photo roll

A peek inside Man Ray’s Surrealist world that pushed the boundaries of photography

The exhibition ‘Views Of The Spirit’ showcases a visual timeline of the legendary photographer’s exciting career.

Man Ray produced his celebrated photograph Violon d’Ingres in 1924. The image shows the nude back of Kiki de Montparnasse, a French model, actress and nightclub singer who was hot on Paris’ cultural map in the 1920s. On her back are painted sound holes of a violin, lending the image a sexual nuance that examines the rapacious male gaze of wanting to play the woman like an instrument.

On Ray’s instruction, the actress posed like the woman in Jean Auguste Baptiste Ingres’s painting The Valpinçon Bather. Ray was an admirer of Ingres, and perhaps intended to make several references with the image. For one, he was hinting at the informality of the French expression violon d’Ingres, meaning a hidden quality or talent in a person – Ingres, besides being a painter, was an accomplished violinist.

When I first came across Ray’s Violon d’Ingres in 2004, it was obvious to me that Ray’s interest lay not just in photography, but conceptual art that used photography as an embellishment to realise its fluid form. Apart from being a forerunner in the Dada and Surrealist movements, Ray was also transforming the way people interacted with photographs.

The legendary photographer’s works are now being exhibited for the first time in India at TARQ, Mumbai, in an exhibition titled Views of the Spirit.

Les Champs délicieux, 1922. Gelatin Silver print (Estate print) 30 X 24 cm © Man Ray Trust – ADAGP. Courtesy: Mondo Galeria | TARQ
Les Champs délicieux, 1922. Gelatin Silver print (Estate print) 30 X 24 cm © Man Ray Trust – ADAGP. Courtesy: Mondo Galeria | TARQ

The exhibition, presented in collaboration with Mondo Galeria (Madrid) and Matthieu Foss, showcases a visual timeline of Ray’s exciting career, including the Violon d’Ingres. “We have the fantastic opportunity to present this show in a gallery context,” said Foss, who is also the co-founder and director of the FOCUS Photography Festival in Mumbai. “Most exhibitions of iconic 20th century artists presented in India require government and/or corporate support to cover the costs of shipping, insurance and to provide the ideal climate control conditions. For this reason, there perhaps hasn’t been an opportunity for Man Ray’s work to be displayed in India, until now.”

Views of the Spirit carries roughly the same works that were shown in an exhibition in Madrid in 2014, and later in Peru and Ibiza. “That’s the advantage of working with the Estate which handles Man Ray’s entire photographic archive,” said Diego Alonso, director of Mondo Galeria. “The Estate prints allow us to select from the artist’s entire body of work, allowing us to do a curatorial selection moving throughout all his periods and creating relations in between them that would’ve been impossible if we did not have this vast availability.”

Among the works on display in Mumbai will be Ray’s well-known portraits of surrealists. Ray was close to the painter Marcel Duchamp, who greatly influenced the photographer and collaborated with him. Through Duchamp, Ray met surrealists, thinkers and cultural shapers in Paris, including Pablo Picasso, Coco Chanel, Ernest Hemingway and Salvador Dali. It was also in Paris that Ray met Kiki, and where his experiments using the outline of her body to represent other abstractions led him to invent rayographs.

The Gift, 1921. Gelatin Silver print (Estate print) 30 X 24 cm © Man Ray Trust – ADAGP. Courtesy: Mondo Galeria | TARQ
The Gift, 1921. Gelatin Silver print (Estate print) 30 X 24 cm © Man Ray Trust – ADAGP. Courtesy: Mondo Galeria | TARQ

On exhibit at TARQ, the rayographs were made by placing three-dimensional objects on top of photographic paper and then directly exposing them to light – all this without the use of a camera. Perhaps Ray was keen to do away with the idea that the camera was a tool of nostalgia. Born to Russian Jewish immigrants in Philadelphia, United States, he had once famously proclaimed, “I want to forget the past,” while asserting that his artistic persona would remain divorced from his lineage. He never attended his parents’ funeral.

While escaping his Jewish identity, Ray’s affiliation to Dadaism and Surrealism left him familiar with African art and India. Though he never visited India, in his early thirties, he photographed Yeshwant Rao Holkar II, the king of Indore, and his wife Sanyogita Devi in Cannes. “One important addition to the Mumbai exhibition is a commissioned portrait of Holkar II, Maharaja of Indore, demonstrating how aware he was of the artistic avant-garde of the 1930s,” said Alonso. “We are happy to open up this window into history with this image.”

The photographs in Views of the Spirit are gelatin silver prints, made by the Estate of Man Ray, which has decided to delve into the art market by offering affordable prints. This will be a fantastic opportunity for buyers in India to acquire works of the prolific artist. Certainly, one sought-after print will be Glass Tears, which Ray made after his fallout with his lover Lee Miller. In the image, round glass beads stick to the model’s face like tears, making her look distressed, and simultaneously glorifying the vanity of the mascara-lined eyelashes. Hinting at false tears over real, this was among Ray’s most famous works. This and some lesser-known works will be interspaced together in an important show in Mumbai’s famous Art Deco building Dhanraj Mahal, which seems like the ideal heritage home to showcase Ray’s work.

Self-Portrait with Half Beard, 1943. Gelatin Silver print (Estate print) 30 X 24 cm © Man Ray Trust – ADAGP. Courtesy: Mondo Galeria | TARQ
Self-Portrait with Half Beard, 1943. Gelatin Silver print (Estate print) 30 X 24 cm © Man Ray Trust – ADAGP. Courtesy: Mondo Galeria | TARQ

Views of the Spirit opens on May 26 and runs through July 1, 2017 at TARQ Mumbai.

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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.


This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.