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September 12, 2021

Noire et Blanche by Man Ray, 1926

Man Ray’s Noire et Blanche (French for Black and White) is a photograph exemplary of Surrealist art. The striking faces of the pale model and the dark mask have a doubling effect. This repetition is a reminder that a photograph is a double of what it represents, namely, a sign or an index of reality.

Man Ray, Kiki de Montparnasse in Noire et Blanche, 1926. © Man Ray Trust / ADAGP – PICTORIGHT / Telimage – 2013

In Surrealism the act of doubling indicates that we are all divided subjects made up of the conscious and unconscious. In reading this photograph as typical of primitivism, the woman can be understood as European civilization and the mask as “primitive” Africa. The image draws a parallel between the two faces presenting them as related to each another.

The title “black and white” is a word play because the order is reversed when reading the image left to right. The artist also printed a negative version of this image.

Noire et Blanche’s negative. (© Man Ray Trust)

The picture was first published in the Parisian Vogue magazine, on May 1, 1926. It is a portrait of Kiki de Montparnasse, Man Ray’s lover and model at the time the photograph was taken.

There are prints of the photograph in several museums, including the Museum of Modern Art, in New York, and the Stedelijk Museum, in Amsterdam. A print of the photograph was sold by $3,131,533 on November 8, 2017 at Christie’s, Paris.

Man Ray, Noire et Blanche (variante), 1926. © Man Ray Trust / ADAGP – PICTORIGHT / Telimage – 2013

Man Ray was one of the most famous and original artists of the 20th century; his importance and influence have many aspects. He revolutionized photography through his experiments and then popularized these through his work as a portrait and fashion photographer. Man Ray’s iconic images such as Noire et Blanche, Le Violon d’Ingres and haunting portraits of his many friends and colleagues are now embedded within popular consciousness.


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