After being an integral part of American modernism in the 1910s, Man Ray settled in Paris during the 20s and 30s. In the late 40s, he returned to the U.S. and continued working in New York and California until his death in 1976. Man Ray absorbed highly diverse influences from Cubism, Futurism, Dada, and Surrealism to create art in virtually every medium. He is best remembered by being the seminal surrealist photographer who applied and popularized the movement’s ideas. The photographs he made during the two World Wars remain iconic works of the period—especially his camera-less pictures he called “Rayographs.” Man Ray disregarded the traditional superiority that painting held over photography and moved fluidly between art forms. For him, photography often operated in the space 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 mother and father soon relocated the family to Brooklyn, NY where he spent most of his childhood. After his family changed their surname to Ray, his own name evolved out of his new nickname, Manny Ray. In high school, Ray soon learned the techniques of architecture and engineering, yet also excelled in his art classes. Later, he turned down a scholarship to study architecture and began pursuing his budding career as an artist.
Portrait of Helen Fleck Seyffert vintage gelatin print, 1924 signed Man Ray Paris, 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.
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, New York. 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.
Portrait of Peter Seyffert vintage gelatin silver print, 1924 signed Man Ray Paris, 8.75 x 5.75 inches
© Man Ray Trust / ADAGP 2005.