to put food on the table. As he was looking for ways to make money quickly, he was introduced to fashion designer Paul Poiret by art critic Buffet-Picabia, wife of artist Francis Picabia. Poiret wanted the human element that painters lacked, and Man Ray found a niche for himself in photographing Poiret’s fashions.

Man Ray freely admitted to not knowing much about fashion photography and initially had difficulty lighting the model, but he was quick to learn on the job.

Fashion photography was not very popular in the early part of the last century as it was challenging to compete with illustrators who dominated the fashion press.

“Reproducing photographs was still very difficult and expensive at the time,” explains Catherine Örmen, co-curator of the Man Ray and Fashion exhibition at the Musée du Luxembourg to the BBC.
Man Ray. Portrait of Unidentified Woman, fashion? 1930 gelatin silver print (including solarization) 12.2 x 9.3 cm Paris, Center Pompidou, National Museum of Modern Art / Industrial Creation Center, founded in 1994, © Center Pompidou, MNAM-CCI, dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Image Center Pompidou, MNAM-CCI, © Man Ray 2015 Trust / Adagp, Paris 2020
Fashion photography was not easy a hundred years ago.

“For Man Ray, who worked before the development of ‘fast film’ and motor-drive cameras, there was no question of snapping pictures of models cavorting at hot spots or on the beach,” notes The New York Times in 1990. “The film was too slow; the model had to stand still.”

The models were not leaping off the page in vibrant poses, but the photographs showed excellent detail in the clothes, making the designers happy.

Man Ray in His Workshop. Photo PICRYL

As Man Ray perfected his photography, word of his imagery’s high quality, which bordered on the experimental, began to spread. He started getting approached by most of the great couturiers, including Madeleine Vionnet, Coco Chanel, Augusta Bernard, Louise Boulanger, and above all, Elsa Schiaparelli.

Fashion magazines were attracted to his work, and he began working with Vanity Fair, French Vogue, and Harper’s Bazaar.

Man Ray’s mother made clothes, and his father worked in a garment factory, which could also be connected to Man Ray’s interest in photographing fashion. Art historians have noted similarities between Ray’s collage and painting techniques and styles used for tailoring, as noted in Conversion to Modernism: The Early Work of Man Ray.

Kiki, Noire et Blanche (header photo above) was first published in French Vogue in May 1926. In this outstanding example of Surrealist art, Man Ray’s lover Kiki de Montparnasse poses with an African mask. The doubling of faces symbolizes divided subjects made up of the conscious and unconscious.

In the photo, as seen from left to right, it is white and black but the wordplay of the artist titled it “Noire et Blanche” or “Black and White”. If any of Man Ray’s imagery proves that he was more artist than a mere photographer, this is the supreme example.

Lee Miller his assistant would often take over Ray’s fashion assignments to enable him to concentrate on his painting. So closely did they collaborate that photographs taken by Miller during this period are credited to Ray.

Ray embraced all aspects of expressionistic art that flourished between World War I and II. Fashion photography was just a necessity for making a living.As an artist who worked in several genres – painting, film, sculpture, printmaking, and the essay – he did not like the designation “photographer.” The pictures he took of women in Paris haute couture were to pay for his studio, his brushes, and his paint, he said.

During his time, one of the major art movements was Dadaism, which believed that the ordinary could become extraordinary through art and his reinvent of photograms dovetailed neatly into that thinking. Photograms are created by placing objects directly onto photographic paper and then exposing them to light.
View of the Man Ray and Fashion exhibition (7) scenography Agence NC, Nathalie Crinière assisted by Lucile Louveau © Rmn-Grand Palais 2020 / Photo Didier Plowy

Man Ray reinvented this technique and called it “rayographs.” He even moved the object during exposure to give it more depth and tonal range. This kind of imagery probably gave him more satisfaction as an artist than fashion photography, which was essentially putting bread on the table. Vanity Fair printed four of his rayographs in a feature.

“He later characterized his discovery as an unconscious, ‘automatic’ darkroom happening that occurred in his tiny bathroom/darkroom when he placed a small glass funnel, the graduate, and the thermometer in the tray on the wetted paper and turned on the light,” writes Robert Hirsch in his book Seizing the Light: A History of Photography.

It is essential to keep in mind that Man Ray was a painter, and he had done similar techniques in painting when he had put an object on the canvas and painted around it.

Man Ray also reinvented solarization (see sidenote below & Portrait of Unidentified Woman, above) and started using it in his fashion photography to make them look painterly.

He started working with Harper’s Bazaar in 1934, and it was this fashion magazine that bestowed Man Ray’s image as a fashion photographer. Art director Alexey Brodovitch wanted to innovate the magazine’s layout, and Man Ray’s creations were a perfect technical match for his visualizations.
View of the Man Ray and Fashion exhibition (2) scenography Agence NC, Nathalie Crinière assisted by Lucile Louveau © Rmn-Grand Palais 2020 / Photo Didier Plowy
Man Ray’s strange compositions, plays of light and shadow, solarizations, colorizations, and other technical experiments sprouted, dreamlike images that would create magazine pages that were not seen before.

Bradovitch granted Man Ray total creative freedom and “allowed him to produce images bordering on abstraction which embodied the very essence of fashion,” says Catherine Örmen, a co-curator of the Man Ray and Fashion exhibit.

Paris got engulfed in the Second World War as the German Wehrmacht began its entry into France in 1940, and it was then that Man Ray fled to the USA and Hollywood. Man Ray never enjoyed commercial photography and was now even more concerned that he would be viewed as just another commercial photographer and not an artist.

With all this in mind, he decided to abandon fashion photography, even though this would have been very lucrative in Hollywood given his reputation and experience in the fashion capital of the world. He resided in Los Angeles from 1940 to 1951 and during that time concentrated on painting rather than photography.

It is said that while in the US, he would often track down old magazines to look for his photos only to find them torn out. This would give him immense pleasure that readers were excited by his imagery and collecting it.

While in Paris, he had almost tried to conceal his professional photographer’s trade, even then preferring to position himself as a painter. He kept the prints he made to a minimum, printing only the contact sheet, and then just the images chosen for the publication. At that time, magazines owned the negatives in addition to the prints.

Man Ray always wanted to return to Paris, and he finally did so in 1951. There he continued his creative practice across different mediums. He even recreated earlier work in new forms. He died in Paris in 1976 from a lung infection.
Over the course of his career, Man Ray elevated the craft of fashion photography to an art form. He inspired photographers like Sarah Moon, Guy Bourdin, Paolo Roversi, and many more. Bourdin was turned away from Man Ray’s door six times by his wife and, on the seventh, finally succeeding in gaining the artist’s company when Man Ray himself answered the door and invited Bourdin in.
So, was Man Ray a fashion photographer or even a photographer? Sure, but it would be more accurate, and even autobiographical, to say that “Man Ray was a reluctant photographer.”

Sidenote: Did Man Ray or his assistant/lover re-discover (read popularize) the technique of solarization?
I guess they both did jointly over a darkroom accident. The story is that Lee Miller*, his assistant thought she felt a mouse running over her foot while she was working in the darkroom in Paris, and promptly turned on the light (after screaming her lungs out!), exposing the photograph that was in the developer. Imagine Man Ray’s surprise when he saw that the photo had turned part negative and part positive to create a surrealistic image.
Although solarization was known to the early pioneers, including Daguerre, John William Draper, and J.W.F. Herschel, Man Ray helped popularize it by using it in his fashion photography published in major magazines.
* Miller was accredited with the U.S. Army as a war photographer for Condé Nast Publications during World War II. Miller was famously photographed by LIFE photographer David E. Scherman taking a bath in Hitler’s Munich apartment.

About the author: Phil Mistry is a photographer and teacher based in Atlanta, GA. He started one of the first digital camera classes in New York City at The International Center of Photography in the 90s. He was the director and teacher for Sony/Popular Photography magazine’s Digital Days Workshops. You can reach him via email here.

Image credits: Header photos “Kiki, Noire et Blanche” by Tim Evanson from Cleveland Heights, Ohio, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons


Nikon releases new photo-editing software - and it's free ...

Not much in the world of image making and editing is free, but there is a choice of free editing software out there. Nikon has added to the list with the release of NX Studio (version.1.0) for viewing and editing still images and video.

Many of the functions of the maker’s current software, the rather clunkily named ViewNX-i and Capture NX-D, are now integrated in NX Studio.

These include Picture Control and White Balance settings, and Exposure Compensation for Raw images. 

New additions include Colour Control Points that allow users to adjust colours within a specified area, and a Retouch Brush feature for advanced correction.

The new software’s menu structure is organised by workflow, which improves the overall response speed for each function and provides a smoother editing process for both stills and video, Nikon claims.

