Man Ray's career is distinctive for the success he achieved in both the United States and Europe. After being in the center of American modernism in the 1910's, he settled in Paris during the 20's and the 30's. In the late 40's he returned to the US and continued working in New York and California until his death in 1976. He absorbed diverse influences from Cubism, Futurism, Dada, and Surrealism to create art in almost every medium, including painting, sculpture, film, prints, and even poetry. Man Ray, however, is best remembered for being the seminal surrealist photographer who applied and popularized the movement's ideas. The photographs he made during the two World Wars, in particular the innovative camera-less pictures that he called "Rayographs," remain as iconic works of the period. Man Ray disregarded the traditional superiority that painting held over photography, and happily moved between different forms of art. For him, photography often operated in the gap between art and life; he not only documented objects that never had an independent life outside the photograph, but also captured the activities of his avant-garde friends who integrated art in their everyday living.
Man Ray (1890-1976) was born Emmanuel Radnitzky to a Russian-Jewish Immigrant family in Philadelphia. His tailor father and seamstress mother relocated the family to Brooklyn, New York, where he spent most of his childhood. After his family changed their surname to Ray, his own name evolved to Man Ray after he shortened his nickname, Manny. In high school, Ray learned techniques of architecture and engineering, yet also excelled in his art classes. He later turned down a scholarship to study architecture and began pursuing his career as an artist.
Portrait of artist Helen Fleck Seyffert, 1924 // vintage gelatin print, signed, 9 x 6.75 inches
Painter Helen Fleck met Leopold Seyffert as they were both students at the Pennsylvania Academy. Descended from a Scottish family, she became a modernist landscape painter under the influence of artist friend Arthur Carles. She also modeled several times for Carles including the painting "Woman in White," 1920, currently in the collection of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. In 1924, Helen Fleck Seyffert owned a house in Senlis, France, where this photograph was taken. She and Leopold were friends with numerous members of the American "expat" community; the photograph was taken during the same period when Leopold Seyffert portrayed her in the painting "My Family," currently in the collection of the Brooklyn Museum of Art.
Portrait of Peter Seyffert, 1924 // vintage gelatin silver print, signed, 8.75 x 5.75 inches
The youngest son of artist Leopold Seyffert, Peter Seyffert (1917-2003) was a teacher, writer and painter. His parents, Helen Fleck Seyffert and Leopold Seyffert, were both artists. During the same period when this photograph was taken, Peter Seyffert was depicted in his father's painting "My Family", currently in the collection of the Brooklyn Museum of Art. The Man Ray photograph highlights the features of the subject in a dreamy environment; it was taken during Peter's time as a student at the Swiss boarding school "Chataignerie" and while the family owned a house in Senlis, France.