Faces, symmetry, Man Ray

Painting, drawing, and sculpting the representation of a face - the mathematics of a face. I love painting people because as much as you can mess with folds in linen, there's no meddling with someone's facial structure. Not even by a millimetre. Or rather: especially not by a millimetre. As for particular face types, instinctively we tend to appreciate symmetrical faces, simply due to the fact that we are innately attracted to symmetry. 

Man Ray can tell you the same thing; except not only did he paint symmetrical faces, he photographed them. See his iconic photograph of Catherine Deneuve (1968) below. 

Catherine Deneuve

This was no spontaneous point and shoot. Man Ray was heavily involved in the staging process of framing a face. He designed Denueve's elongated earrings himself, as spirals hanging in harmony with the curves of her hair, and painted, in what appear to be Picasso-esque brush strokes, directly onto the boards in the background. The over-sized hardback book is placed at a slight angle on the chess board, almost as if by coincidence. In reality, this was all careful consideration. 

Man Ray was born in America, lived mainly in Paris and contributed to the Dada movement in the 1920s - 30s. His other photographic subjects include Lee Miller, Marcel Duchamp, Pablo Picasso, Kiki de Montparnasse and Virginia Woolf. He even seems to have applied the 'stream-of-consciousness' as a visual practice, as an opposition to chronological order. 

Although not bearing glitches in the realm of photography, Man Ray cared about the impression of his paintings too. In his studio on the rue Ferou, he actually begun his career as a surrealist painter and then moved on to use a range of other mediums. But, even so, he inevitably became best known for avant-garde photography. A "second violin" in his life, "just as necessary in the orchestra as the first violin". His own words. 

The French intellectuals of his time had a lot to say about photography too. Roland Barthes wrote an entire book on the subject. 

“Ultimately — or at the limit — in order to see a photograph well, it is best to look away or close your eyes. 'The necessary condition for an image is sight,' Janouch told Kafka; and Kafka smiled and replied: 'We photograph things in order to drive them out of our minds. My stories are a way of shutting my eyes.” 

― Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography

The National Portrait Gallery is exhibiting Man Ray's photographic portraits for the first time, until 27th May 2013.