Another arresting erotic image by the master Surrealist photographer, Man Ray. I cannot accurately determine the date it was taken, however as it features his lover Juliet Browner (and later wife, they were married in a dual ceremony with Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning in Beverly Hills in 1946) and Margaret Nieman who was his neighbour in Los Angeles during the early 1940’s, 1942 would seem to be the likeliest year.
Man Ray frequently photographed his lovers in embraces with other women, notably Lee Miller and her room-mate Tanja Ramm (though not the photograph of Lee and Tanja having breakfast in bed, that was taken by Lee’s father) and later, Ady Fidelin with the ultimate Surrealist muse Nusch Eluard.
The totem-like masks were designed by Man Ray himself and certainly add an aura of strangeness and animalistic carnality to the scene. In the early 30’s in Paris, Man Ray had become involved with the Lost Generation American travel writer and occultist William Seabrook and had photographed several of Seabrook’s sadistic mise-en-scene involving masks. Seabrook’s sexual proclivities were also the subject of the extremely unsettling essay by Michel Leiris, The ‘Caput Mortuum’ or the Alchemist’s Wife, published in Georges Bataille magazine Documents.
In the September 1937 issue the fashion magazine Harper’s Bazaar made history by featuring the model, Surrealist muse and Man Ray’s lover Adrienne (also known as Ady) Fidelin within its page. Ady Fidelin was the first black model to appear between the covers of a major fashion publication.
in 1936 Ady, a young dancer in her mid twenties from Guadalupe met the 46-year-old Surrealist photographer par excellence Man Ray and they quickly become lovers. He introduced her to his circle and Ady features in artistic studies by both Man Ray and Lee Miller and intimate holiday snaps with Paul Eluard and the glorious Nusch Eluard (pictured above and the subject of Dreams of Desire 14 (Nusch by Dora Maar) and Dreams of Desire 15 (Nusch by Man Ray),) Pablo Picasso, Dora Maar and Leonora Carrington. With the outbreak of WWII Man Ray returned to the States while Ady remained in Paris to care for her family. Unfortunately the ground-breaking and beautiful Ady disappears from view after this point.
Nusch was Man Ray’s primary model during the mid 30’s just as Kiki De Montparnasse and Lee Miller had been in the 20’s and early 30’s. She was the perfect model for the Surrealist photographer; in turn playful, thoughtful, serene, fragile, sensual but above all mysterious.
This complexity of expression and emotion can be seen in her personal life; she could be one devoted half of the perfect Surrealist couple, fully supportive of her genius husband and at the same time the embodiment of the newly liberated, free spirited and independent woman. Nusch’s unique presence and charm could transcend all such contradictions, she always remained herself without apology or regret.
Unlike Man Ray witty use of Magritte painting ‘I do not see the (Woman) hidden in the forest’ in his photograph as a visual clue to what dreams are made of, Roland Penrose simply captures the moment that the four sitters (Lee Miller, Leonora Carrington, Nusch Eluard and Aby Fidelin) have fallen under an enchantment and into a shared reverie. The inevitable conclusion is that the dreams of women remain inaccessible.