Friday, 26 April 2013
Man Ray Portraits - National Portrait Gallery
Another blog post sitting unfinished was my recent visit to the Man Ray exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. It runs through to the end of May. I've been a fan of Man Ray's photographs for a long time, but I think this is the first time I've seen a whole collection together.
There's some wonderful portraits on show, and a remarkable collection of inter war year Paris people photographed by Man Ray.
We see many of his buddy/co-consirator Marcel Duchamp (he of the subversive 'fountain'). There's a very young Ernest Hemingway, from the time when he'd just published his first novel. A wistful bobbed-hair Iris Tree, Salvador Dali at 24 years old and developing his moustache, a suitably ruffled haired Yves Tanguy. There's a beautiful and caring series of the apprentice photographer Lee Miller.
Oh, Plus Picasso, Wallis Simpson, Aldous Huxley, Virginia Woolf, Coco Chanel, Joan Miro. The list and indeed the co-operations go on and on.
The exhibition's limit to portrait photography gives a chance to drill into the emerging techniques.
The handling of focus and sometimes softness, a wide range of lighting moving to patterned overlays. Experimental tinkering with some of the prints. Pen markings. The famous violon d'ingres. Solarisation. Then there's the decision to 'come in close'. Quite a few of the pictures are very close cropped in appearance. Fortunately there's a few contact strips and test prints to look at and to see the decisions about which picture and how the final framing gets selected.
Something else struck me with some of the prints on show. Aside from some keynote pictures, others looked small in their frames. If you've seen the work in books or magazines, it will get a page. Sometimes you need to stand very close to really get the impression.
So here's my tip. Get the catalogue too. It's fantastic. Okay - its £25, but it's a superb rendering of what's in the show plus a good commentary and a section that describes more of the context of Man Ray's other art.