Beyond Photography: Gustavo Cerati, Meet Man Ray

The first time I heard Soda Stereo was around the time that their last studio album, Sueño Stereo, came out. Though the band would soon go their separate ways, I continued to follow the solo career of the band’s frontman, Gustavo Cerati, through a series of albums that dug deep into ambient, electronica, guitar-driven rock, and even a full-blown orchestral album. Cerati’s work always made for interesting, and sometimes even challenging, listening. This was not least because he sings in Spanish, but also because the musical style itself was constantly changing, slipping in and out of genres even over the course of a single song.

The language barrier, in my case, meant that bits of half-remembered high school Spanish, things understood in passing and in context, rendered the lyrics are as slippery as the music itself… acertijos bajo el agua, to borrow a lyric. The funny thing is, the lyrics still tend toward the cryptic even in translation; between that, and the music, the whole experience reminded me a bit at first of Radiohead minus the alienation and paranoia, but over time, it’s become something else: a reminder that the things we create sometimes resonate with people in ways that they might not understand themselves at first.

Man Ray, Violon d'Ingres

Which brings us, in typically circuital fashion, to Man Ray. Over the course of his lifetime would cross paths with all manner of artists (Duchamp, Stieglitz, Ernst and Arp, among others) and have a hand in Dada, Surrealism, photography, film, and conceptual art. In nearly every case, whether it was the eye-on-metronome Object to Be Destroyed/Indestructable Object (1923), the memorable portrait Violon d’Ingres (shown at left), or his Rayographs (objects developed directly onto photographic paper), familiar objects, and familiar artistic conventions, were repurposed or turned inside-out by the artist.

They’re different enough to provoke a double-take, maybe even a touch of unease; at the same time, though (as we might expect from an artist who’d been classically trained, and who also worked in graphic arts), they’re grounded in forms we know, and have seen countless times before. Like Cerati, Ray’s “language”, his visual syntax, isn’t always immediately apparent, so the work reveals itself in layers, and leaves itself open to interpretation.

Both these artists’ efforts work in much the same way. There’s a strangeness there, among the musical textures, lyrics, repurposed irons, and photographic prints, but in each case, it’s also anchored in something familiar, whether it’s a four-on-the-floor rhythm or the conventions of portraiture, even as it subverts what we’ve come to recognize or take for granted.

Quiero hacer cosas imposibles… If you’re going to attempt something new and different, therefore, it helps to remember that the things that have the power to surprise us aren’t always those that are radically different. Instead, that little “poke” is just as likely to come from something we know, speaking to us in a language or a syntax that teases just at the edge of our consciousness. Venture off into the strange, but keep one foot in the familiar…


Gustavo Cerati:

Official Site (Spanish):
Official Site (English, via Google Translate)
Official YouTube Channel:

Man Ray:
The Official Website of the Man Ray Trust:
Man Ray on UbuWeb:
A recent article from the Wall Street Journal on the artist’s estate and legacy: