Man Rays Violin DIngres is a perfect example of a modernist photograph. Man Ray pushes both how photography is perceived and what is possible within a photograph in this example. Man Ray himself was an American, born as Emmanuel Rudnitsky, but moved to Paris and engaged in very non-American photography. Europe lacked the American ideals about what strait photography should be. While American schools of photography believed that an art photograph should only be made with a large negative with maximum depth of field, Europeans were busy experimenting with new uses of the medium as well as experimenting with altering the image in serious ways to change the meaning.
Man Ray was born the son of Jewish immigrants in Philadelphia. He moved to Brooklyn where he was able to learn a broad scope of the arts and have access to all of New Yorks resources. There he met Steiglitz and became interested in the 291-gallery crowd, but it was when he became acquainted with New York Citys Dadaists that exploration of his self such as this became possible.
The time this photograph was taken explains much about why it was taken. The period between the world wars was arguably the most prolific period in photographys history in terms of quantity produced and variety. Modernism in Europe was busy tackling new subject matter and expressing itself in every way possible. Images were manipulated in ways foretelling of much of photographys future, including what is so possible digitally. However, the most important thing is perhaps that this movement was embodied by the belief that expressing yourself in anyway is possible. In other photography movements previously, large groups of people tended to represent similar ideas.
Technically, Man Ray has been known to take use of many formats available to him. He practiced a form of art similar to Photogenic Drawings as well as collage and montage.Determining the technique used in construction of this photograph is difficult, the book makes no mention of it and the photograph is reproduced most likely scaled. It looks as if the negative could have been medium format roll film or large format with the violins f-holes burnt into the final image by placing a large sheet of opaque material over the image with the f-holes cut out.
Man Rays intentions are not altogether clear in the photograph as it operates on so many levels. Unless that was his main intent, he points out the irony of the shape of the womens body in comparison to a violin. Man Ray also depicts a portrait of the woman with delicate care given to her back and profile. This work is reminiscent of the painter Inges who also took great care too showing women abstractly focusing on the curves of their back but also with subtle eroticism depicted in the times obsession with orientalism. This is true because like the photograph, his work never revealed all of a womans features. It is also true because the hair wrap and earrings work to make her exotic.
Because Inges was a well-known academy painter, this photograph is assuredly a parody of arts past work. However, as this woman is represented naked before him as an instrument I believe he is making a misogynist statement about himself and women in general. As the woman is represented as in instrument he asserts multiple things about a womans character. He states clearly that women are predictable in nature and one can learn how to manipulate a woman as one would a violin. He also asserts that he is a virtuoso, as this woman is in front of him, nude and portrayed softly with much care to light. Culturally this would make sense of an educated man in Europe at this time.
Historically, philosophers like Nietzche and Kierkegaard were being evaluated for their beliefs on women and society in this time period. This may have had much to do with the construction of this photograph. These philosophers were also evaluated thoroughly in Europe more so than in the United States due to changes in political structure.Man Ray, being educated and living in Paris at the time was apt to be politically and socially aware. Especially as he was on the cutting edge of their art scene.
The photograph works well because so much attention is paid to the nude figure. He models her with the care that one would lavish upon an instrument of high craft. Her head and back make up the frame modeled in precision like a violin. Her right arm is just visible, giving the photograph depth. Also working well is the fact that her head, wrapped makes the subject slightly more ambiguous. As a misogynist image he realizes that women have character much like instruments. Revealing even hair type may have been enough to ruin the image in his mind as he wishes to make a statement about the nature of women in general, not of a particular hair type.
With these intentions given I believe that the photograph works. Content does not overrule form or vice versa. This is an important factor as much of the work being produced in this time period was obsessed with form, and I do not always believe the amount of content is sufficient. Man Ray is decisive in his attempts to ironically portray this woman as a general figure but also conduct an accurate portrait of this particular womans soul.
It is also important too realize, that although this photograph is definitive of the times, it is not necessarily pop, because the image still works today. Modern art is not an ambiguous term. It does depict a time past but Man Rays work is still innovative and insightful.