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Modernist artist Man Ray was born 133 years ago today
Man Ray at the beach, Juan-les-pins, France, 1937
Photo by Eileen Agar
Man Ray was born 133 years ago today.
A modernist artist who spent most of his career in Paris, Man Ray was a significant contributor to the Dada and Surrealist movements, although his ties to each were informal.
Man Ray produced major works in a variety of media but considered himself a painter above all. He was best known in the art world for his avant-garde photography, and he was a renowned fashion and portrait photographer. He is also noted for his work with photograms — which he called "rayographs" in reference to himself.
Man Ray was born as Emmanuel Radnitzky in South Philadelphia in 1890. He was the eldest child of Russian Jewish immigrants. He had a brother and two sisters, the youngest born in 1897 shortly after they settled in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn.
In early 1912, the Radnitzky family changed their surname to Ray. Man Ray's brother chose the surname in reaction to the ethnic discrimination and anti-Semitism prevalent at the time. Emmanuel, who was called "Manny" as a nickname, changed his first name to Man and gradually began to use Man Ray as his combined single name.
Man Ray displayed artistic and mechanical abilities during childhood. His education at Brooklyn's Boys' High School from 1904 to 1909 provided him with solid grounding in drafting and other basic art techniques. While he attended school, he educated himself with frequent visits to the local art museums, where he studied the works of the Old Masters.
While living in New York City, Man Ray was visually influenced by the 1913 Armory Show and galleries of European contemporary works. His early paintings display facets of cubism. After befriending, Marcel Duchamp, who was interested in showing movement in static paintings, his works began to depict movement of the figures.
In 1915, Man Ray had his first solo show of paintings and drawings. His first proto-Dada object, an assemblage titled Self-Portrait, was exhibited the following year. He produced his first significant photographs in 1918.
Man Ray abandoned conventional painting to involve himself with Dada, a radical anti-art movement. He started making objects and developed unique mechanical and photographic methods of making images. For the 1918 version of Rope Dancer, he combined a spray-gun technique with a pen drawing. Like Duchamp, he did readymades — ordinary objects that are selected and modified.
For the next 20 years in Montparnasse, Man Ray was a distinguished photographer. Significant members of the art world, such as James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, Jean Cocteau, Bridget Bate Tichenor and Antonin Artaud posed for his camera.
Man Ray was represented in the first Surrealist exhibition with Jean Arp, Max Ernst, André Masson, Joan Miró and Pablo Picasso at the Galerie Pierre in Paris in 1925. Important works from this time were a metronome with an eye, originally titled Object to Be Destroyed and the Violon d'Ingres, a stunning photograph of Kiki de Montparnasse.
It was styled after the painter/musician Ingres. Violon d'Ingres is a popular example of how Man Ray could juxtapose disparate elements in his photography to generate meaning.
Man Ray died in Paris on November 18, 1976 from a lung infection. In 1999, ARTnews magazine named him one of the 25 most influential artists of the 20th century. The publication cited his groundbreaking photography, "his explorations of film, painting, sculpture, collage, assemblage and prototypes of what would eventually be called performance art and conceptual art.”
Larmes (Glass Tears), 1932
Photograph by Man Ray
World War I marked the triumph of the machine over the merely human. The high explosives, the machine guns, the tanks and planes exposed the fallibility of humanity just as much as the folly of war had done.
When the war ended, people wanted to become more machine-like. Houses became machines for living; writers became engineers of the human soul; chorus lines were fine-tuned like precision instruments; and the rich and famous took on the sheen and style of sleek sports cars.
In the age of the machine, photography was seen as a machine-like process, manufacturing objective truths purged of subjectivity and emotion.
But, for Man Ray, the camera was not a machine for making documents but an instrument for exploring dreams, desires and the medium's unconscious mind.
"He was such a natural maverick in the photographic medium that he almost effortlessly discovered all these ways to be a photographer that no one had thought of before. And they were so perfectly in tune with the moment of Dadaism and Surrealism.
“All these things like making photographs in the darkroom just by sprinkling and scattering interesting objects on photographic paper and then just switching the light on very briefly to allow these objects to imprint themselves on the paper and then just developing it out, no camera involved.
“He discovers the solarization process inadvertently, in the late 1920s, and he makes people look as though their faces are of aluminum. They become sort of sleek and metallic like the mascots on the front of those rather swish, fast cars. They become these super-people, also slightly inhuman, slightly robotic."
by Mark Haworth-Booth, photo historian
Extract from 'Documents for Artists', Genius of Photography (Wall to Wall).
Inspired by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres's La Grande Baigneuse, Man Ray used Kiki de Montparnasse wearing a turban as a model for Violon d'Ingres.
He transformed the female body into a musical instrument by painting sound-holes on her back, playing with the idea of objectification of an animate body.
Throughout his career, Man Ray was fascinated with juxtaposing an object with a female body.
