Man Ray: Contacts at Atlas Gallery, London

Alongside Man Ray’s far larger show at the National Portrait Gallery, Atlas Gallery is showing an intimate selection of about 45 contact prints from the artists collection. The obscure, mini world of some negative contact print suits his abstract, surreal working style perfectly, and shows not only his ability in conveying all with a simple close up, but also his close circle of friends and fellow artists in much larger prints. An intensely engaged Picasso has a very modern portrait feel to it, alongside the likes of Hemingway and James Joyce. His personal relationship with these esteemed creatives allows a gentle, informal insight into their casual selves and into the creative world that surrounded the birth of surrealist photography.

His obsession with the power of the simple object is portrayed in perfectly lit shots of apples, water droplets and facial features, and the dramatic sensuality of the nude female form is celebrated with a dignity and sculpturality that is very individual to the artist. Similarly to when the Royal Academy displayed Francis Bacon’s private collection of images, it grants an understanding of the artist that he possibly wouldn’t have chosen to show himself, opening up his small workings and the ideas that float around his big projects and well known showstoppers. There are some of his very recognisable works here too, but the most interesting are the ones that are more obscure. These prints are so important too, in realising the power of the unaltered, pre digital image. that so much suspense and abstraction can be created straight from lens to film in the darkroom is something easy to forget in the current climate of digital manipulation, and in looking at his works one can often forget quite how simply they were created. He did play about with some very early darkroom techniques, such as solarisation (the reversal of some of the tones) which are interesting to view in mind of quite how far these initial manipulations have taken us.

This show is really brilliant to see alongside the National Portrait Gallery show, as a more personal insight into the workings of one of the most renowned and influential photographers of the 20th Century.

Emily Steer

1. Lips (Lee Miller), 1930 © Man Ray Trust /ADAGP.
2. Man Ray (Self-portrait), 1931 © Man Ray Trust /ADAGP.
3. Pablo Picasso, 1933 © Man Ray Trust /ADAGP.