Terrain Vague

The one point where Man Ray played an important role in City Gorged with Dreams was at the opening of Chapter Six: Terrain vague. There I took Man Ray’s extraordinary picture of that title (near right) as a way into the subject, leading on to other photographs made on the periphery of the city.

In 2000, I had also published another essay with the same title ‘Terrain Vague’; the essay is reproduced on this website in the section ‘Visual Culture’. It was a broader view of the subject, referencing the Great War, American Abstract Expressionism and Cold War Berlin, ending with Paul Seawright’s photographs taken round the Parisian périphérique.

My comments around ‘Terrain vague’ have since needed revision in some interesting ways. In the 2009 book Man Ray: Trees & Flowers – Insects & Animals, comprising lesser known pictures from the collection of the Man Ray Trust, there was reproduced a photograph of the same scene from another angle (far right), which revealed that Man Ray’s ‘terrain vague’ was actually found right next to the Gare Montparnasse.

Then, the following year, Kim Knowles published an essay, ‘From Studio to Street: The Urban Photography of Man Ray’ (History of Photography, 34:1, February 2010), in which she reproduced an image from the Centre Pompidou Archive showing how Man Ray had radically cropped the original frame of ‘Terrain vague’ to render the image more minimal and more ambiguous.

And, on a larger scale, my references to Man Ray’s ‘Terrain vague’ has connected with a widening multi-disciplinary interest in the concept. (A quick search in Google Books will provide references to some of these other publications.)

L1 Terrain vague (left)