There are a variety of display options, such as filmstrip with both horizontal and vertical preview options, and a shooting information display.

NX Studio is compatible with other software, such as Nikon Transfer 2 and Camera Control Pro 2. 

It also enables users to transfer images to Nikon’s Image Space image sharing and storage service, and will be updated to ensure compatibility with new camera models.

However , if you are currently using View NX-i and Capture NX-D, you are encouraged to switch over.

“Support for View NX-i and Capture NX-D… including updates to the latest OS and the addition of new functions, are not planned in the future,” says Nikon.

You can download NX Studio for Windows and MacOS for free, from here.


Samsung ISOCELL 2.0: is it now goodbye to cameras?

Samsung may have given the greatest jump always in photographic technology. That said, it announced a very innovative sensor called ISOCELL 2.0. In practice, it will allow the development of ultra-powerful cameras that cannot be owed to cameras. Is this the beginning of the end or is there still a long way to go?

Samsung ISOCELL 2.0: is it now goodbye to cameras?

One of the components that has deserved a lot of attention on the part of smartphone manufacturers are the cameras. The modules are getting bigger and bigger as the number of sensors increases. That said, people are beginning to wonder how far this will go. In fact, many feel that the camera market may be more at risk than ever with this Samsung innovation that makes smartphones even more powerful.

Right from the start, ISOCELL 2.0 technology should bring great improvements in terms of light and color sensitivity. In addition, it will guarantee a crazy number of megapixels. The Korean giant says that this technology will minimize any optical loss and will help to capture excellent images at any time. It also allows you to absorb more light.

Smartphones that have Samsung cameras typically use ISOCELL technology. But the most recent ones use ISOCELL Plus. It is different due to the materials used in the components. However, ISOCELL 2.0 is even better. And when I say it best, it is leagues away.

Eventually we will still have the first sensors in 2021.
But is it really the end of the cameras?

From the point of view of professional photographers, with sophisticated equipment, the answer is clearly no. You will never see professional photographers using smartphones as their main camera at weddings and sporting events. But what about amateur photographers? What about parents, teenagers and everyone else? Can a person with little or no training do better with a smartphone than with a DSLR? This can already happen!

It is true that our smartphones do not offer the range of a 200 mm telephoto lens, but what is lacking in the range is compensated for by the spontaneity. People go with smartphones everywhere. With cameras, it doesn’t always happen.
A DLSR with a 200 mm lens will look great in many scenarios, but it will also be heavy. With the smartphone you just have to take it out of your pocket and take pictures.

It is true that it will be some time before we have real high resolution sensors on smartphones. There are already several attempts on the part of Samsung and Huawei but we are still not at the right point. However, most people do not need as much resolution, unless they are going to print the photos on a poster size. If you print the images at a normal size, the photos look great when taken in decent light. If you want to see them on your laptop or on TV, you are equally well served.

In addition, we have the convenience. When we finish taking a photo with the smartphone, we can immediately edit the images on Lightroom, publish the best ones on Instagram and back up your photos to the cloud without having to remove a memory card or connect a device to the computer. In a DSLR, more steps are already needed.


Examining 400 Megapixel Images From the Fujifilm GFX 100 Pixel Shift Mode

The Fujifilm medium format titan was already called into question by many because 100 megapixels is overkill for most photographers. Well, Fujifilm didn't just double-down on that, they used a Pixel Shift mode to quadruple-down.

I've already waxed lyrical about the Fujifilm GFX 100 this month, singing how it's even more impressive than you might have realized once you see inside the specialized factory which makes it. Well, I'm going off again, this time over the Pixel Shift mode that was added through a firmware update.

My first experience with Pixel Shift was with a much smaller sensor: the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III which uses a micro four-thirds sensor. I was thoroughly impressed that, handheld, I could take pictures of most subjects — even wildlife — and increase the image resolution far beyond the sensor's maximum. If you're not sure how that's achieved, I implore you to Google it as it's a little time-consuming to explain, albeit rather straightforward.

Well, Fujifilm updated the GFX 100 to include this technology, increasing the maximum image resolution from 100 megapixels, to 400 megapixels. I'll echo what I said in the first line: 100 megapixels is overkill for most photographers. Even in my niche work macro stacking watches for commercial use wouldn't see much use out of 100 megapixels over, say, just 50 ("just.") So, 400 megapixels really will take some spectacularly specific work to see any form of a necessity for it. That doesn't mean, however, it isn't incredibly impressive. I shot an image from a Tokyo rooftop in daylight with the GFX 100 just to see how much I could zoom. A 200% crop on a baseball field showed the players clearly — players I couldn't really see when viewing the full image. Well, with 400 megapixels, I could probably tell you their eye color.

