Inspiration: Man Ray and The Great Gatsby

I remember the first time I tried to read The Great Gatsby. I was 14, and the first thing I did with any book was read the last page (I know, I know). I love the last line; it's morose and wistful at the same time:

Isn't that wonderful?

Well, it was lost on 14-year-old me. Perhaps this is because I had very little past to be borne back into (especially in comparison to the 23 long years I've been kicking around for now... ahem). At that point, my 'past' basically consisted of a couple of birthday parties and many, many hours being my brother's 'goalie'. And having a novelty-sized softball being kicked at you for hours on end is no green light calling you from East Egg, that's for sure.

Aaaanywho, I actually got round to reading the whole book a few months ago, before seeing the film on Friday. Incidentally, don't listen to the critics; it was brilliant. But despite my rambling intro, I'm not here to chat about that.

It just made 1920s America look so cool. The Jazz Age, prohibition... It all appeals to the hedonist inside and the photographers of the Roaring Twenties took heed.

Right now, there's a bumper Man Ray exhibition going on at the National Portrait Gallery. I was always quite sceptical of his talents until I saw this retrospective. You need to see a big bunch of Man Ray photographs together to get the full feeling he intended, I reckon.

Le Violon d'Ingres, Man Ray

Barbette, Man Ray

Like the Gatsbys of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Baz Luhrmann, Man Ray loved producing decadence and hedonism. But, in regards to the book and these photographs, does visual excess equate to a desolate soul? Nearly a century later, I don't think we're any closer to the answer. The writers, photographers and artists of the Roaring Twenties were clearly very busy indeed: they were redefining what it means to have substance.

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