La photographie n'est pas l'art

Year: 1937

Artist: Man Ray (1890 - 1976)

Author: Man Ray (1890 - 1976)

Publisher: G.L.M.

La photographie n'est pas l'art, cover

The collection with the positive and provocative title La photographie n'est pas l'art (Photography is not art), which Man Ray (1890-1976) made together with his artistic friend, the French writer André Breton (1896-1966), is a clear example of a so-called livre de dialogue. Text and image are, as it were, in conversation with each other. However, the relationship between the two is not always clear, but rather puzzling. This is a characteristic that ties in with Surrealism, an art movement in which the aim, in short, is to surprise and disrupt the reader-viewer as much as possible. In addition, women also play a major role in surrealism. This sex is also placed on a pedestal in Ray and Breton's collection, not only in the preface, but also in some photos, such as the one with the caption 'Le sex-appeal' (The sex appeal).

The surreal 'magic lantern'

The American artist Man Ray added captions to the twelve photographs he had taken in this collection, while Breton wrote the foreword. In this preface he associates his friend with a Lanterne Magique, a magic lantern. One could read this comparison as an ode to Man Ray, where Breton wants to highlight his friend's creative mind. A magic lantern is one of the forerunners of the projector. Man Ray also projects, as it were, his own dreams, imaginations, thoughts and views that result from his creative mind. His camera is, as it were, the projector of his psyche. Its projections are his photos.

In addition, the word 'Lanterne' (lantern) implies a source of light. This is an element with which Ray has played a lot in the creation of his photographic oeuvre.His invention, the 'rayogramme', a copy of which can also be found in L’ange Heurtebise (1925), is a good example of this. This technique consists of placing an object on light-sensitive paper and then immediately exposing it to light. No camera is used for this. La photographie n'est pas l'art also contains a rayogram, accompanied by the caption 'Photographie intégrale et cent pour cent automatique' (Integral and one hundred percent automatic photography).

You can also link the word 'Magique' (magic) to Man Ray and the surrealistic ideas that can sometimes be found in La photographie n'est pas l'art. The word actually implies two things. It can first of all refer to the supernatural, a dream reality, and thus to surrealism. The magical can also indicate the creative mind of the artist who has certain imaginations with which he 'enchants' the psyche of the viewer and activates the viewer's fantasy.

Histoire naturelle

Categorization of Man Ray's photographic oeuvre

This fantasy is thus fueled by the ambiguous and enigmatic relationship between the photos and the accompanying short captions in this collection. Man Ray himself often plays with the relationship between form and represented concept in his photographic oeuvre. His oeuvre can therefore be divided into three categories of photos: mimetic, pro-photographic and enigmatic photos.

Mimetic photos are an illustrative representation of concrete reality. A good example from La photographie n'est pas l'art of such a type of photograph is that of a seahorse, captioned 'Histoire naturelle'.

Like mimetics, pro-photographics are about the representation of reality, except that what is depicted is implausible and puzzling. The object can therefore be recognized, but the concrete meaning behind it is puzzling. In the collection this meaning often becomes clearer under the influence of the captions. This is the case with the photo with the caption 'Cerveau bien ordonné' (Well-ordered brain), where the short text allows the collaborating colony of ants to suddenly be seen as the representation of the complex brain activity of our human brain. This is also the case with the image with the caption 'Photo de mode "collection d'hiver"' (Winter fashion collection photo), which is also a typical example of a pro-photographic photo. It turns out that the buds of a tree are protected from frost with some kind of white bags, which the caption describes as the trees are provided with their fashionable winter collection.

In enigmatic photos, the form is unbelievable and it is therefore difficult to find an unambiguous and correct meaning. It is not clear what exactly is being communicated. Ray's well-known Violon d'Ingres (1924) is a good example of this. At first it seems clear that this is a woman, but due to technical interventions by the artist both the exact form and the meaning are puzzling. Also La photographie n'est pas l'art contains enigmatic photos. A good example of this is the photo with the caption 'Passage entre deux prizes de vue', where it is puzzling what exactly can be seen, because form and meaning are not clear and the caption does not make this clear.

Bibliographic description

Description: La photographie n'est pas l'art : 12 photographies / Man Ray ; avant-propos de André Breton. - [Paris] : G.L.M., 1937. - [17] bl : ill. ; 26 cm.

Printer: G.L.M.

Edition: Unknown

This copy: Exemplaar op 'tinted paper' in 'straw yellow coated paper'

Bibliography: Monod-9489

Shelfmark: KW KOOPM L 506


  • David Bate, Photography & Surrealism. London/New York, I.B. Tauris, 2011.
  • André Breton, Manifeste du surréalisme. Paris, Gallimard, 1966.
  • Paul van Capelleveen, Sophie Ham et Jordy Joubij, Voix et visions. La Collection Koopman et l’Art du Livre français. La Haye, Koninklijke Bibliotheek, Bibliothèque nationale des Pays-Bas. Zwolle, Waanders, 2009.
  • Emmanuelle de l'Ecotais, Man Ray: La photographie a l'envers. Paris, Centre Georges Pompidou, 1998
  • Wouter Marinissen, 'La lanterne magique: Man Ray et l’éclairage de l’énigme dans La photographie n’est pas l’art, in: Relief, Revue électronique de littérature française, 11 (2017) 1, p. 24–39.
  • Yves Peyré, Peinture et poésie, Le dialogue par le livre 1874-2000. Paris, Gallimard, 2001.