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7 February 2011
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Documents for Artists

D14 by Man Ray

D14 © DACS

The First World War marked the triumph of the machine over the merely human. The high explosives, the machine guns, the tanks and planes exposed the fallibility of humanity just as much as the folly of war had done. When the war ended people wanted to become more machine-like. Houses became machines for living; writers became engineers of the human soul; chorus lines were fine-tuned like precision instruments; and the rich and famous took on the sheen and style of sleek sports cars.

In the age of the machine, photography was seen as a machine-like process manufacturing objective truths purged of subjectivity and emotion. But, for Man Ray, the camera was not a machine for making documents but an instrument for exploring dreams, desires and the medium's unconscious mind.

"He was such a natural maverick in the photographic medium that he almost effortlessly discovered all these ways to be a photographer that no one had thought of before. And they were so perfectly in tune with the moment of Dadaism and Surrealism. All these things like making photographs in the darkroom just by sprinkling and scattering interesting objects on photographic paper and then just switching the light on very briefly to allow these objects to imprint themselves on the paper and then just developing it out, no camera involved. He discovers the solarisation process inadvertently, in the late 1920s, and he makes people look as though their faces are of aluminium. They become sort of sleek and metallic like the mascots on the front of those rather swish, fast cars. They become these super-people, also slightly inhuman, slightly robotic." (Mark Haworth-Booth, Photo-historian)

Extract from 'Documents for Artists', Genius of Photography (Wall to Wall)

Documents for Artists

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