Daily Archives: January 30, 2011

Compass by Man Ray

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Compass by Man Ray, 1920. Gelatin silver print, 11.7 x 8.6 cm.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

Maria Morris Hambourg:

[A] magnet and pistol are proposed as an instrument of orientation. If we accept it as such, our fates are as arbitraryas in a game of Russian roulette. Yet Man Ray’s contraption does not work; it hangs against a wall and cannot revolve like the free-floating needle of a normal compass. It functions, rather, as a sign. As magnets respond to invisible physical forces and guns to personal compulsions, so Compass points to the mysterious predictability of our deepest urges. This menacing note is only ironic, however, for the pistol is but a child’s toy and the oddly quiescent still-life presentation is as benign as the elegant tones and surface of this small, finely finished print.

Maria Morris Hambourg, “Photography Between the Wars: Selections from the Ford Motor Company Collection” The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, New Series, 45 no. 4 (1988), 6

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