A Readymade Man Ray

The joy of a new piece of tech -in this case a phone- is discovering all the weird and wonderful things it can do in addition to its obvious function. The cameras on phones have come on leaps and bounds haven’t they! Most produce better quality images than the average small compact camera these days and in some cases out perform their SLR counterparts. What makes camera phone photography interesting is the plethora of effect options that can be applied. Some of the effects, such as ‘warm vintage’ etc can be a bit twee, but solarisation… now that’s exciting.

Solarisation is a technique in traditional film photography and is achieved through the overexposure of either the negative or print to light. Many claim to have discovered it or at least to be aware of it; everyone from Daguerre (1787-1851) to Herschel (1792-1871) acknowledged that the overexposure of the negative within the camera produced an interesting reverse negative effect on some tones when printed. It was however the St Helens, Merseyside, born John William Draper who first coined the term solarisation. It didn’t take long before photographers discovered that the same effect could be achieved in the darkroom and was duly dubbed the Pseudo-Solarisation by H. de la Blanchere in 1859 in L’Art du Photographe. Blanchere described how briefly exposing a silver halide print to white light produced the same results that overexposure in the camera had achieved. Despite their knowledge of the effect, photographers regarded a solarised image as a defective one, not seeing the artistic possibilities of the technique. That said, the academic Janet Buerger has suggested that the below photographs taken by the artist Edgar Degas in 1881 may be an early artistic experiment with the effect.

Perhaps the most famous exponent of Pseudo-Solarisation was the artist Man Ray, who produced some astoundingly beautiful images in which his assistant and muse Lee Miller was intrinsic in more ways than one. It was Miller who accidentally ‘rediscovered’ solarisation while working as an assistant in Man Ray’s studio. Ray was reputedly so intrigued by the effect that he worked to perfect the technique for producing consistent solarised images. Below are a small number of Man Ray’s solarised images, including a self-portrait and a number of images for which Miller was the model.

From an art historical perspective one has to wonder what Man Ray would have made of the immediacy of the camera phone and its solarising filter. Would he have loathed it for removing the skill and the artistry in the physical making. Or in the spirit of all his other readymades would he have seen the camera phone and its solarising filter as an extension of that practice? I suspect the latter.

From the plethora of professional and talented photographers I return to an amateur one and her camera phone. To date I have ‘solarised’ the cats, flowers in the garden and will, if I can get him to sit still long enough, solarise my beau. And just to prove that my naffness knows no bounds, I’ve embraced the spirit of Ray and Miller and solarised a miniature bronze reproduction of The Winged Victory of Samothrace – well it is a readymade after all!

For more photography by Man Ray please visit http://www.manray-photo.com/catalog/index.php

and the for the wonderful Lee Miller please visit http://www.leemiller.co.uk/




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