Ingres's works were admired by many surrealist artists, including Ray, for his representation of distorted female figures. His well-known passion for the violin created the colloquialism in French, 'violon d'Ingres,' meaning a hobby.
Many describe Le Violon d'Ingres as a visual pun, depicting his muse, Kiki, as Ray's 'violon d'Ingres.' This image is one of many of Man Ray's photographs that have gone on to have a rich afterlife in popular culture.
F-holes have become a popular tattoo design amongst musicians, and fashion designers like Viktor and Rolf referenced the image to create their spring 2008 collection.
Léon Theremin was born 127 years ago today.
A Russian and Soviet inventor, Theremin is most famous for his invention of the theremin, one of the first electronic musical instruments. It was the first such instrument to be mass produced.
Theremin is also the inventor of interlace, a technique of improving the picture quality of a video signal, widely used in video and television technology. His invention of "The Thing,” an espionage tool, is considered a predecessor of RFID technology.
Born Lev Sergeyevich Termen in Saint Petersburg, Russian Empire in 1896 into a family of French and German ancestry, Theremin started to be interested in electricity at the age of seven. By 13, he was experimenting with high frequency circuits.
As Theremin pursued his inventions, he worked in diverse fields. While adapting a dielectric device by adding circuitry to generate an audio tone, Theremin noticed the pitch changed when his hand moved around.
In October, 1920, Theremin first demonstrated the instrument that is known as the Theremin. By November, he had given his first public concert with the instrument, now modified with a horizontal volume antenna replacing the earlier foot-operated volume control.
After being sent on a lengthy tour of Europe starting 1927 — including London, Paris and towns in Germany — during which he demonstrated his invention to full audiences, Theremin and his first wife, Katia, found his way to the United States, arriving in December, 1927. He performed with the Theremin backed by the New York Philharmonic in 1928. He patented his invention in the United States in 1928 and subsequently granted commercial production rights to RCA.
Theremin set up a laboratory in New York in the 1930s, where he developed the Theremin and experimented with other electronic musical instruments and other inventions. These included the Rhythmicon, commissioned by the American composer and theorist, Henry Cowell.
In 1930, ten “Thereminists” performed on stage at Carnegie Hall. Two years later, Theremin conducted the first-ever electronic orchestra, featuring the Theremin and other electronic instruments including a "fingerboard" Theremin which resembled a cello in use.
Theremin's mentors during this time were some of society's foremost scientists, composers and musical theorists, including composer Joseph Schillinger and physicist (and amateur violinist), Albert Einstein. At this time, Theremin worked closely with fellow Russian émigré and Theremin virtuoso, Clara Rockmore.
Theremin abruptly returned to the Soviet Union in 1938. At the time, the reasons for his return were unclear. Many years later, it was revealed that Theremin had returned to his native land due to tax and financial difficulties in the United States.
However, Theremin himself once told Bulat Galeyev that he decided to leave himself because he was anxious about the approaching war. Shortly after he returned, he was imprisoned in the Butyrka prison and later sent to work in the Kolyma gold mines.
Although rumors of his execution were widely circulated and published, Theremin was, in fact, put to work in a sharashka (a secret laboratory in the Gulag camp system), together with Andrei Tupolev, Sergei Korolev and other well-known scientists and engineers. The Soviet Union rehabilitated him in 1956.
Theremin died in Moscow in 1993 at age 97.
The theremin was used in movie soundtracks such as Miklós Rózsa's soundtracks for Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound and Billy Wilder’s The Lost Weekend. Bernard Herrmann used the instrument for sound on The Day the Earth Stood Still and it was used for the theme song for the ITV drama, Midsomer Murders. These films led to the theremin’s association with a very eerie sound.
Theremins are also used in concert music (especially avant-garde and 20th and 21st century new music) and in popular music genres such as rock. Psychedelic rock bands in particular, such as Hawkwind, have often used the Theremin in their work.
Here, Léon Theremin demonstrates his strange machine.
Lester Young, 1944
Photo by Ojon Mili
Lester Young was born 114 years ago today.
Nicknamed "Pres" or "Prez," Young was a jazz tenor saxophonist and clarinetist. He also played trumpet, violin and drums. Coming to prominence while a member of Count Basie's orchestra, Young was one of the most influential players on his instrument, playing with a cool tone and using sophisticated harmonies.
He invented or popularized much of the hip ethos which came to be associated with the music.
Born in Woodville, Mississippi, Young grew up in a musical family. His family moved to New Orleans, when Lester was an infant, and later to Minneapolis. He played in his family's band in both the vaudeville and carnival circuits.
Israel Goodman Young left the family band in 1927 at the age of 18 because he refused to tour in the Southern United States, where Jim Crow laws were in effect and racial segregation was required in public facilities. In 1933, Young settled in Kansas City, where after playing briefly in several bands, he rose to prominence with Count Basie.
