MAN RAY'S MONTPARNASSE

Herbert R. Lottman, Author . Abrams $29.95 (264p) ISBN 978-0-8109-4333-9

With Neil Baldwin's definitive 1991 biography, an autobiography and any number of scholarly monographs available, one might question the need for another book on the great modernist photographer. What sets Lottman's compact and breezy study apart from a thick pack is its view of Ray's Parisian career as a neighborhood phenomenon, one in which the geography of chance—which cafes were popular, which buildings had cheap studio space, who moved down the street from who—has as much to do with the direction of both Ray's career and 20th-century art as any manifestos or larger historical forces. A biographer of Camus, Colette and Flaubert, Lottman, PW's European correspondent, holds a very clear image of historical Montparnasse in his head, and he renders the confusing overlap of individuals, groups and artistic movements with a lucidity that is journalistic in the very best sense. All of the expected characters are here, from the enigmatic Robert Desnos to the obnoxious Andre Breton. Lottman is endearingly old school in his treatment of the often extraordinary women who moved through this milieu, from the legendary Kiki of Montparnasse to Lee Miller, rhapsodizing about their charm and beauty in a politically incorrect, rather innocent way. At the center, though, is Man Ray, who moved through every aspect of interwar Parisian culture with ease, grace and professional success. While Hemingway and Henry Miller lived on fried potatoes and the kindness of strangers, Ray tooled around in a sports car paid for by his lucrative portraits. Like Warhol after him, Ray (né Emanuel Rudnitsky, 1890– 1976) combined artistic integrity, a fascination with celebrity and an ability to stay neutrally above political and social storms to create a uniquely focused and enduring body of work. Even those deeply familiar with the artist and his era will enjoy Lottman's spirited account. (Oct.)

Reviewed on: 09/03/2001
Release date: 09/01/2001
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