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Ellen Carey Makes Important Discovery in 1935 Man Ray Photo
The photograph is a black and white self-portrait titled Space Writings (1935). In it, the artist is in his studio, seated behind a black frame, and blurred due to a time exposure. Inside the frame are white looping shapes and curlicues of patterns, seemingly incoherent and abstract, drawn with a penlight. Carey held this image up to a mirror and found that it spells his name in lower case—man ray—surrounded by forms that imitate the outline of his face and dots for eyes. For over 70 years this photograph contained his name, which is spelled backwards in the photographic print—hidden but in plain sight!
Carey was reminded of the photograph in a conversation with Merry Foresta, director of the Photography Initiative at The Smithsonian Institution and curator of the book/exhibition Perpetual Motif: The Art of Man Ray (1989/99). Foresta, who was aware of Carey’s use of penlights in her black/white photography, her large scale color photograms, and her Polaroid 20 X 24 work, reminded Carey of the well-known Man Ray photograph.
Carey’s familiarity with the camera’s mirror apparatus and the reversal characteristics of photography, in addition to her own interests and historical research, led her to speculate “on a hunch” that if the image were seen in a mirror, it would spell his name, which it does. This fact has remained undetected until now.
One version of the photograph (there are two; one cropped, the other uncropped) will be on display, and Carey’s discovery will be cited, in the upcoming exhibition Alias Man Ray: The Art of Reinvention at The Jewish Museum in New York City. The exhibit will run from Nov. 15, 2009 to March 14, 2010. Carey is currently seeking publication/funding for her essay, “What’s in a Frame? The ‘Space Writings’ of Man Ray.”