Man Ray (1890-1976), Portait of Tristan Tzara, c. 1921
Despite Tzara’s summons in a 1920 manifesto – "Look at me carefully! I am an idiot, I am a fool, I am a
mysticist" – the person portrayed is regarding the spectator in this work. He scrutinises us through his monocle, its lens fixing us as though it were Man Ray’s own photographic lens.
The picture as mirror
The picture is a mirror where spectators see themselves precisely because the Other is watching them. The portrait reverses the usual positions of picture and spectator, abandoning the familiar scenario where the spectator believes him or herself to be in possession of the dominant gaze. The eye is the sign through which the accustomed equilibrium is displaced. In the portrait, the dark of the eye is yet another threshold, one that creates a disturbing feeling that can make the watchers aware of their own existence. The darkness appears to be an Otherness radiating from the person.
The manifestation of the "Unheimliche"
In this print, this ”Unheimliche” seems to manifest itself directly behind the poet, below him, through the axe and the symbols of the time, a watch and a ladder, and particularly in the woman with the emasculating gaze who sides with Tzara. Or is she, as his Other, looking through him, at us?