l’Inconnue par Man Ray

The famous photographer exponent of the surrealist movement Man Ray was particularly inspired by the portrait of the Unknown Girl from the Seine. In 1966 he made a series of photography as an illustrative apparatus for the novel Aurélien by Louis Aragon . The subject of the photographs, now preserved as original negatives at the Center Pompidou in Paris, was the portrait of the l’Inconnue de la Seine, the cast of a beautiful lifeless face of a girl who after his discovery became the most famous woman’s image of the early twentieth century. The unknown girl was found dead in the Seine, cause her beauty and for the particular kindness of her features, it was decided to make a cast at the Morgue where the body was held immediately after the finding. The cast became very famous and massively exhibited in the artistic and literary environment both in Paris and in Europe.

In the book Man Ray lets his black and white images to dialogue directly with words, with history. As the novel’s author reports in the preface of this edition of his book where he attaches great importance to the images: ‘But is Man Ray who wrote the novel itself, playing in black and white with the Unknown Woman of the Seine’s mask that hung on Aurelien’s wall and would escape that space to incarnate a woman both dead and living, and the shadow of all the destinies churned by the river.’

Following are some original Man Ray’s image works on the studio set for the final illustrations.

‘Tu comprends elle changeait de lampe’, Man Ray, b/w negative film

Inconnue sur oreiller, Man Ray, b/w negative film
‘Douce?Bérénice? Douce?…’, Man Ray, b/w negative film
‘Il détournait les yeux du masque là-haut, si blanc, si pur, si lointain’, Man Ray, b/w negative film
‘Encotre une repêchée de la Seine…’, Man Ray, b/w negative film
‘C’e n’est pas de lui qu’elle avait peur, mais d’elle-même…’ Man Ray, b/w negative film
‘Mais, pardonnez-moi…’, Man Ray, b/w negative film

more on the plaster cast