American Dadaist and Surrealist Man Ray was one of the world’s most original photographers. His experimental ‘Rayographs’ and photographs exemplified ‘the instability and centrality of race-changing iconography in the modern period,’ one critic remarked. By comparing and meditating the relationship between the situation and the mystique of woman and those of a ‘Negro’, Man Ray redefined that relationship all together.
Ray’s inspiration for the above photo was the two-faced Roman god Janus, a deity who stood at (and for) portals. A modernist interpretation of the Tarquinian urn, his ‘Noire et Blanche’ series of images (1926)–with its juxtaposition of Anglo and Africa, light and dark forms of beauty–simultaneously postulates and traverses a gulf between two races and cultures. From the model’s closed eye lids to the idol’s obdurate existence, every single detail in the photo was accounted for this abstract take on ‘compare-and-contrast’, which becomes more apparently when the photo itself was compared with its negative.
The model was Kiki de Montparnasse (real name Alice Prin) who was Ray’s primary muse. Noire et Blanche fetched a record $354,500 at Christie’s in New York in 2005.