Profile Portrait of Marcel Duchamp

Man Ray (1890–1976)
Gelatin silver print, 1930 (printed later)

Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
© 2009 Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY / ADAGP, Paris

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The profile portrait, with a long and august history, was a format favored by Duchamp. From ancient Greece and Rome, profile images of the ruler’s head on coins and medals provided a schematic means for establishing identity. During the 1920s and 1930s, this pose once again assumed considerable popularity and was used extensively by portrait photographers, Man Ray included.

Duchamp’s image in this photograph fluctuates between positive and negative, an effect of a technique called solarization. Although the profile portrait generally connotes a concrete identity by emphasizing each sitter’s uniqueness, here, solarization disrupts the stability of the image, creating a sense of ambiguity.

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Listen to co-curator Anne Goodyear discuss this image: