Man Ray was master of an art form for which he nonetheless professed “a certain amount of contempt”: photography. His first love was painting, and he persistently denied the artistry of the medium that made him famous. But it is largely thanks to his photographic work — explored in an impressive new exhibition at Shibuya’s Bunkamura Museum — that few critics today bat an eyelid at this medium’s inclusion among the “arts.”

Man Ray was born Emmanuel Radnitysky in downtown Philadelphia in 1890. When an up-and-coming artist, he had used photographs merely to record his more conventional work, including collages and sculptural pieces. But by the time the Great Depression shook the world economy in 1929, he had established himself as a Paris-based photographer. Financial necessity, however, obliged him to churn out commercial work, principally fashion shoots, throughout the following decade. After he fled soon-to-be-occupied Paris for Hollywood in 1940, photography took second place to painting once again — and for good.

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