“Of course, there will always be those who look only at technique, who ask ‘how,’ while others of a more curious nature will ask ‘why.’ Personally, I have always preferred inspiration to information.”
Emmanuel Radnitsky (nicknamed “Manny”) was born in Philadelphia in 1890 to Russian-Jewish immigrant parents. He was a commercial artist, painter, collagist, assemblagist, avant-garde photographer and filmmaker whose artistic belief system derived from both the Dadaism and Surrealism movements. In brief, Dadaism rejected logic and celebrated intuition where Surrealism is rooted in the visual juxtaposition of non sequitur objects.
Radnitsky initially taught himself the skills of photography so he could document his paintings and mixed-media assemblages. So how did Radnitsky become known as Man Ray? To thwart anti-Semitic attacks, Radnitsky’s family shortened their surname to “Ray.” At the age of 22, Radnitsky shortened his nickname to “Man” and began working professionally as Man Ray. Unfortunately, Ray would keep his Russian-Jewish heritage a secret for much of his illustrious career but glimmers of his cultural background would appear in his work from time to time.
In the early 1920s Man Ray moved to Paris and opened a fashion photography and portraiture studio to support himself and his personal interests in creating photograms—he referred to as Rayographs—and filmmaking. Man Ray directed four high concept, short silent films also known as Cinéma Pur (Return to Reason, Emak Bakia, Starfish, and Mystery of the Chateau) that pushed the boundaries of the filmmaking art form.
Man Ray moved to California in the 1940s during the Golden Age of Hollywood. In 1951, feeling disenfranchised by the fact that he was known only for his photography, Man Ray moved back to Paris where he concentrated on painting until his death in 1976.
Today, Man Ray’s work can be found in some of the world’s finest museums and private collections along side many of his influencers and collaborators: Bill Brandt, Marcel Duchamp, Francis Picabia and Salvador Dali.
Let Man Ray—also known as Emmanuel Radnitsky from Philly—inspire you today.
Ed Roberts is Creative Lead at ElectriCities of NC, Inc. and manages a team of creative superheroes. Follow Ed (@InHouseObs) on Twitter for more inspiration and insight.