gun with alphabet stencils

Man Ray, Gun with Alphabet Stencils, 1924, Gelatin silver print ,11 5/8 x 9 ¼ in. ,The J. Paul Getty Museum

Man Ray created this Rayograph or photogram by placing objects directly on photo paper and exposing it to light. His arrangement and choice of objects make an interesting composition. There is a revolver that is cocked and ready to be fired, it is missing its bullets and placed centrally on the image. Around the gun are letters that do no spell any particular word. The image does not seem to mean anything in particular, but forces the viewer to try and makes sense of the jumbled letters and arbitrary shapes. The two round circles may have been wine bottles one clear of liquid and the other containing mass, which produced those darker lines. The lighter circle has two black dots where light may have glared on the bottle and significantly burned the paper more.

            The photogram’s tonal range varies from black to white and offers several shades of grays. This was achieved by Man Ray’s selection of objects and their varying opacities. The height on which the object was placed also affects how its shadow was cast on to the paper. The objects either block light or allow it through. The shadows created by the objects indicate two possible light sources because they seem to come from each side. The object at the bottom right is unidentifiable and leaves the viewer to wonder while pointing toward the gun and through the balls aiding your eye in traveling around the image. The unidentifiable object may have been moved during exposure causing several shades of gray. The areas surrounding the objects are black because the paper was exposed entirely to light. The image is interesting because of its dissimilar content and peculiar arrangement.

Paul Brodeur