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Ralph Eugene Meatyard (American, 1925-1972)
Untitled, 1962, gelatin silver print.
Gift of Henry V. Heuser, Jr. 1991.23.76

Ralph Eugene Meatyard was a Lexington, Kentucky optometrist who picked up a camera on the occasion of his son’s birth in 1950. He soon joined the Lexington Camera Club and became close friends with poets, writers and thinkers in the region including Wendell Berry and the Trappist monk Thomas Merton. Over the next twenty-two years he became a prominent and influential photographer despite an approach that ran counter to the prevailing notions of what art photography should be. At a time when photographers were focused on using the camera to capture photographic ‘truth’ in the form of gritty street scenes or romantic landscapes, Meatyard used the camera to explore artistic and philosophical concerns. He took his work-a-day world, and using experimental techniques, transformed it into something imaginative, extraordinary and otherworldly. His children, family and friends figured prominently in his photographs, not as subjects or portraits so much as compositional elements. Roaming the back roads of Kentucky with his children and armed with masks, dolls and props, he would stage performances that he captured on film. The results have been described as some of the most original and disturbing imagery ever created with a camera. The images are inexplicable and Meatyard considered them a kind of Zen ko¯an, a riddle to be contemplated more than a reality to be explained.




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