|Dates: ||1925, 15 May - 1972, 7 May|
|Born: ||US, IL, Normal|
American photographer - shadowy and masked figures emerge from dark and brooding landscapes.
Biography provided by Focal Press
Born in Illinois, Meatyard attended Williams College on the Navy V-12 program. He became a licensed optician in 1949 after working for Dow Optical in Chicago. Moved to Lexington, Kentucky, for an optician job, became interested in photography, and sought out Van Deren Coke as a teacher/mentor; bought twin lens reflex in 1950. He also studied with Minor White but thought of himself as a "primitive" photographer. Meatyard’s photographic work is primarily square, black and white images of children and anonymous figures wearing Halloween masks in rural fields, abandoned structures, or barns. He often experimented with movement of one or more human subjects producing enigmatic blurred features. The work creates macabre overtones with doll images and nightmare juxtapositions of innocence (children) and potential danger. Many critics have attributed visual elements in Meatyard’s photographs to metaphors for death and decay. He was influenced by literary sources and his final theme, before an untimely death, was The Family Album of Lucybelle Crater (published posthumously in 1974). Characters and scenes in this series are taken somewhat literally from a Gertrude Stein story of a Southern lady. Meatyard’s work appeared in print in the early 1970s just as university art programs in the United States began to experience a growing trend in creative photography; this, and the appeal of a psychological dimension, may explain the longevity of this man’s influence.
(Author: Ken White - Rochester Institute of Technology)
Michael Peres (Editor-in-Chief), 2007, Focal Encyclopedia of Photography, 4th edition, (Focal Press) [ISBN-10: 0240807405, ISBN-13: 978-0240807409]
(Used with permission)
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Ralph Eugene Meatyard (1925 - 1972) [extract from the preface, by James Rhem of the Photo Poche #87 Ralph Eugene Meatyard, Actes Sud publishers, France. Posted by permission of the publisher]
Ralph Eugene Meatyard's death in 1972, a week away from his 47th birthday, came at the height of the "photo boom," a period of growth and ferment in photography in the United States which paralleled the political and social upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s. It was a time of ambition, not reflection, a time for writing resumés, not thoughtful and inclusive histories; in the contest of reputation, dying in 1972 meant leaving the race early. It was left to friends and colleagues to complete an Aperture monograph on Meatyard and carry through with the publication of The Family Album of Lucybelle Crater (1974) which he had laid out and sequenced before his death.
While he lived Meatyard's work was shown and collected by major museums, published in important art magazines, and regarded by his peers as among the most original and disturbing imagery ever created with a camera. He exhibited with such well-known and diverse photographers as Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, Minor White, Aaron Siskind, Harry Callahan, Robert Frank, and Eikoh Hosoe. But by the late 1970s, his photographs seemed consigned to appear mainly in exhibitions of "southern" art. In the last decade, however, thanks in part to European critics (who since at least the time of De Tocqueville have forged early insights into American culture), Meatyard's work has reemerged, and the depth of its genius and its contributions to photography have begun to be understood and appreciated.
In a sense Meatyard suffered a fate common to artists who are very much of but also very far ahead of their time. Everything about his life and his art ran counter to the usual and expected patterns. He was an optician, happily married, a father of three, president of the Parent-Teacher Association, and coach of a boy's baseball team. He lived in Lexington, Kentucky, far from the urban centers most associated with serious art. His images had nothing to do with the gritty "street photography" of the east coast or the romantic view camera realism of the west coast. His best known images were populated with dolls and masks, with family, friends and neighbors pictured in abandoned buildings or in ordinary suburban backyards.
At the same time he often turned from this vernacular focus and, like such photographers as Henry Holmes Smith, Harry Callahan and others, produced highly experimental work. These images include multiple exposures and photographs where, through deliberate camera movement, Meatyard took Fox Talbot's "pencil of nature" and drew calligraphic images with the sun's reflection on a black void of water. However, where others used these experiments to expand the possibilities of form in photographs, Meatyard consistently applied breakthroughs in formal design to the exploration of ideas and emotions. Finallyand of great importance in the development of his aestheticMeatyard created a mode of "No-Focus" imagery that was distinctly his own. "No-Focus" images ran entirely counter to any association of camera art with objective realism and opened a new sense of creative freedom in his art.