A quick word of warning, though: you're going to need a computer with a high spec for these files not to cause your RAM, processor, and graphics card to fuse together in a smoldering blob at the bottom of your case.

Robert K Baggs


4 Fixed Lens Cameras That Will Help You Be a Better Street Photographer

These fixed lens cameras are just the right size and offer enough performance to make you a street photography ninja.

Gear isn’t everything, but having the right camera for a certain situation can definitely help. This is especially true when it comes to street photography. When you’re out on the streets, you need to be able to rattle off images quickly and sometimes discreetly. This is something that can be hard to do with much larger cameras. Being able to remain nimble and having a camera that helps keep attention away from you is a must, and this is where fixed lens cameras come into play. 

These small, power-house fixed lens cameras have gorgeous optics that help capture detail-rich images, and blazing fast auto-focus systems that will help you nail the shot every time you hit the shutter. If you’re on the hunt for a camera that will help you become a street photography pro, check out this roundup.

“One of the best things about the lens on the Ricoh GR III is the sharpness of the lens. It’s great even at f2.8. Combine this with the details that the sensor can render and there is no reason to complain. If anything, the images look like bleeding-edge sharpness and a bit like older Rokinon lenses when it comes to output.

Leica Q2

“Photographers who take it to shoot in the rain shouldn’t fear at all as you’ll be able to combine the lens’s great quality with the camera’s overall durability. Throughout all of our tests in the rain here in NYC, the Leica Q2 performed very admirably–arguably in a way that I’d say all cameras should at a minimum these days.

Pro Tip: Street photography looks and sounds easy. However, you couldn’t be further from the truth if you believe this. Street photography is a complex genre that can take a while to master. Still, there are ways to make the learning curve a little easier. Grab a street photography tutorial that will help you train your eyes and understand your surroundings, and you’ll be well on your way.

Fujifilm X100V

“The Fujifilm X100v is the closest thing we have to a perfect point and shoot on the market. It’s got great autofocus capabilities, wonderful image quality, weather sealing, a revamped lens, and a simple interface. What more could you need?”

Sony RX1r II

“When you look at the image quality from the Sony RX1r II, you’ll be very impressed. For what it’s worth, it’s the same sensor in the a7r II–Sony’s top-of-the-line camera out there. The details, the color rendition, and everything else will be very incredible. Additionally, the lens is also rather stellar.”


How Bad Is JPEG? Surprising Encounters in Landscape Photography

After a recent landscape session in the rain, I was shocked. Reviewing the files at home, I found that I accidentally shot in JPEG. Is all lost now? Let’s take a look at this very underrated format.

'Professionals Only Shoot Raw!'

One of the first lessons which I learned in photography was “Raw is better than JPEG.” Period. Since that time, I rely on my Raw files, no matter if it's for documentary work, private photographs, or landscapes. Especially for the latter, raw is superior: A supposedly better effective dynamic range makes recovering shadows and highlights easier and the white balance always stays under control.

While climbing deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole of photography, I learned that JPEG isn’t all that bad. Seemingly, there are also photographers who prefer this format. Many of them come from the Fuji camp. Fuji offers different film simulations which found an avid fan base amongst its users. But why limit yourself if you can have full control of your photographs?

Shot in JPG by accident
How Compression Works

After All, JPEG is inferior in its attention to detail. The Raw format offers you information about each and every pixel, while JPEG is an already edited format. Your camera collects data on its sensor, interprets it, and produces a developed file. There are two reasons why JPEG exists: It consumes less memory space and it doesn’t necessarily need to be manually developed.

The reduction of data happens by compressing an image. When we write “xxxxxxxxxxxxx” we store twelve letters on a sheet of paper. We could also compress it to “12x” for only one-fourth of the space. Image compression is much more complicated but relies on the same principles: You summarize data to save memory space. When saving and opening a JPEG file many times in a row, compression will ruin your image.

In most cases, some information will already get irreversibly lost with the primary JPEG file. Your camera develops your image and if it decided that there is no contrast between an area of pixels, they will look all the same. No matter how far you’ll pull the contrast or clarity sliders.

A rule of thumb: The less detail, the smaller the file size.
Can You Shoot Landscapes in JPEG?

