The Primacy of Matter over Thought, 1929 by Man Ray

The surreality which is often connected to the dizzying effects of desire show in Man Ray's pictures The Primacy of Matter over Thought. One of Man Rays favorite motifs was the female body. He took a lot of famous pictures of his current partners such as Kiki de Montparnasse or Lee Miller. The work included in this post "The Primacy of Matter over Thought", above, displays a nude (Kiki de Montparnasse) lying on what seems to be a bare floor. Her body appears very white in contrast to the surroundings. With the help of a technique called solarisation her body according to Montagu seems to "float above the background". However, the indefinable mass which loosens the edges of her body can also be described as a certain kind of dissolving into nonentity. In any case, the picture evokes a feeling of uncertainty and instability concerning our perception of reality. It could be taken out of a dream. Certainly this dream would be rather a male than a female dream, dealing with sexual desires and the male gaze at the female body as an object rather than a personality.

Jane Livingston writes in her article "Man Ray and Surrealist Photography" that Man Ray cannot "squarely [be thrust] into the surrealist camp", but because he finally remained "tangent to the movement fails to diminish the irrefutable importance of Man Ray's presence among the surrealists, and especially his photographic contributions to their various manifestations". In her view, "Man Ray succeeded in eroticizing his objects, creating enduring poetic incarnations of surrealisms Sadist desire without violating his own classically grounded modernist aestheticism". The photographs chosen here show the ambiguity of being beautiful and uncannily distorted at the same time. The female bodies appear as objects to look at. The camera catches a certain feeling of power over these women, which may symbolize Man Ray's need for dominance.