May Ray was so secretive over his family history that he denied ever having another name. However, his family changed their name from Radnitzky to Ray to avoid the ridicule they were receiving as Jews. Man came from Manny, originally Emmanuel.
Ray’s father worked in a factory and had a small tailoring business from home, which resulted in the children becoming a part of the workforce. His mother loved creating patchwork items and, although Ray left most of his family life behind, the introduction to fashion stayed with him. His collage and painting techniques even had similarities to tailoring.
Born in America, Ray would spend most of his career in Paris. He was interested in, and influenced by, the Dada and Surrealist movements but never became a formal contributor. His fashion and portrait photography was held in high regard by the industry and still, he considered himself, foremost, a painter. Ray only started photography at first to document his work.
Ray also dabbled in photograms which he dubbed ‘rayographs’. This processes entails using photographic paper, placing objects on them and exposing them to light. The imagery that resulted had an eerie, yet mystical, look about them and was a new movement at the time. In photograms, the areas that get no light stay white and the other areas range from faded to completely black.
Dadaism was an avant-garde – meaning forward or front guard and referring more to art than war – a movement that focused on experimental art from the early 20th century. They weren’t rational artists and opted for expressive and irrational work that denounced the affluent lifestyle. In 1920, Ray teamed up with Katherine Dreier and Marcel Duchamp to found Societe Anonyme, the first museum of modern art in America.
Ray enjoyed photographing African objects, one of which led to the famous ‘Noire et blanche’.
‘Noire et blanche’ (1926) was sold for 2.6m euros.