When recently I found that somehow I changed my camera’s file format from Raw to JPEG, I was shocked. It sometimes happens to me, when I miss the button for changing the ISO, which is right above the button for changing the file format on my Nikon D750.

After the shock, I was surprised: It didn’t even matter. I could edit the photograph exactly in the way in which I had in mind while shooting. It even saved me some time, because the photograph wasn’t as dull and boring as I usually find my Raw files before they are cooked into a (sometimes) tasteful photograph. I just had to care for minimal exposure changes and a few local adjustments. Was I wasting time and memory space all my life?

I didn't need a Raw file to create this edit.

I felt like an absolute beginner and a conspiracy theorist at the same time. How come everyone only shoots in Raw when there was basically no downside in my edit? I quickly realized that my landscape photograph of rainy scenery at a cloudy coastline wasn’t really representative of the average dynamic range of a landscape photograph.

What I needed was a direct comparison and some pixel peeping.
JPEG Tested Under Harder Conditions

When the weather got a bit better, I tried out some locations where I expected harder conditions for landscape photographers: caves at the beach. Inside the caves, there would be far less light than outside. A situation, where it is almost impossible to cover the full dynamic range within one frame. Yet, the original JPEG file looked better than expected.

The JPG straight out of camera.

The “Picture Control” menu of my Nikon D750 gives me the option to choose between different JPEG development styles. Even though the different styles don’t look very different, “vivid” or “landscape” were my favorites. The final photograph definitely looks appealing, but is it enough? I don’t expect it to compete with a properly edited Raw file.

An editted Raw file of the same scene.

Here, I found a lot of freedom to edit. Uncovering the hidden structure underneath the shadows was no problem, just as getting more detail in the sky was done within a shift of a slider. Even though it wouldn’t necessarily be my preferred way to edit this photograph, local adjustments helped to get a lot of detail back into the lone rock, which seemed to be lost in the JPEG. But was it really? To double-check the JPEG capabilities, I also edited the JPEG file in Lightroom. Much of the detail was still available, too.

The JPG carried a lot of hidden detail as well.
The Limitations of JPEG in Landscape Photography

In these examples, I took a lot of care for a good exposure, which would allow me to bring back the detail in both highlights and shadows. While one could see the difference in the quality of JPEG files, it wasn't as bad as I had expected. In fact, I’d claim that you can’t see the difference in low-resolution images.

Same counts for underexposed photographs. Even in the darkest shadows, the Raw files will still offer us the chance to recover detail, even though there will be some noise in the final image.

Even a JPG edit of a really low exposure looks fine from the distance.

The JPEG files on the other hand, really struggle with very dark parts of the images. A lot of artifacts appear, along with colorful spots. You can get rid of some of them by using the “Detail” panel in Lightroom. Eventually, the dark areas will look like a bad print on canvas, though.

Zooming in to 100%, the lack of detailed information becomes visible.

Just like the recovery of shadows, getting detail out of the highlights is not a big problem with the Raw files. However, there will be blown-out areas, which will hopelessly be lost. Before the structure completely disappears, these highlight areas will also lack color information. You can’t shoot into the sun and expect to see all its details. Again, it’ll probably be fine as a social media picture. Especially in prints, bigger areas of blown-out highlights appear rather ugly.

Even blown out highlights can be recovered with Raw files to some extend.

My D750’s JPEGs, however, really look horrible when I try to recover highlights. There are no artifacts as we could witness when recovering the shadows. Instead, there is simply nothing hidden behind the white areas. Pulling the exposure to the left, I couldn't find the slightest idea of a shape in the sky. White only becomes gray.

In case of JPG-files, this information is hopelessly lost.
Use JPEG Only When You’re Sure

There are a lot of downsides of JPEG depending on the purpose of your images. Especially when you can’t cover the full dynamic range, you’ll have problems with the edit. But why would you use JPEG if you’ve got to edit the photographs anyway?

When you need to send or upload your photographs quickly, a well-cooked JPEG might be superior. Sports photographers and photojournalists often rely on quick transmission. You can experiment with your in-camera settings and pre-sets for JPEG development until you'll find a good recipe that works for many cases.

Especially when you want to quickly upload your photographs to social media, a JPEG-file will be quickly transmitted to your phone, where you can easily edit it because of its small file size. A lot of detail gets lost during the upload anyway. On the other hand, many advantages of Raw files will also be visible on your social media channels. Even on 1080 x 1080, severely blown-out highlights will be an issue.

Nils Heininger