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American artist Man Ray (1890-1976) spent the most productive years of his career, during the 1920s and 1930s, in Paris. While he considered himself a painter first and foremost, he also worked in a range of media including film, sculpture, and collage. However, it is for his achievements in the field of photography, from groundbreaking invations to evocative, surrealist compositions and iconic portraits, that he is best kwn today. Man Ray arrived in Paris in 1921 full of creative energy. Inspired by Marcel Duchamp's readymades-mundane objects that became works of art in the context of the gallery- he spontaneously created an assemblage during a party by combining carpet tacks and an iron into a single work, which he later photographed and called Cadeau (Gift, 1921). Soon afterward, he began to experiment with cameraless photography and devised his Rayographs, abstract images produced by placing objects directly on photographic paper and exposing the composition to light. Man Ray swiftly became an influential figure in the city's avant-garde circles. Through his wide-reaching connections he made striking portraits of the many artists and luminaries working in Paris at the time, including Pablo Picasso, James Joyce, Jean Cocteau, Joan Miro, and Gertrude Stein. His work inspired other photographers and also encouraged painters, including the Surrealists Rene Magritte and Salvador Dali, to experiment with the medium. It could be argued that he did more than any other figure in the 20th century to elevate the photographic process from one of mere documentation to that of a fully-fledged art form in itself.
Erin C. Garcia, former assistant curator in the Department of Photographs at the J. Paul Getty Museum, is an independent curator in San Francisco. She is the author of Photography as Fiction.