His playing in the Basie band was characterized by a relaxed style which contrasted sharply with the aggressive approach of Coleman Hawkins, the dominant tenor sax player of the day. Young left the Basie band to replace Hawkins in Fletcher Henderson's orchestra. He soon left Henderson to play in the Andy Kirk band (for six months) before returning to Basie.
While with Basie, Young made The Kansas City Sessions for Milt Gabler's Commodore Records. Although they were recorded in New York (in 1938, with a reunion in 1944), they are named after the group, the Kansas City Seven, and comprised Buck Clayton, Dicky Wells, Basie, Young, Freddie Green, Rodney Richardson and Jo Jones.
Young played clarinet as well as tenor in these sessions. He was a master of the clarinet, and there too his style was entirely his own. As well as the Kansas City Sessions, his clarinet work from 1938-39 is documented on recordings with Basie, Billie Holiday, Basie small groups and the organist Glenn Hardman.
After Young's clarinet was stolen in 1939, he abandoned the instrument until about 1957. That year Norman Granz gave him one and urged him to play it. The results were far different at that stage of Young's life.
Young left the Basie band in late 1940. During this period, he accompanied the singer, Billie Holiday, in a couple of studio sessions in 1940 and 1941 and also made a small set of recordings with Nat "King" Cole (their first of several collaborations) in June, 1942.
His studio recordings are relatively sparse during the 1942 to 1943 period, largely due to the American Federation of Musicians' recording ban. It was Holiday who gave Young the nickname, "Pres,” short for President.
Throughout the 1940s and 50s, Young had sat in on Count Basie Orchestra gigs from time to time. The best-known of these is their July, 1957 appearance at the Newport Jazz Festival. The line-up included many of Lester's old buddies: Jo Jones, Roy Eldridge, Illinois Jacquet and Jimmy Rushing.
On December 8, 1957, Young appeared with Billie Holiday, Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Roy Eldridge and Gerry Mulligan in the CBS television special, The Sound of Jazz, performing Holiday's tunes, "Lady Sings The Blues" and "Fine and Mellow.” It was a reunion with Holiday, with whom he had lost contact for years. She was also in decline at the end of her career, and they both gave moving performances.
Young's solo was brilliant, considered by many jazz musicians an unparalleled marvel of economy, phrasing and extraordinarily moving emotion. But Young seemed gravely ill, and was the only horn player who was seated (except during his solo) during the performance.
Young died at the age of 49 in the early morning hours of March 15, 1959, only hours after arriving back in New York. According to jazz critic, Leonard Feather, who rode with Holiday in a taxi to Young's funeral, she said after the services, "I'll be the next one to go.” Holiday died four months later at age 44.
Here, Young and Holiday perform together...
On this day in 1955 — 68 years ago — the Guinness World Records was first published.
It’s the biggest-selling annual book ever, with more than 132 million sold. The book itself holds a world record, as the best-selling copyrighted book of all time. It is one of the most frequently stolen books from public libraries in the United States.
That’s in a different league from the longest eyelashes on a dog (6.69 inches), the largest bubble-gum bubble blown (20 inches) or the longest human fingernails (32 feet, 3.8 inches).
On November 10, 1951, Sir Hugh Beaver, then the managing director of the Guinness Breweries, went on a shooting party in the North Slob near the River Slaney in County Wexford, Ireland. After missing a shot at a golden plover, he became involved in an argument over which was the fastest game bird in Europe, the golden plover or the red grouse (it is the plover).
That evening at Castlebridge House, he realized that it was impossible to confirm in reference books whether or not the golden plover was Europe's fastest game bird. Beaver knew that there must be numerous other questions debated nightly in pubs throughout Ireland and abroad, but there was no book in the world with which to settle arguments about records.
He realized then that a book supplying the answers to this sort of question might prove successful. Beaver's idea became reality when Guinness employee, Christopher Chataway, recommended University friends, Norris and Ross McWhirter, who had been running a fact-finding agency in London.
The brothers were commissioned to compile what became The Guinness Book of Records in August, 1954. A thousand copies were printed and given away. After founding The Guinness Book of Records at 107 Fleet Street, the first 198-page edition was bound on August 27, 1955 and went to the top of the British best seller lists by Christmas.
"It was a marketing give away – it wasn't supposed to be a money maker,” Beaver said. The following year, it launched in the U.S,, and sold 70,000 copies. Since then, Guinness World Records has become a household name and the global leader in world records.
The book has gone on to become a record breaker in its own right, with sales of more than 100 million copies in 100 different countries and 37 languages.
Today, Guinness World Records, now owned by the same company as the Ripley’s Believe It or Not chain, gets 50,000 records applications a year and it approves 6,000 of them.
Thanks New York Times
Hugh Beaver, who created the idea for the Guinness Book of World Records
Painting by Francoise Nielly
Nielly is a French artist known for her colorful and vibrant close-up portraits.
A specialized process called “face-mounting” is used to create a durable bond between the print and acrylic (perspex).