In short, Meatyard's work challenged most of the cultural and aesthetic conventions of his time and did not fit in with the dominant notions of the kind of art photography could and should be. His work sprang from the beauty of ideas rather than ideas of the beautiful. Wide reading in literature (especially poetry) and philosophy (especially Zen) stimulated his imagination. While others roamed the streets searching for America and truth, Meatyard haunted the world of inner experience, continually posing unsettling questions about our emotional realities through his pictures. Once again, however, he inhabited this world quite differently from other photographers exploring inner experience at the time. Meatyard's "mirror" (as John Szarkowski used the term ) was not narcissistic. It looked back reflectively on the dreams and terrors of metaphysical questions, not private arguments of faith or doubt.
1 John Szarkowski, Mirrors and Windows: American Photography since 1960. (Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1978) pp.14 - 15. Among other statistics about the "photo boom," Szarkowski notes that between 1966 and 1970 "the number of students studying photography or cinematography at the University of Illinois (Champaign-Urbana) increased from 132 to 4,175 a growth of over three thousand percent in four years."
2 Hall, James Baker, ed. Ralph Eugene Meatyard: Emblems & Rites (Millerton, New York: Aperture, 1974) There had already been an earlier bookRalph Eugene Meatyarddone in 1970 by the Gnomon Press with an introduction by Wendell Berry and notes by Arnold Gassan.
3 Mirrors and Windows: American Photography since 1960.
"Ralph Eugene Meatyard: The Family Album of Lucybelle Crater and Other Figurative Photographs" (D.A.P., 2002) 125 pages. Three critical texts by James Rhem, "Lucybelle" with 34 additional previously unpublished Meatyard photographs. ISBN 1891024299
© James Rhem - Reproduced with the kind permission of the author and publisher
|Getty Research, Los Angeles, USA has an ULAN (Union List of Artists Names Online) entry for this photographer. This is useful for checking names and they frequently provide a brief biography.|| ||Go to website|
|Grove Art Online (www.groveart.com) has a biography of this artist. |
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|The Cleveland Museum of Art, USA has a biography on this photographer. [Scroll down the page on this website as the biography may not be immediately visible.]||Show on this site||Go to website|
The following books are useful starting points to obtain brief biographies but they are not substitutes for the monographs on individual photographers.
|• Beaton, Cecil & Buckland, Gail 1975 The Magic Eye: The Genius of Photography from 1839 to the Present Day (Boston and Toronto: Little, Brown & Company) p.244 [Useful short biographies with personal asides and one or more example images.] |
• Capa, Cornell (ed.) 1984 The International Center of Photography: Encyclopedia of Photography (New York, Crown Publishers, Inc. - A Pound Press Book) p.323
• Coke, Van Deren with Diana C. Du Pont 1986 Photography: A Facet of Modernism (New York: Hudson Hills Press, The San Francisco Museum of Art) p.179
• International Center of Photography 1999 Reflections in a Glass Eye: Works from the International Center of Photography Collection (New York: A Bulfinch Press Book) p.221-222 [Includes a well written short biography on Ralph Eugene Meatyard with example plate(s) earlier in book.]
• Lenman, Robin (ed.) 2005 The Oxford Companion to the Photograph (Oxford: Oxford University Press) [Includes a short biography on Ralph Eugene Meatyard.]
• Witkin, Lee D. and Barbara London 1979 The Photograph Collector’s Guide (London: Secker and Warburg) p.190 [Long out of print but an essential reference work - the good news is that a new edition is in preparation.]
If there is an analysis of a single photograph or a useful self portrait I will highlight it here.
|• Gruber, Renate and L. Fritz Gruber 1982 The Imaginary Photo Museum (New York: Harmony Books) p.254 |
• Sobieszek, Robert A. and Deborah Irmas 1994 the camera i: Photographic Self-Portraits (Los Angeles: LACMA - Los Angeles County Museum of Art) p.225, Plate 104 [When the Audrey and Sydney Irmas collection was donated to LACMA - Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1992 the museum gained a remarkable collection of self portraits of notable photographers. If you need a portrait of Ralph Eugene Meatyard this is a useful starting point.]
Photographic collections are a useful means of examining large numbers of photographs by a single photographer on-line.