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Untitled (solarised portrait, profile)



Man Ray

United States of America, France

27 Aug 1890 - 18 Nov 1976


The intensity of the avant-garde movement in New York from 1910 to 1920 was fertile ground for the artistic vision of the American-born Man Ray. Through Stieglitz’s gallery 291 Man Ray met Marcel Duchamp and Francis Picabia, whom he was later to join in Paris in 1921. He was already established as a commercial photographer and artist when he was accepted into the coterie of the emerging surrealist group led by André Breton. Working seamlessly between a career in professional portrait photography and contributions to dada and surrealist circles in Paris, Man Ray invented his camera-less photographic technique ‘rayography’ in 1922. His experiments in solarisation, cliché verre (scratching into the negative) and the uncanny ability to epitomise Breton’s conception of ‘convulsive beauty’ – the extraordinariness of the ordinary – made him an influential, if indirect, associate of the surrealists.

‘Untitled (solarised portrait, profile)’ is an exquisite example of Man Ray’s solarisation technique and ability to use light and chemicals to present the real as meta-real. The enhanced outline of the profile implies the head as ‘object’, yet the cool light flattens the features. This work in particular illustrates the surrealist allusion of the neck and chin of the female form resembling the anatomy of the opposite sex.2 The diminishing spacing under the chin evokes castration, penetration and ejaculation, and yet the simple beauty of the image has a gravity and elegance that both transcends and works side by side with the surrealist innuendo of sexuality. Man Ray often put the eroticisation of the human form into play by the inclusion of other obscure objects or multiple exposures that delay immediate recognition of the dual signification.

1. See ‘Man Ray and surrealist photography’, in Krauss R & Livingstone J 1985, ‘L’amour fou: photography and surrealism’, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington p 128
2. Johnson B ed 2004, ‘Photography speaks: 150 photographers on their art’, Aperture, New York p 114

© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007




Media category


Materials used

gelatin silver photograph, vintage


28.5 x 22.1 cm image/sheet

Signature & date

Signed l.r., pencil "Man Ray". Not dated.


Purchased 1987


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Man Ray

Works in the collection


Shown in 5 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 6 publications


Judy Annear, American beauty: from Muybridge to Goldin, Sydney, 2003. no catalogue numbers

Donna Brett, Photography: Art Gallery of New South Wales Collection, 'The surreal aesthetic', pg.113-129, Sydney, 2007, 124 (illus.).

Sandra Byron, Art Gallery of New South Wales handbook, 'Photography', pg. 125-135, Sydney, 1988, 134, 135 (illus.).

Renée Free, AGNSW Collections, 'The Western Heritage, Renaissance to Twentieth Century', pg. 108-172, Sydney, 1994, 153 (colour illus.).

Bruce James, Art Gallery of New South Wales handbook, 'Western Collection: Photography', pg. 93-99, Sydney, 1999, 94 (illus.).

Robert McFarlane, Critic's Choice, Sydney, 1994.