RALPH EUGENE MEATYARD

An American photographer born in Normal Illinois who later relocated to Lexington KY where he worked professionally as an optician. It was not until 1950 that Meatyard purchased his first camera in order to photograph his newborn son.

Later, Meatyard joined the Lexington Camera Club, of which the owners of the company he worked for also belonged.

 

Meatyard always considered himself as an amateur photographer and only picked up the camera during his off hours. His inspiration has come from his interest in philosophy, jazz music of the time and from books focusing on historical fiction, poetry, short stories and Zen. Jazz and Zen being his two most sighted inspirations; a statement that adds an interesting level of juxtaposition and intrigue to his work as one may not make the correlation between the inspiration and the final product upon view.

 

The photographs presented here are from his last major photography project consisting of 64 photographs, titled “The Family Album of Lucybelle Crater”. The title of this project was inspired a story written by Flannery O’Connor entitled “The Life You Save May Be Your Own”. The subjects in each of these photographs are either his wife, his sons, or friends and/or neighbors; all of whom don a mask in some fashion, which were purchased by Meatyard in the late 1950’s while at a local dime store with one of his sons. He purchased a couple dozen of these masks on the spot because he was drawn to the qualities these masks possessed.

 

In this series of work, as with most of his photographs, Meatyard selected the environment or setting of the photograph first. He is known for selecting environments such as abandoned buildings, deserted areas, the woods and the backyards of “typical” homes in the area he lived. After noting the lighting and acknowledging and/or arranging key elements of the setting, Meatyard would thoughtfully compose the figures into the scene. Acting a director and instructing each subject how to sit, stand, turn, gesture, etc. Meatyard favored subjects that were posed as opposed to taking “candid” shots of his subjects. Meatyard also favored masked subjects. Why the masks? Meatyards use of the masks on his subjects is a way to depersonalize the actual subjects (his family and friends) from that of the finished product/image. Meatyard believed that a masked figure could then represent anyone, as opposed to the image being specified by a known individual(s). These features make his photographs ones of careful, almost methodical, orchestration. The results are enchanting, bizarre and sometimes haunting.

The result has gained Meatyard renowned recognition with the art photography community which has led to exhibitions of his work starting in 1956 where his photographs were presented alongside the works of such well known photographers such as Ansel Adams and Minor White.

 

Meatyard died in 1972 at the early age of 46, just one week prior to his 47th birthday.

These photographs as phenomenal!! A true gem of American photographic history. 

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Admission to KMAC is free for students and children thanks to a generous donation from

Brook and Pam Smith. KMAC is also supported in part by our members, The Fund for the Arts, and the Kentucky Arts Council. Our exhibitions are supported by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

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