Man Ray’s Signature Work

Artist Man Ray mischievously scribbled his name in a famous photograph, but it took decades for the gesture to be discovered

Avant-garde photographer Man Ray may have written his name with a penlight in his self-portrait titled Space Writings. (Getty Images)

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She and Ellen Carey have known each other for 20 years; Carey’s work has been exhibited in museums around the world, and the Smithsonian Institution holds some of her work in its collection. When Foresta stopped by Carey’s studio for a visit last year and saw Carey working with penlights, she suggested that Carey take a look at Space Writings because of the similarity in technique. That suggestion led to Carey’s discovery.

Foresta says she thinks Carey was uniquely qualified to find the signature because she looks at Man Ray’s work from the point of view of a practicing artist, rather than as an art historian. And like Man Ray, Carey creates images that focus on the photographic process rather than on realistic representations. (In her best-known series, “Pulls,” she literally pulls film through a large-format Polaroid camera to create streaks of color.) “You really need to look at the object, and the object will talk to you or stare back,” Carey says. “I think it was just a matter of looking.”

It might have taken seven decades and a like-minded photographer to see the disguised signature, but the evidence is clear. “Oh, it’s definitely there,” Carey says. “It’s saying, ‘Hello, how come no one noticed for 70 years?’ I think [Man Ray] would be chuckling right now. Finally, somebody figured him out.”

Her discovery will be cited in the catalogue for the Jewish Museum’s exhibition Alias Man Ray: The Art of Reinvention, opening November 15 in New York City.


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