My visit to the National Portrait Gallery to see the Man Ray Portraits exhibition

Man Ray is one of my photography heroes and was a huge influence on me when I was a student. So I was very excited when I heard about the exhibition of his portraits at the National Portrait Gallery

Man Ray Portraits exhibition

Man Ray Portraits is the first major museum retrospective of this innovative and influential artist’s photographic portraits.Focusing on his career in America and Paris

between 1916 and 1968, the exhibition highlights Man Ray’s central position among the leading artists of the Dada and Surrealist movements.  It covers the significant range of contemporaries, celebrities, friends and lovers, he captured, from Marcel Duchamp and Pablo Picasso to Kiki de Montparnasse, Lee Miller and Catherine Deneuve.

Featuring over 150 vintage prints and key works from international museums and private collections, the exhibition also demonstrates Man Ray’s use of revolutionary photographic techniques and early experiments with colour.  His published work in leading magazines such as Vogue and Vanity Fair is also surveyed.


The exhibition is split into five chronological sections:-

New York 1916-20

Paris 1921-28

Paris 1929-37

Hollywood 1940-50

Paris 1951-76

Solarised portrait of Lee Miller C.1929 by Man Ray


My particular favourite Man Ray era is Paris 1929-37 as this is when Lee Miller came into his life as his assistant, muse and lover.

Man Ray perfected Solarisation (Sabattier technique documented from the mid 1800s) which Lee Miller accidentally came across in the darkroom. It is evident from publications in the 19th century that this phenomenon was invented very many times by many photographers as it tends to occur whenever a light is switched on inadvertently in the darkroom while a film or print is being developed.  Here’s the Wikipedia definition:-

Solarisation is a technique which gives the print the appearance of being both negative and positive at the same time.  It is acheived by subjecting the print to a brief second exposure during the development stage.  

The lightest tones of the print are affected most by this second exposure thus altering the normal tonality of the print. A white line or halo appears between the first and second exposures.”

At the start of my journey as a photographer, before my diploma course, I studied for a City and Guilds. Part of the module was silver darkroom and I absolutely loved it. That’s why I find Man Ray’s solarisation prints so fascinating.

Eight years ago, inspired by an exhibition of Lee Miller’s portraits, my tutor encouraged us, even as beginners, to try out the technique in the darkroom.  The following image is a print from my first studio shoot which involved experimenting with solarisation in the darkroom.

Mirror image – Solarised print and paper negative by Annie Armitage 2005

As well as enjoying the Man Ray exhibition, it was also great to reacquaint myself with the fabulous National Portrait Gallery. I promptly renewed my membership so for just £60 for 12 months, I have access to all ticketed events and I can take a guest too. Membership also gives me 10% off the bookshop and café, as well as invitations to private views. It’s amazing value and I highly recommend it.



Annie Armitage – Photographic Artist

Annie Armitage is a photographer who specialises in producing timeless images.  As one of the top contemporary, family lifestyle photographers in the UK she produces images of pregnancy, newborn, babies of all sizes, families, teenagers (seniors), dogs and also has a commercial side to her business which is predominantly  headshots as well as formal but approachable portraits for annual reports or PR purposes and lifestyle images for SME’s portfolios and website.
Annie is based in Kingston upon Thames but is available for commission throughout the UK and Ireland and Internationally. Annie’s main working areas within London and Surrey are:- Kingston, Surbiton, ThamesDitton, NewMalden, Wimbledon, Wandsworth, Clapham, Battersea, Putney, Mayfair, Sloane Square, Holland Park Richmond, Barnes, Fulham, Sheen, Chelsea, Kensington, Hampton,  Twickenham, Teddington, StMargarets and throughout Surrey including Guildford, Godalming, Woking, Cobham, Weybridge, Esher, Claygate, Oxshott and Ottershaw
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To contact Annie about your requirements – please go to the Contact form on her website or alternatively email her at or call her on 07711 391919
All images and text are copyright Annie Armitage 2013.
All rights reserved. Please do not copy.   


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